What Do Angels Do?
by E.E. S.
The teachings that heaven is a kingdom of uses are so well known that we are constantly questioning what we will be doing there ourselves one day. The favorite question is, "What will a gravedigger do in heaven?" The question focuses on a problem: how to understand angelic uses in comparison with human uses.
The answer is given in Heaven and Hell. We read: "In heaven everyone comes into his own occupation .... He comes into the employment or occupation corresponding to his use in much the same conditions of life as when he was in the world .... Yet there is this difference, that he then comes into an interior delight, because into spiritual life ... and therefore (it is) more receptive of heavenly blessedness" (HH 394).
Now this may or may not help someone who on earth hates his job. The question is, what kind of love are you working from? The motive is important, since man's job, profession, employment or office is intimately correlated with his regeneration. We read, "Everyone may be regenerated, each person depending on his state; for the simple and the learned are regenerated differently, as are those engaged in different pursuits and those who fill different offices ... yet everyone, depending on his state, may be regenerated and saved" (TCR 580).
It is clear, then, that the work we do here on earth is a function of our regeneration, of our ruling love and of our heavenly use. For if our ruling love is good, then that love will find an employment in heaven which corresponds to the use of our occupation here on earth. As a ready formula, therefore, we may, to the question "What will I be doing in heaven?" give the answer, "Something similar, but better and more enjoyable."
There are so many angelic functions, services and occupations that there are relatively few on earth by comparison (HH 393). There are countless angelic uses which mediate other uses, minister to other functions and are subservient, coordinated and subordinated to other uses (HH 392). In other words, no angel does his work in isolation, but contributes an essential part to a grand total. The total use of each angelic society comes from the cumulative contributions of all its members. The total use is then subordinated to Divine Order. Every angel has dignity and honor depending on his contribution to the total use; but every angel gives the dignity to the Lord, to Whom alone it belongs (HH 389). They do this because they delight in doing their work. They labor from a love of seeing the use done. Thus they perform the use for the sake of the use itself. This, on earth, is perhaps best exemplified by the pride of service or workmanship provided. In heaven, no one ever advertises that pride. No angel would be so rash as to hang up a sign saying, "We serve you better." An angel would just go ahead and serve you better. But here on earth such a pride of service may actually stimulate the motive to become better in one's service, and to live up to one's advertisement.
Angels, differently from men, do not have to work harder in order to earn more, to buy a better home, furniture, or pay for a holiday. "All necessities of life are provided gratuitously" (HH 393). And angels do not need a holiday, since every day provides its own ample time for exhilarating and decorous entertainments, sports and recreations. The enjoyment of uses in fact carries the angel along as an ocean current propels a ship to its destination. He feels eternal peace in his work and in his recreation, and this is called "eternal rest from labor" (CL 207).
Do angelic uses seem so remote from our reality that they seem impossible? Perhaps. But every time we have felt that sudden surge of energy in our work, we have experienced some of that same eternal peace and rest from labor. When we are industrious, are we tired? Bored? Frustrated? No. And that is a sample of heavenly peace. That is the rest from labor angels enjoy. We have all felt it, and perhaps we even hope to feel that enlightened sense of purpose and expertise all the time at our work. Such is the angelic joy when at work.
But what are angelic uses?
We read in answer: "There are many forms of service; there are Church affairs, there are civil affairs, and there are domestic affairs ... (dealing with) dwellings and homes of angels; (there are uses dealing with) marriages in heaven; all of which show that in every heavenly society there are many employments and services" (HH 388).
Furthermore, there are administrations in heaven; there are ministries and functions, businesses, higher and lower courts of justice; there are also mechanical arts in heaven (CL 207). So we need not despair of finding our joy in heaven.
