I (Donna Howell) was sitting on the edge of a hospital bed. My friend, David, was receiving treatment for a longstanding medical condition. Nita Horn was with me, though she stood a little farther off in the corner of the room. All three of us were afraid.
“Something isn’t right,” David said, shaking his head with worry and clutching at his bedcovers. “This facility. My treatment. Something is wrong here, and I mean spiritually.”
We had little to go on, save for a feeling. “Something” was a vague word, but it was strangely accurate in describing a common enemy around us that threatened our very lives while smiling nurses and doctors looked straight past it. The color scheme wasn’t typical of a hospital’s usual stark-white, “sanitary hues” decor. The cupboards that lined the walls all the way around the room were stained dark, more like what would be found in a funeral parlor than in a cheerful recovery room. The walls were muddy-brown wood paneling characteristic of the 1970s, and the carpet was a sickening, burnt-urine yellow. Even the cream-colored phone on the wall looked aged and dingy, sun-bleached of its vitality in some spots and stained in other spots from the oil residue left after years of fingertips pressing on and around the numbered buttons. These environs made the fresh, snow-colored pillows on David’s bed look bombarding and out of place, as if they would be infected with disease by mere exposure to the atmosphere.
Yet, the eerie ring of danger that pulsed and throbbed in the room with every heartbeat warned of a kind of attack that has nothing to do with exposure to viruses or sickness. David was right about that. Something was pure evil here, and we needed to get out immediately.
Suddenly, I saw six orbs of light appear down the hallway in front of me. Their flight path was erratic and nervous, like hummingbirds: zoom, hover, dip, stop; zoom hover, dip, stop… I pointed in excitement and shouted “Angels!” as the lights jerked their way around to the bed.
For a split second, the light faded, revealing six peculiar flies of some sort. But they were unlike any fly I had ever seen: They were blondish, almost silvery, in color, like moths with a “mother of pearl” iridescence on the surface of their wings; their heads and bodies were furry in texture, as if covered in the tiniest of cream-colored feathers; and they were the size of a housefly, every one of them. I was the only one who saw them in this form, as I was between them and Nita when it happened, and David was scrambling in the other direction to get out of bed. By the time Nita and David had arrived at my side, the “flies” had become orbs of light again.
At the center of each glowing orb was a small bird, roundish in shape, like a baby chick, but solid white outside of the tiny, light-orange, perfect-v beak.
Doves, I thought, like the Holy Spirit.
Then rapidly, though the main body of the birds remained unchanging, from their backs grew large, majestic, wings like those you would expect to see in a Renaissance painting. The wings continued to expand until David, Nita, and I had to back away and give them room.
Wings? Hmm… Doves have wings, but angels don’t.
I reflected for a moment, remembering the theology from my and Allie Anderson’s previous work, Encounters, wherein we illustrated the difference between God’s throne-room guardians, the seraphim and cherubim, who do have wings, and His messengers, angels, who do not. As I considered this, the birds morphed into scarlet-red hearts attached to the top of the wings and covered in crimson feathers, like fancy chocolate boxes on Valentine’s Day.
I gasped and looked down. The necklace I wore around my neck was a white pair of wings with a feathery red heart layered on top—a “winged heart.” I glanced excitedly at Nita, who wore the same necklace. I remembered that I had bought us matching jewelry earlier in the week as a friendship gesture.
These angels must be choosing to appear to us in a way that’s personal, familiar, and comforting. How great God is to send us messengers like these who can bring reassurance in such a dark place! I cannot wait to hear what message from God they’ve come to bring!
Nita wasn’t convinced. I saw the doubt in her action as she took just the slightest step backward, away from the figures that were, once again, transforming.
The brightest light yet radiated from the large wings, so dazzling and intense that we shielded our eyes for a few moments until it began to fade. When it did, six muscular men in clean, white robes were attached to them, standing, smiling, arms outstretched. Their skin was the lightest peachy pink, their hair the color of sand, and, from the way their robes hung on their frames, I could tell they were as muscular and fit as Olympic athletes.
David beat me to them. He had, at some point in all of this, begun to cry, and now his sobs flowed freely, heaving from his chest as he ran to the arms of the angels, greeting the first two in short order with tears of joy and a collection of words in an emotional, unintelligible string that I was sure only a spirit could comprehend. I ran to the messenger nearest me and embraced him as well.
It felt nice. Casual. Natural, you might say.
Odd, I thought to myself. The angels in the Bible were fearsome and formidable creatures. They often appeared with a “Fear not!” greeting to ease the panic of those they approached…yet here I am, hugging one like a brother?
