I used to have the view that God was just hanging out in heaven with His angels. What I thought (without thinking) was that the group (God and angels) would have discussions from time to time and that, in one of those conversations, they concocted the idea of creating things. They even seemed to have conversations during the creation process. For example, God is quoted in Genesis 1:26 as having said, “let us make man in our image according to our likeness” (NASB). In my mind, that used to be a clear indication that He was ordering or soliciting the help of the angels in the making of Man.
Of course, you probably see some holes in my thinking. First, it appears there were no heavens in which God could just hang out. Genesis 1:1 claims that God created “the heavens” on the first day of creation. So, they were not previously in place for Him to hang out. I know that most of us know what I said above was kind of silly. Of course there were no heavens for God and His angels to hang out in – at least not before The Creation had been created. So that brings us to another problem.
With that information in hand, I would need to modify my perspective. In the updated version, God would be just hanging out in something other than the heavens with the angels. Perhaps, He was just hanging out with the angels in some place that was not created. Such a place does not have a name that we commonly use, so I would have to make up a name. I’d call it Eternity. It’s not a created place, but if God was going to hang out with angels, He would need a place to do it. I’ll leave the place called Eternity without trying to describe it. To try to describe it would be to think of it in terms we understand, and we can only think in terms of things we know about. We can’t really conceptualize Eternity very well. So our efforts to envision God hanging out with angels in Eternity are likely to be a bit hazy. Let’s let that be for the moment though.
Of course, we don’t do a very good job of describing or imagining the Heavens either. To be fair, most of us think in terms of “heaven”, not “heavens.” But Genesis 1:1 says heavens, plural. So do a goodly number of other passages. In fact all the passages in the Old Testament use a term equivalent to “the heavens” and none of them use a term equivalent to “heaven” per se. That’s not really the point though. Whether there is one heaven or a bunch of them, they would still be pretty hard for us to describe or imagine very well. And then to find in them a place for God and the angels to hang out would still be hard.
So, pretty much my whole picture of those things was on shaky ground. But let’s move ahead. I really want us to focus on the notion of God and angels hanging out anyway. Obviously, they hang out (or used to anyway) because Genesis 1:26 says so, right? Of course you realize that was a silly question also. Most of us know that God was not speaking to the angels when He said “us” and “our” in that passage. Most of us believe that He was addressing the Godhead when He said that. So, one of the Persons in the Godhead was addressing the rest of the Godhead in Genesis 1:26. Since that is true, we might ask, where were the angels while that conversation was going on? Were they just witnessing the conversation? Were they a part of the “us” in the passage? In other words, if God said, “let us . . . in our image” to the Godhead and the angels were mutely standing by, what was their function? Did they need to be present for some reason?
Some folks propose the angels were present, because they were to do the work that was being called for – the making of Man. That presents yet another problem for us. In Genesis 2:7 we find the following: “the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. . ‘ (NASB). This passage strongly suggests that God performed this labor, not angels. It does not appear to have even been assisted by angels. In fact, I maintain it was the most intimate moment in the entire creation narrative. God would exercise so-called executive privilege at such a moment. After all, this creature was to be animated by the breath of God Himself!
It seems reasonable to infer, then, that the Us and Our were references to the persons of the Godhead and not to angels at all. They didn’t even need to be present. God seems to have carried out the processes that led to the completion of The Creation without any help from any other entity. The entire narrative suggests that was the case.
So, then, what were the angels doing? If they had no function to perform in the process of creating “the heavens and the earth,” what were they doing while all that was going on? Were they simply an audience?
One of the problems we have is the inherent assumption that angels are of the stuff of Eternity. We don’t have a good reason for that assumption, we just assume it. What if I were to tell you that man is of the stuff of the earth? The text is really plain about that (Gen. 2:7). Insofar as his manifestation in the earth, Man was created of the stuff of the earth. (Yes, his life force is the breath of God, but his stuff is of the earth while he is here.) So, then, I might propose that the angels were of the stuff of heaven(s). Let’s consider this alternative for a moment. If angels are not of the stuff of earth (it seems clear they are not), and if they are not of the stuff of Eternity (for the sake of this consideration), then of what stuff are they? Let’s propose they are of the stuff of the heavens for the moment.
If angels are of the stuff of the heavens, then they have more in common with the heavens than they have in common with Eternity or with the earth. Does that seem a reasonable suggestion? If, following this reasoning, angels are of the stuff of the heavens, does it make sense to propose that angels were created within the context of the heavens? That’s a somewhat challenging question, so let’s get into it. First, who said angels belong with heaven and not with Eternity? We won’t ask the question about their belonging in the earth. Some of them appear to work here, but I don’t know of anyone who believes they are of the earth. To get at the question, what evidence do we have that angels are “in” Eternity? A companion question is, what evidence do we have that angels are “in” heaven? We have no evidence of the former and a good bit of evidence of the latter. In other words, the evidence of scripture is that angels are associated with the heavens and scripture has nothing about it that indicates they are associated with Eternity.
If angels are of the stuff of the heavens, then how is it they were in Eternity with God before the heavens were created? That must be where they were with God before creation happened, if they were hanging out with God before He created. That condition would create an interesting paradox for us. If angels are primarily associated with the heavens but existed before the heavens were created, we are left with a strong inference that the heavens are made of the stuff of the angels and not the other way around. That appears to be an absurd suggestion.
The other possibility is that angels did not exist before the heavens were created. In this scenario, the angels would be created after the heavens. That question seems to be worthy of examination. The sequence would look like this. First, God decided within the Godhead (which is found in Eternity) that He would create. Second, God created the heavens and the earth per Genesis 1:1. Third, God began to do other creative things within the context of the heavens and the earth. I call this context The Creation. Fourth, God undertook to create Man as a very special creation – very Godlike. Man was made of the stuff of the earth and placed on the earth. Fifth, and virtually simultaneously, God created angels in the heavens. We might say that angels were created of the stuff of the heavens and placed in the heavens. The fourth and fifth statements might be reversed in order, or might have been entirely simultaneous as far as I know.
Let’s be clear. The proposition has changed from my childish view of things. In the current configuration, I seem to be proposing that angels were not present with God in the Eternity before anything was created. In fact, the proposition now implies that the existence of angels is subordinate to the existence of the heavens. If God had not created the heavens, there would be no angels. Even though much of the work of angels is in some sense located in the earth, angels are existentially of the heavens.
Well, is there anything in scripture that can be said to support this proposition? Genesis 2:1 says “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts” (NASB). If angels are of the stuff of heaven, then they likely can be called hosts of heaven. I challenge you to read Hebrews 1 and compare these thoughts to that text.
The perspectives presented in this blog are expansions of the presentation found in Chapter 2 of the book, “The Beginning From the End,” by Dr. Corbett Gaulden, eGenCo, Chambersburg, PA, 2018.