The uses of angels divide among the beneficiaries. Who are they? Some people suppose that angels just do good works to each other. But no, angels do not do uses just to each other; they do them for newcomers in the world of spirits and for men on earth. Men on earth and newcomers into the world of spirits can be called the "raw material" of angelic uses, and the angelic spirits just arrived from the world of spirits into heaven can be called the "finished end products" of angelic uses. For the "purpose of creation is a heaven from the human race." All angels were once men. Their use is to bring more men to heaven, as they were brought to heaven; for this is the Lord's use of creation and redemption. The angels enter into the Lord's use.
Thus some angels take care of children who have died, and teach and train them in keeping with their disposition and background in the world (HH 391). Other angels teach the simple good people of Christian background, yet others lead the peoples of all nations towards their own heavens. Other angels perform the specific use of defending newcomers against evil spirits, while others attend those who are being vastated. Some angels even attend spirits in hell, to restrain them from tormenting each other beyond the prescribed limits - the `prison wardens' in the spiritual world.
We see from these examples that all angels meet newly arrived spirits, and thus come in contact also with the minds of men on earth. All angelic uses are received by men on earth. There are no angelic uses which do not result in an influx which is not only received by us, but which also influences our work.
Before we see how the angelic uses inflow and affect our work here on earth, let us consider "What Do Angels Do?" We now know their "job descriptions," or the outline of what they do; but do we know how they carry out their work? If we could observe an angel at work, how would we describe it?
As with the gravedigger in heaven, we have trouble imagining the external surroundings, the manual skills or coordination of movements, and so forth, required for a specific angelic use. Is the angel swinging a pick-axe or a sword when he works? Does he just sit at a desk, and chase evil spirits away by typing a letter?
Do the Heavenly Doctrines provide any help here?
Yes and no. We are told that the countless functions, offices, etc., in heaven are spiritual, and even though they may be described, it cannot be done comprehensibly! (Char 142) Angelic uses do indeed appear "in part like those done in the world," we read, "yet they are spiritual uses that cannot be described in natural language" (AE 1226). In fact, when Swedenborg tried to describe how the angels actually carried out their uses, he found that it did not even fall into the ideas of natural thought! (ibid.) In short, we read: "How the spiritual work cannot be described to the natural, nor can it be described to the spiritual how the celestial angels work" (De Verbo 10).
Astonishing! Our imagination races furiously to picture how an angel does his work. Perhaps our hero Superman provides some idea, flying hither and yon to help people out, but if we were to imitate him we might end up either in hospital or the insane asylum for thanks!
No, angels are the experts in angelic uses. Yet if we are being regenerated, we too possess the knowledge, the know-how, of performing our use in a spiritual manner. Only the crass, gross limitations of our mundane bodies prevent us from the spontaneous flow of spiritual movements which bring to effect our own unique heavenly use. Once we come into that use after death, we will no doubt realize that that is what we have in fact been doing on earth too. But here, nature imposes its own movement, skill and coordination of limbs, eye and brains.
In heaven, there are other movements and skills, etc., which correspond to our earthly work, but which defy description (cf. HH 485-490).
The source of angelic uses
Now that we know - or do not know - how angels perform their uses, we ask, What is the source of their uses?
As we said, the Lord is the Source of Divine order in all angelic uses. Therefore, the employments of the angels are in fact the employment of the Lord Himself through the angels (HH 391). The Lord acts indirectly through heaven, and thereby He provides the functions and offices of the angels.
Does this mean that the Lord could do His work without angelic help? Yes, it does. We read: "The Lord acts indirectly through heaven, not because He needs their aid, but in order that angels thereby may have functions and offices, and consequently life and happiness in uses" (AC 8719).
The Lord can do everything without any angel's help. How on earth - or how in heaven - can any angel help the Lord? Everything an angel has that makes him an angel came from the Lord. How can an angel help? The Lord does not need any angel's aid. For an angel to presume he could aid the Lord would be as monstrous as it was for Uzzah to steady the ark. The thought that one could help the Lord can only spring from proprium. Therefore, the only way that angels can serve the Lord is to carry out His Will and Wisdom by entering into the uses that come from the Lord. The Lord grants such employments for the sake of eternal happiness, yet He does not need any angel. That is what is meant by Divine Mercy. Men are saved from pure mercy, because the Lord has no need of us. But His Divine Love is such that it wills to create others outside of Himself, wills to make one with them, and to render them happy to eternity from itself (TCR 43). The Lord has created us from pure mercy, and grants us eternal happiness by our being conjoined with Him.
