War in Heaven
Preached today at St. Luke’s Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the Feast of St. Michael & All Angels, September 29, 2019
“There was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven”
WHAT is the opposite of God? And who is like God? Answers to these questions reveal a mystery and the name of a very wonderful creature.
I remember first learning the color wheel and being given fantastic revelations in a rainbow of hues. You start at red and move into orange, on through the warm tones, then to bright yellow. Something shifts as you pass through lemon and it cools and becomes grass green. It goes turquoise and sea colored until you’ve arrived at true blue. Onward turns the wheel, giving way to violet, a rosy purple, and back to apple red again.
The continuum of changing shades challenges any preferred order in the matrix, like being handed 10,000 crayons in a giant assortment: and you have to pick just one—which one is your favorite?
Some color wheels don’t blend from shade to shade gradually, but show only three distinct slices: one of red, one blue, one yellow. These are the primary colors in pigment. One of these colors mixed with any other can’t result in any of these three again. These stand alone like a trinity of hues. All other colors result from red, yellow and blue.
I was given this fact, and then they asked me to name the opposite of red. Opposite? Of red? That’s like the opposite side of a triangle. What is directly opposite to red is not a primary color, but the mixture of blue and yellow, a vivid Kelly green. But is that really opposite? Is the strength of red—indomitable, primary, unmixed, eternal—countered by the mere compromise of green? The only way to see this is to stare at a red object for a minute then close your eyes. The resulting flash of color in your darkness will appear green, the color red’s negative in color photography.
My study of color intensified when I saw tints and shades of every color that could be made by adding white or black, colors that didn’t fall on the color wheel. I learned that black is the presence of all colors, and white is their absence. If I ever got the hang of that, then I was shown that colors of light work nearly in reverse. White light is the result of all colors together, and blackness is their absence. And all of this I saw with eyes that were made by God to see light.
What is the opposite of God? We don’t speak of color here, but of the maker of all color, all light, all substance and all spirit. What color is spirit?
Don’t stumble on the fallacy that the enemy paints. God’s chief enemy has a name that conjures ultimate evil in our minds and to whom we might fancifully ascribe a kingdom of red devils and a realm that we reverently call hell. If anyone is the opposite of God, it must be that quarterback of His opposing team, known to us as Lucifer or Satan.
But that’s all wrong. That’s a cartoon. He is not God’s opposite.
The Holy Bible is God’s story about us. It therefore says quite a bit about God, but we are the focal point. We were created, and He was our Creator. It mentions a snake in a garden, which is recounted for us to comprehend how we are not as good as we’d like to be, and no longer bear the Creator’s pure image. The light in us has dimmed, owing to that encounter with temptation’s undertow. We read later about a brilliantly white creature whose pride cast him into darkness, and finally about a great red dragon rising to fight the hosts of heaven, seeking to swallow up all our hopes.
It’s pretty fantastic stuff, but remember: this is a book about us. Some other book that might tell everything about God: where He comes from, where He’s been, all that He’s ever done, that book does not exist on earth. Such a book would not fit on this planet, I think. Similarly, a definitive book about the evil one, his origins and all his dastardly deeds, is not in our possession, either. The Satanic Bible of Anton LaVey is not about Satan. LaVey didn’t even believe in the devil. His book is about humans being bad.
So, if we consult the Bible, we won’t get all our questions about God answered nor will we learn much about the devil, but we will get enough to go on. And the question remains, “What is the opposite of God?” If we specify what we mean by “God” we see an almighty being, uncreated, eternal, who made all else and who is perfectly good. We’ve come to understand that He is love, and that the three Persons of His being embody that love. One of the Persons became one of us, and died the death of a human slave to save us. We are answerable to this God and wish to go into His kingdom when we die and leave this world.
Now, in any of that definition, is anybody portrayed as His opposite? If God is eternal, the opposite would be non-existence. If God is Trinity, what number would represent His opposite? The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. The active role of a Savior can only be opposed by the inactive role of some distant object that fails to see or care for us. In every way, the opposite of God is nothing at all. An intensely concentrated, lukewarm nothing. Whatever it is doesn’t bear thinking about. There is no opposite of God. Satan doesn’t come anywhere close.
Now, Who is like God? If God were represented as white light, then yellow light is still bright, but not so bright. Blue light dazzles, and red light attracts the eye. But none of these is that first white light. If God is all powerful, who can come close to that power? And if God created everything else: energy, matter, spirit—then who could be His like?
