“...for they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” Luke 20:36 “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” Having just watched the beloved Christmas special “It’s a Wonderful Life”, I couldn’t help but reflect on it as I considered Jesus’ words from Luke 20 above. It is interesting to see the way my own perceptions have changed as I watch the same movie over the years. This year, the folk-religious beliefs expressed in this classic movie stood out to me. The “angel” in the story, Clarence, is supposed to be a man who lived a couple hundred of years earlier and had since died and was trying to earn his wings as an angel in Heaven. If that sentence doesn’t stand out to you as a ludicrous statement concerning God, post-mortality, and the world, congratulations! You are about to learn good news! Movies are usually no place for learning good theology, but they can give you a window into popular beliefs about God and the Church. The script-writer behind “It’s A Wonderful Life”, capitalizes on a popular notion that when people die, they become angels. I think the writer must have simply imagined up a further dimension of post-mortality by presenting a scenario where an angel must “earn his wings”, much like a World War I Air Force recruit learning to climb the ladder of the officer ranking system. It is a great movie and thoroughly enjoyable, but it should not be confused with actual Christian doctrine. We do not become angels on a mission to earn wings when we die. And we can all thank God for that!
But didn’t Jesus say that we would “be like angels”? Well, yes, but He didn’t say we would be angels, only that we would be like them, and only in regards to the fact that we will no longer be given in marriage because we will no longer need to procreate. We will no longer be sexual beings. This can be confusing to our sex-soaked Western world which seems to be convinced that happiness cannot be obtained without constant sexual stimulation. “Intimacy”, “love”, and sexual impulses are thought of synonymously and the words are used interchangeably. But sex is not intimacy, nor love. Sex enhances an intimacy that is already enjoyed- it is not the cause of intimacy. Sex is a bond that God created to mould a man and woman together into one to reflect God’s image. But where Agape love exists, sexuality is no longer needed. We are bound together by a much stronger tie that is not exclusive to a person or to a sex. We are bound together in love and in the Spirit of Jesus, not in a sexual act. How many broken marriages can we count that attest to the fact that sex does not bring unity or intimacy in itself? Selfless, self-giving love must be the bond of unity. I am very aware that this sounds like fairy-land, nonsense to many people. But it is reality. Truth is often stranger than fiction. Jesus talks about “the sons of this age” being given in marriage as opposed to in the next age where they are not. The reason He makes this distinction is due to the fact that He believed that He was ushering in a new age, the arrival of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven! Jesus was doing a new thing which would result in humans behaving in a new way - a way they were incapable of living before - but now, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they would find new strength to bring it into reality. Jesus believed that what He was about to accomplish on the cross would bring a renewal to the entire human race. Humans who acknowledge Jesus as the Christ were not about to become angels, rather they were about to become truly human! THAT is what we were always meant to be. And He who began a good work in the creation was being faithful to complete it. Wings don’t matter to Jesus. Matter does matter because love matters - and love is expressed in tangible ways. But love is not sex. Love does not love in exchange for any favor. Love gives out of itself. And God is Love. Love gives itself to death, and even death on a cross. In the resurrection, we will not be flying around with angelic wings, we will be walking human beings who practice self-giving love, without the need of repayment, thus reflecting the image of the One whom we were made to reflect.