The angels realize their own unworthiness before the Lord. Every person has to acknowledge that same total unworthiness before he can become an angel of heaven. But once an angel, he does not dwell on it. Angels consequently spring in the very height of their vigor to the uses for which they were created, and serve the Lord as though their eternal life depended on it - which in a way it does.
Thus the angels have no worries. Their acknowledgment of unworthiness was but the basis for eternal happiness. Based on that acknowledgment they receive heavenly peace, and a rest from
labor, that is the absence of fatigue, irritation, frustration, self-pity and undue hope for promotion, or any other earth-bound gremlins.
They do uses to people
And so the angelic uses are received by people. Not only is peopleís conscious life the beneficiary, but even their organic make-up keeps functioning as a result of the Divine influx through all the heavens. For the heavenly societies in their uses correspond to the functions of the organs and tissues of the whole human constitution. In fact those heavenly uses pre-exist the organic forms which appear one after another in the foetus as it grows to maturity, ready for birth (cf. AC 4223). For example, the use of perceiving what is good and true is ultimated in the created facial organ of the nose; the use of obedience and of hearkening to the Lord is ultimated in the creation of the human ear, and so forth. Our bodies are therefore the last result of the angelic uses as they were Divinely intended from creation. Therefore all uses pre-exist in the Lord.
Apart from the human constitution, the angelic uses also inflow into man's conscious and unconscious mental life. Angels from each society, we read, are sent to men to watch over them, to lead them away from evil affections and thoughts, and to inspire them with good affections and thoughts, in so far as they can be received in freedom. By these means, angels "direct the deeds of man by removing as far as possible his evil intentions. Angels with man dwell as it were in his affections. They are near to man just in the degree in which he is in good from truth, and they are distant from man as the life is distant from good" (HH 391).
Again we wonder what exactly the angels are doing. How do the angels perform this use of directing man's deeds? There is no answer. Angels perform their use in a spiritual manner, which cannot be described. But we do know that the angelic joy consists in active labor and in practical services, and in seeing good accomplished (HH 535). So although we have little idea of how the angels perform their uses, we know that they are being active and practical. In other words, they would be unlikely to be sitting at desks signing papers!
And how are we affected by angelic uses? In more ways than can possibly be thought of. In fact our whole life is an outcome, an end result, which - although stemming from our own ability to act from freedom in accordance with reason - yet depends largely on the angels' work. We read, "All things are disposed by means of spirits and angels with man, all his states and changes of states come from this, and are thus directed by the Lord to the ends which the Lord alone foresees ... All states, even to the least particular, come from this source" (AC 2796).
But let us not call "foul play" on this work. For the end which the Lord foresees, and towards which he is directing our lives, is our use in heaven. To this end He gives angels their employments and uses. And so aware are the angels of this use, that they know that they are with men (A 5862), even though they cannot see into our world or see the people they are with. And we can say the same: we know that angels are with us, yet we cannot see them or their world either! Men and angels are therefore equally aware of each others' existence and presence. Yet who can complain? All of our life has taken place under the same circumstances of spiritual freedom as we now find ourselves in. The influence of the angels is not noticeable now, nor has it ever been in the past (cf. AC 6209). We have never felt as though something in us were compelling our mind to something. No, we have acted as though from ourselves. Even the knowledge that angelic uses inspire us to do our own use and that they dispose our changes of states does not adversely influence our own behavior. Rather we are encouraged by knowing that we have angelic companions to spur us on in the good work that we love to do. Angels do the job perfectly, where we fall down and drop short. Our angelically prompted motto could therefore be, "See it through; see that use accomplished."
