In the trailer for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, mission control asks astronaut Neil Armstrong this question as he and Buzz Aldrin investigate a crashed spacecraft on the lunar surface. The camera dives into the wreckage where we see an old Autobot lying lifeless—until one of his eyes lights up. Clearly, in this version of the Apollo 11 mission, we are not alone.
Giddy with excitement for this third installation in the Transformers movie franchise, I had to ask myself what it is about giant robots that change into vehicles that so many millions of people find appealing. Speaking for myself, I joke that Optimus Prime is my ideal man. He’s loyal, he’s dignified, he’s protective, and he’s zen until he has to fight. Then he fights with ferocity, and for the right reasons. He also has nice guns, and you gotta love those baby blues.
There’s no such thing as Transformers, though, right? Aren’t they pure fantasy, an extension of a childhood cartoon series that has been morphed into a trio of successful action flicks? Many people would argue that they’re just good entertainment, and that there’s no equivalent to Transformers in real life.
But there are. We are not alone. It is naïve of us humans to think that we are the only life form in the universe just because we don’t physically see anyone else. If we could flip some sort of metaphysical light switch, we would see them standing right next to us.
The word for them in the Bible is messengers. They are ministering spirits, servants of God, sent to do His work. Christmas is a great time to discuss the mysterious beings called angels because angels played such a huge role in the Christmas story.
The archangel Gabriel visited Zachariah to tell him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. Six months after John the Baptist was conceived, Gabriel appeared to Elizabeth’s cousin Mary and told her she would have a son, Jesus. When she became expectant without any rational explanation, her fiancée Joseph was warned by an angel, in a dream, not to divorce her.
When the child was born, an angel suddenly appeared to shepherds near Bethlehem telling them of the joyous event. He was soon joined by a great many jubilant angels. Thirty-three years later, at dawn on a Sunday morning, two angels would ask Jesus’ friends why they were looking for the living among the dead when they visited a recently vacated tomb.
Into the threads of God’s Word are woven many accounts of these heavenly messengers. While only two are named, Gabriel and Michael, it seems that the angels might be as varied and diverse as we are. They come in a variety of forms, and Hebrews tells us to be kind to strangers, because we have entertained them without knowing it. As with their cinematic counterparts, there can be more to them than meets the eye.
Ezekiel described fabulous creatures with multiple eyes and wings, with wheels and fire and animal features. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood in a furnace with a man that Nebuchadnezzar described as a “son of God”. Genesis tells of an angel with a flaming sword flashing back and forth placed east of Eden to prevent man’s reentry.
Abraham and Sarah were visited by three men who assured them they would have a son in spite of their old age. Gideon had quite the dialogue with either an angel or God Himself before he fulfilled his destiny. An angel was with Daniel in the lion’s den.
Like the Transformers, they were created before us, and the Bible tells us that there are both good and bad angels. In the Transformers mythology, there are good guys, the Autobots, and bad guys, the Decepticons.
Angels and Autobots. Demons and Decepticons. I don’t want to equate Transformers with angels, but the comparison is interesting. They had a common origin but chose to go radically different ways, like real angels. Even the names of some of the Decepticons remind me of Judeo-Christian tradition, like Megatron and The Fallen.
C.S. Lewis tells us that “of all created beings the wickedest is one who originally stood in the immediate presence of God.” The darkness once known as Lucifer was a dazzlingly beautiful angel who became jealous of His creator and led a rebellion against Him. We are told that he and the third of the angelic host that followed him were cast to earth like a bolt of lightning. The first few chapters of Genesis give us some idea of some disturbing and unnatural things that happened after that. Combined with our free will, those events altered the course of our race, making a savior necessary.
Like the Decepticons, fallen angels are hell-bent on their own agenda. They are constantly trying to interfere with the Creator and His beloved creations. They operate in stealthy ways that have billions of people scoffing at the notion that they or He are real. As Kevin Spacey’s character in The Usual Suspects said, the greatest trick the devil ever played on the world is convincing them that he doesn’t exist. Ronald Knox said that it is stupid of modern civilization to have given up believing in the devil when he is the only explanation of it.
As in the Transformers movies, there really is a war between good and evil going on. Our lives are a series of choices between selfishness and selflessness, a sometimes seemingly constant struggle of what’s easy versus what’s right. Both sides have undercover agents operating to achieve their agenda, one side to deceive and conquer, and the other to protect, strengthen, and liberate. The evil ones know that they can’t win and so desperately try to snatch as many of God’s children from His arms as they can in the time they have left.
We ask why there seems to be an increase in evil in the world when man should be more enlightened and cultured than ever before. Perhaps there are forces at work besides us humans. If you are skeptical that our universe really could be that multi-layered, or are unsure that evil exists, then talking to a crime victim might help convince you. Many victims have looked straight into the dark eyes of someone who is entertaining or has succumbed to the losing team.
We are told not to fear, as author Frank Peretti calls it in his bestseller involving angels, this present darkness. An infinitely greater force is at work, and He said that He will “command His angels concerning you” (Psalm 91, also quoted by Jesus in the New Testament). While the Accuser—for that is what his name means—chips away at our hopes, our dreams, and our self-worth, God is on His throne, unfettered by time and space, working on our behalves.
While it is clear that we are not to pray to, worship, or deify His messengers, we know that they exist. They’re His servants, not ours. We know that the authentic ones, the good guys, always do His will and go by the Book. Any deviation from the Manufacturer’s Handbook signals a counterfeit.
Sometimes we wonder where they are, or where God is, when horrific and unconscionable events happen, and I don’t have answers to those questions. I do know that many of us can recall at least one time in our lives when we were sure that we were protected in a way that defies physical law.
Like the subject of C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, someday when we graduate to the next level, we will meet the very angels that now stand sentry on our front fenders, who sit on our roofs at night, and who silently walk next to our children on the way to school. We will realize that they were there far more often than we thought.
So to those who find themselves wishing for their very own Autobot to hide in plain sight and transform into a formidable protector when evil comes calling, know that such guardians do exist. While it is not important that we know their names or skill sets, it is comforting to know that we are not alone.
Maybe this is why some of us like the Transformers movies. It’s possible that the fascination with these giant, justice-driven robots stems from a deep desire to put a face on our allies. Through our sci fi fantasies we express our curiosity about who else is out there, and our imaginations can create heroes and villains similar to those that already exist.
No, we are not alone. There are others. There is so much we don’t know about them, and I’m not sure that we’re meant to know a lot about angels in this phase of our existence. We might become obsessed with them, or give them a place of honor that only God should have.
Ultimately, they are messengers that are pointing the way to Him, just like they did two thousand years ago over the hills of Judea. He is the Way, and all the angels rejoice when you find Him.
What can we know? What are we all? Poor silly half-brained things peering out at the infinite, with the aspirations of angels and the instincts of beasts. –Arthur Conan Doyle
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