Deathbeds and Angels
I am writing in response to the Rev. Dale Kuiper’s articles entitled “The Reformed View of Angels” (Standard Bearer, Feb. 15 and March 1, 1996). In the first article, on page 225, he sets forth his approach to the subject:
When we studied the available literature on our subject, we found that as soon as an author went beyond the Bible, without exception he became speculative and fanciful. We are not interested in that. We will restrict ourselves to the Word of God as the only source of truth regarding angels.
However, in the second installment, on page 253, under the subtitled section “Questions that often arise,” he entertains questions such as “Do angels appear just before a child of God dies? Or, just as a saint expires, is it possible that he sees angels?” Some of the comments of those on their deathbed have been offered such as, “Oh, it’s very beautiful!” and “I hear music,” or “I see angels!” Rev. Kuiper instructs us as to what we are to think of this, as follows:
Our response is that it is entirely possible. Who are we to say that it is not true? If we keep in mind that the soul of the redeemed child of God enters into glory at the moment of physical death, and if we keep in mind that Christ sends His angels to gather His people home, why is such an experience not possible? … we see no reason to doubt the authenticity of these remarks.
Firstly, Rev. Kuiper’s position seems to fall into the realm of speculation that he intended to avoid. Secondly, even in the absence of absolutes, I believe his conclusion leans more to the side of error than truth. Furthermore, I think it weakens his next section of the article concerning angelic appearances and leaves the door dangerously wide open for abhorrent tendencies. Perhaps Rev. Kuiper would like to respond to the following observations.
1)Someone might attempt to argue that similar experiences or statements arise from the mouths of those near death yet still in unbelief, as well as those whose hearts stop for 15 minutes and are alleged to have been “miraculously brought back to life.”
2)Whatever the experience of the believer upon the senses (as we conceive of them) after death, or even at the very moment of death whenever this occurs (the cessation of consciousness, breathing, and heartbeat may not necessarily or immediately equate to “absence from the body”), the situation which Rev. Kuiper describes is still prior to death.
3)Having been at the side of some believing family members who have breathed their last breath, I have, on the one hand, heard statements that evidenced disorientation in those that were suffering, and on the other hand heard statements of peace and security in Jesus their Savior. This experience in and of itself means nothing, yet combined with my understanding of the Scriptures, it would tell me that where the believer has placed full confidence and trust in the risen Savior on this side of the grave, he has no need that the sufficiency of the Word of God and the knowledge of the glorious work of Christ in the cross cannot supply (Phil. 4:19). Death is still a curse, and in this life, until we are in the presence of the Almighty, the hope and substance for the faithful Christian is in the evidence of that which is not seen (Heb. 11:1).
4)If there is any doubt in the mind of Rev. Kuiper (for his argument seems a bit uncertain), I suggest that it is better to err on the side that denies these alleged declarations by those nearing death. The age that we live in is not the only one that has had an excessive fascination with the study of angels. Certainly the history of the church will demonstrate that many strange and heretical doctrines and practices have arisen (particularly in the Roman Catholic church).
5)Lastly, if I were to apply the logic of Rev. Kuiper’s defense to another scenario, I could defend visions of angels upon conversion. Of course, this could not be, yet the points which he makes are that the believer anticipates the entrance into glory and that the angels will have a part in bringing him there. At conversion, however, is not the change which occurs a miraculous one, where the individual is transformed in his spirit or soul, filled by the Spirit, raised up and made to sit in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6)? And even Rev. Kuiper’s comments on page 252 speak of the angels in these heavenly places when he refers to Ephesians 3:10. He also speaks of the angels who are involved by way of observation and through rejoicing over that conversion.
Although there was much that was good in these articles, I think that this particular area could have been dealt with differently, or better yet, perhaps not at all.
The questions with which I closed the article on angels were asked of me when I spoke on this subject in the Grand Rapids area last fall. I thought that both in the speech and in the SB article I used careful enough language that I was not “instructing us as to what we are to think of this.” I made the point that it was “possible,” “we see no reason to doubt,” and “this may not be experienced in every case.” Perhaps I could better have said, “This happens rarely.”
Does someone want to say it is impossible? Does someone want to say to those who have heard these deathbed words, “Your loved one was mistaken and confused”? Does someone want dogmatically to say, “It has never happened once”? Very well. I would rather leave open the possibility.
— (Rev.) Dale H. Kuiper