We’re No Angels

What exactly are angels, and why is it impossible for humans to "become angels" when we get to heaven?

No, I’m not talking about the 80’s film that starred Robert DeNiro and Sean Penn (Which was actually a remake of the 1955 film by the same name, which starred Humphrey Bogart). The title of this blog post has a literal meaning. We’re, literally, not angels.

“We’re No Angels” movie starring Robert De Niro and Sean Penn; Paramount Studios.

When we were young, many of us believed that we could become angels once we went to Heaven. Characters from classic movies like It’s a Wonderful Lifehave helped to perpetuate this misconception. In that movie, a guardian angel named Henry (Played by Clarence Odbody) was trying to earn his wings by helping George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) through a life crisis. But while the idea of humans becoming angels is quaint and charming, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It would be impossible for humans to become angels, and for some very specific reasons.

The Film It’s a Wonderful Life

Angels are a unique species of God’s creation. As defined by St. Thomas Aquinas, angels are nonmaterial beings who are incorporeal (they don’t have bodies) and are pure intelligence. They have no gender, and they don’t even have wings!

Humans do share some characteristics with angels in that. For example humans, as well as angels, have free will and a free intellect. And so, contrary to popular opinion, angels are not mindless robots any more than humans are. We are also spiritual (we have a soul), just as the angels are spiritual. However, that is where the similarities end. Humans are physical as well as spiritual. We have bodies, and we have a gender. The angels do not.

And while the angels and humans both have free intellects, humans are creatures that have to learn, whereas Angels have vastly superior minds with infused knowledge when created. In other words, angels don’t need to learn. From the moment God creates them, they are infused with all the knowledge they need to do what God created them to do. For example, from the moment it was created for you, your guardian angel knew more about you than you know about yourself. It didn’t have to learn about you, it already knew what it knows about you from the moment God created it, long before God created you.

Perhaps the most significant difference between the angels and humans is that human beings are exclusively made in the image and likeness of God, whereas angels are not. Being created in God’s image and likeness sets us apart not only from the angels but from every other thing—living or inanimate—in God’s creation.

In these fundamental ways, you can see that we are a different kind of creation from the angels. We have some similarities, but we are fundamentally different. And so, just as a dog could never become an elephant, it would be impossible for a human to become an angel once a person is in Heaven. We and the angles are two completely separate species of God’s creation.

But here’s something amazing to consider. Once we are in Heaven, we will see God face to face. This intimate orientation and proximity to God is called the Beatific Vision. In this intimate closeness to God, we become magnified. To put it simply, we become, in a sense, “super-humans.” Perhaps, in some ways, even greater than the angels. As we find in the scripture, “…we are God’s children now; what we shall be [After we are in Heaven] has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure as he is pure” (-1 John 3:2)

Bonus Tidbit: While angels never cease to see God’s image and likeness in us and always marvel at that image, we often fail or refuse to see the image of God in others. It’s another difference between humans and angels, and a sad reality. But it’s a reality we can choose to change. Look for the image and likeness of God in others. Remember their dignity, even if they have forgotten it. God wills it. How do we look for and remember the image of God in others? That’s for another post. God keep you.

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