In response to David’s increased weeping, each of the two angels around him took one of his arms, as if to brace him with consoling strength, and led him to the far corner chair so he could sit. I felt so happy for David, after spending such a long time in the shadows of this spiritually sinister facility, to be receiving ministering spirits from our Lord, who would undoubtedly provide direction.
Some hushed conversational exchanges behind me caused me to turn. I saw Nita walking behind three of the angels as they began to lead her down a hallway off the opposite end from David. She looked over her shoulder and locked eyes with me.
Well, clearly Nita’s afraid. Why aren’t David and I? And why didn’t her messengers tell her to “fear not”?
The last angel, the one I had hugged, smiled and held out his strong, robed arm, indicating that I was to follow Nita and the others.
“Where are we going?” Nita, a few feet ahead of me, asked as I, too, walked a length of the hall.
Their voices were low, so I only caught pieces of the answer, but I gathered that they needed to separate us just a little to give us each our own message, and they needed our full attention. We would be within sight of each other the whole time, so it wasn’t a true separation. It seemed legitimate and reasonable to me, so I continued to follow them until my angel stopped short and pointed to two chairs facing each other in a nook of the hall. Nita’s angels stopped a little farther down, but from where I stood, I could still see her, as well as David, right where we left him.
David was sobbing tears of relief and happiness. The two other figures continued to pat him on the back and grip his shoulders like ministering brothers in a prayer circle as he poured his heart out to them about how much his health had taken its toll upon him and his family in recent years. I smiled, still believing he was about to receive a touch from the Lord.
“I remember those mortal days,” my angel said as I turned to face our designated table. “Those times were tough.” He looked down the hall toward David with a sympathetic nod.
For a moment, I thought I had misunderstood. I contemplated his features and allowed myself a minute to consider his countenance before reacting right away. He looked physically flawless on the outside and, though the light was largely faded now, his skin, hair, and robe shone as one who had just been made of light…like the glass of a lightbulb that still retains a glow for a moment after you extinguish the illumination currents within. He regarded my hesitation, and his perfect head tilted slightly to one side. His eyebrows raised, as if he was wondering what I was waiting for, what I was staring at. Yet, for the first time since the six angels had arrived, I was only just then coming down from the high of the initial excitement to think about what I was actually seeing.
I couldn’t put my finger on it, but the being’s expression and demeanor seemed uncharacteristic of how I imagined a messenger of God would have presented himself. That slight Brad-Pitt-, Justin-Bieber-like celebrity smirk that was appearing at the edge of his mouth came across as a little…conceited. Cocky, perhaps. His eyebrows arched a little farther up. He looked impatient, maybe even a trifle annoyed, at my reluctance.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You remember those ‘mortal days’? What do you mean by that? You’re an angel, aren’t you?” Once again, recent memories of being on radio and television with Allie Anderson flashed through my mind. We had written all about the theology of angels, not as culture or the New Age described them, but as they were taught about in the Bible. Through promotional efforts for the book, we had repeated some details over and over, inadvertently committing them to memory. If it hadn’t have transpired that way, I might not have been sure. I may have wondered if I was wrong about what the Bible says. But I was sure. “I thought angels were created beings,” I said, “not saints who had once lived mortal lives and ‘turned into’ angels after death.”
“Oh, you’re absolutely right,” my messenger said without missing a beat. He sat down with his back and wings to me in one of the two chairs, held his hand out to gesture me toward the empty one facing him, and jovially said, “Please, have a seat. We have much to discuss.”
It rubbed me the wrong way that he acknowledged I was correct, but didn’t acknowledge how his words apparently contradicted that which was correct. Why would he say he had once been mortal?
…Was it because he wanted to come across as wise and experienced? If so, it was an outright lie. But maybe there was another explanation? God had sent these spirits, didn’t He? Maybe it was a misunderstanding.
I regarded the angel sitting before me.
What was up with my lack of reverent fear? Why didn’t their arrival affect me at all the way that it did those men and women in the Bible who had to be told there was no reason to be afraid? Why did it feel like I was chilling with a frat boy whom I could high five and pull into dude-bro hugs?
It occurred to me: Why did they separate us? It’s not as if we wouldn’t have paid attention had we been together; in fact, wouldn’t Nita, David, and I have been able to receive the message in a stronger way as a whole unit with each other to witness the same words and remember them together?