Our science attempts to explain this universe with dead matter and mindless energy smashing and joining infinitely until something meaningful happens by happy accident. But who is there to say that the accident is happy? Mankind might be the most tragic accident nature ever unhappily stumbled on. We fear we might end the universe with our terrible experiments. A science that denies God may annihilate God’s creation with a bomb that eats the galaxy. But we are not so powerful. Our thumb eclipses the sun, but only to our insubstantial right eye. The other eye sees the sun just fine.
Who is like God? One portion of the story about us, the Bible, paints a fantastic cosmic image of a woman clothed in the sun, the moon at her feet, fully pregnant. She is likened to Israel, and to the Christian Church, and of course, to the Virgin Mary. Her son is Jesus. But a great, fiery dragon comes to oppose her and he sweeps a third of heaven’s stars with his great tail, and casts them to the earth. There is war in heaven and this dragon and his unholy angels, those stars that he’d captured, fight NOT directly against God, but against another angel and the armies of heaven. That holy angel is Michael. His name Michael means, “Who is like God?”
‘Who is like God’ doesn’t mean that Michael is God’s rough equal. It’s not a statement or a description of the angel at all. It’s a question. Many Hebrew names speak of God. Joshua means God saves. Israel means one who wrestles with God. Daniel means God is my judge. Michael sets the question before us, Who is like God? The answer is the same as our other cosmic question: What is the opposite of God? The answer is Nobody.
Now, if nothing is God’s opposite and nobody is His equal, that nothing is a pretty extreme nothing, a substantial answer to the problem. It’s smaller than a pencil point, and has less power than a flea. Yet it is, hypothetically, the opposite of God. What then can the dragon claim for himself? He is not God’s opposite. He is not like God either. He is less than these. Less than a pencil point, less than a flea. He isn’t worthy of our worship. He isn’t even worth our pity, or our attention. That is why the Bible says no more than it must say regarding that pest. Let’s waste no more time on him.
But Michael has been called the patron saint of Israel, the Jewish nation’s own archangel. God didn’t come Himself into the battle in heaven where former angels fought to take over. Satan attempted to be like God, and he couldn’t come close. God didn’t need to lift a finger in the battle that followed, but sent the archangel Michael (whose name asks Who is like God?) to lead the forces of His holy throne room against the challenging darkness. Michael’s angels won. And his name, Who is like God? defeated the one who tried to be like God.
I can’t imagine the nature of that war. What does an angel fight another angel with? We see swords in our religious imagery, and swords are wonderful tools for earthly warfare. Angels are given swords in scripture to denote power, but are those really cutting and piercing weapons or symbols given for our sake? Can an angel, even a fallen angel, be pierced? I don’t really know the armory of heaven that repelled the ranks of the evil army. But I’d love to see the movie.
The fact that there might be war in heaven at all challenges us. We figure God’s perfection and power would prevent such an outbreak, that His throne is unassailable. God is perfectly beyond being dethroned, and the fight was only angel vs angel. But the location of that fight gives proof of God’s amazing gift to all His creatures, that they all have self-realization and free will. Angels created for worship and the extension of God’s power and glory became prideful, envious of God’s position at the head of all things. We need not imagine what beguiled them, but the fact God made such rebellion possible at that high station is amazing. God’s will should be unassailable, unquestionable, unopposable. Some theologians define it so. But the 12th chapter of Revelation tells another story. Satan was defeated, though he made his warfare at the doorstep of God’s sanctuary.
Then he was cast out. His current address? Right here. The importance of that fact to us? Simply this: don’t be fooled. He lies constantly. He hates us. He tries to get us to rebel like his stupid fellow demons. Don’t fall for it. Let them fester. Their end is near enough. Then we won’t have to trouble about them any longer.
Michael and his armies of angels came triumphantly before the Lord and sang, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death… Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has only a short time.” Rev 12:1-17
So we, like good Christian soldiers, wear the armor of God. We put on Jesus Christ. We will do our utmost to survive the war that has been brought to us. And ultimately, we will not succumb to the lies told to us daily.
The lies that our world speaks daily is that “the opposite of God is winning, that evil rises over good and terrorizes us mercilessly. Sin is in. God is dead. And we, being like God ourselves, rise up the masters of our fate, the captains of our souls—creators and saviors even of the weather. As we swallow the universe by our own definitions, challenging any deity to dare show itself, our hearts sink and our minds quail at the uselessness of existence and the meaninglessness of our lives.”
Well, wake up folks. It was a bad dream. God is in His heaven and all will come right with the world. Michael won the war. Jesus won our lives back. Rejoice with the angels of heaven. God has no opposite and there is no one like God.