Suddenly, the number six—the number of man and eventually the number of the Beast (Antichrist)—was standing out to me as being bizarre. Why were there six of them?
And those wings. They weren’t supposed to be there… Only guardians of the throne room had those, and if he was a guardian of the throne room, then why was he here? Like a messenger?
…And what message was he about to give me? What would he tell me to do?
I started to feel nervousness creeping in and pushing away my confidence. I didn’t know what to do. On one hand, these beings didn’t appear to line up with what I knew Scripture said about angels. On the other, if I was wrong, if I had misinterpreted Scripture, then rejecting their help would be rejecting God’s provision. Either way, there was nothing I could do to know for sure. There was no way to be certain whether—
Yes there is. It dawned on me abruptly. The “test of the spirits” from 1 John 4!
“Hey, I have a question,” I said to the back of my angel as I started to circle toward his front.
“Shoot!” he said cheerfully, glancing up to meet my gaze with a confident grin. As I stepped around, I chanced a quick glance down the hallway to David, who was now on his knees in front of his two angels, hands clasped together prayerfully. I remembered the angel John at Patmos tried to worship (Revelation 19:10; 22:8) told him to stop, identifying himself as a fellow servant. He had told John to worship God, only. Here, it looked like David was worshiping the angels, and they didn’t appear to be stopping him.
I swallowed my trepidation to finish what I had started.
“Who do you say Jesus is?” I asked, arriving to stand beside my appointed chair.
The being held his hands out coolly to his sides, tilted his head, and condescendingly smirked, unimpressed. If his expression and body language could have spoken aloud, it would have said: “Pah-lease. This old test again? Come on, already. Everybody knows He’s the Son of God. Hit me with a harder one. Next!”
What terrified me was not that he didn’t appear to know who Jesus was, as his “Duh!” reaction was now revealing he did; what terrified me was that he wouldn’t answer my question.
A true angel of God would have.
Oh no… I thought, feeling the blood drain from my face. We need to get out of here, now!
Over my shoulder, I could see that David remained on his knees, and I was now convinced he was worshiping these entities, just as it had appeared moments prior. The angels were standing before him, a soft, warm smile on each of their faces as they accepted the incoming praise.
Down at the other end of the hallway, Nita was looking right at me in alarm. Her three companions were attempting to get her attention gently, and their faraway tones sounded like they were trying to reason with her. Nothing they said was making much difference. Nita had a gut feeling about them, as had been obvious from the beginning. I saw now that her fear was not the reverent kind that springs from recognizing the overwhelmingly immense presence of God’s power; it was of someone recognizing evil. She was afraid to even be near them, but she was also afraid to run.
This is why they separated us, I deliberated. We’re vulnerable now. What do I do? Dear Lord, what do I do!?
I faltered for a moment, trying to hold it together on the outside so as not to draw suspicion. I didn’t want to provoke the being, yet I was so scared now that I couldn’t look at him. My thoughts were racing.
Do I scream the name of Jesus? Do I tell my “messenger” that I will be right back and go whisper in David’s ear that these are not angels of the Lord? Do I—
I opened my eyes and looked at the ceiling, the walls, the makeshift sheet “curtain” I had tacked around the window above the bed…I was safe at home. Thank God.
Literally, thank God.
The mattress was hot under me, and my nightgown was damp with sweat. My face was covered in tears, and my blankets were twisted about. I was panting. I knew I had awakened from something that had held me more deeply in sleep than normal, and I’ve learned to pay attention when that happens.
“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” I whispered aloud repeatedly. Taking several calming breaths, I looked to see that it was just after 4 o’clock in the morning. All of my back and neck ached, and I turned to lie on my side for some relief. “Jesus… Jesus…”
The sound of the Name being spoken softly for a couple of minutes straight settled me like it always does, and I stared at my wall in contemplation. The usual questions went through my mind: Was this just a silly dream? Or was God trying to show me something?
That was rare, but it had happened before, so it was possible. Usually I could tell, because those dreams, unlike most I envision in the night, tend to be deeply theological and make consistent sense throughout. A typical, Donna-nonsense dream would have been one where I would have done something stupid, like offer to take the angels out for lasagna or ask them if they would use their wings to take me on a ride flying above the city. Or, an element outside myself would have been absurd, like I would blink and everyone would be wearing a Santa suit and I would find myself jealous. My brain, left to its own devices and imaginings in the still of the night, tends to ride the fence on logic, and I know how to recognize rapid, unconscious thought-processing for what it is most often.
UP NEXT: Understanding the Dream—Lord of the Flies