One passage in the Doctrines (I have almost torn my set apart trying to find it again) even states that if the influx from angelic uses into human uses were to cease, man would not know what to do (AC-?). Apathy is therefore a consequence of some stoppage in the reception of the angelic influx, or of the Lord's influx through heaven. And the simplest solution for apathy is to rouse oneself from it.
How to do our use
Knowing all this, we now ask, How do we do our use here on earth?
There is the often-repeated teaching, to carry out one's duty with diligence and to the best of one's ability, with sincerity and faithfulness. This is to love the use for the sake of the use itself. Such a love makes the motive heavenly.
1. Our motives, like our states of regeneration, cannot be known for certain. We have only indications. If two people do the same j ob, one may be working from the love of self, and the other from the love of use, and we would not be able to tell them apart. "Man cannot distinguish between [the love of self and the love of use]. But the Lord can" (CL 266). But there is an indication, namely, if man perceives a delight from a use separated from self, he may know that he is in a genuine affection (AC 3796:3).
In order to separate the use from self, selfish motives need to be shunned. Man is, as we saw before, regenerated and saved in the pursuits of his office and employment (TCR 580). Therefore the doctrines also give the universal remedy for salvation in one's occupation: "Shun evils as sins against the Lord, and carry out the duties of your work honestly, justly and faithfully" (cf. Char. 158).
Every use is genuine only when evil is shunned. And every work has its own particular evils that need shunning. A priest has to shun the evil of contempt for others in comparison with himself. A governor or boss has to shun the evil of dominion over others. Officials of lower ranks must shun the evil love of reputation, honor and gain. Judges and law officials must shun the evil of self-intelligence. Those in military or police forces must shun the evil of being angry without a cause. And so forth.
Thus every individual can bring a good motive to bear in his or her present worldly employment. Nor need he worry unduly about the motives of becoming a success or of feeling pride in one's own accomplishments, so long as they do not destroy his love of use. For the love of self and of the world were by creation heavenly loves. We read, "They are loves of the natural man which are serviceable to spiritual loves ... From these loves [the love of self and the world], man seeks the welfare of his body, desires food, clothing, habitation, is solicitous for the welfare of his family, and of securing employment for the sake of use, even in the interest of being obeyed and being honored according to the dignity of the affairs he administers; he seeks to find delight and refreshment in worldly enjoyment; yet all of these for the sake of the end, which must be use. For through these things a man is in a state to serve the Lord and the neighbor" (DLW 396).
This passage makes it clear that someone who serves a heavenly use on earth, that is who works from a regenerate motive, can take no harm from material success or such occasional enjoyments of the world as he chooses, as long as they are orderly and do not become the main loves. A love of use keeps these things in proper perspective, and never allows them to dominate.
A simple test to see whether the love of self or the love of use predominates in us is to see our ability to separate ourselves from the honor of our use. The honor and dignity belong to the office or use, not to the person who performs it (HD 316). If our work were
to be praised without our name being associated with the praise, how quickly would we claim the merit? And if our work were criticized, how would our protest sound? Would not a good man separate his use from himself, and keep silence when his work was praised, being thankful to the Lord when praised; and would he not keep silence when criticized, feeling shame when fairly criticized? When unfairly criticized, would he not react calmly? A selfish man, on the other hand, would be more likely to speak up to claim merit for praise or to react with anger to any criticism, whether justified or not.
2. Can we discover the angelic use corresponding to our earthly employment?
First, a use is not just a portion of the job man does. A use is man's total output of good loves, wherever and however they express themselves. Our job or work may thus be only a small portion of our total use. Our use is the total impact we have on all we have dealings with. What is the nature of your impact on others? Find that out and you may receive a fair indication of your spiritual character, and thus of your heavenly use.
Let us take two examples of angelic and human uses: the angel whose use it is to attend those being raised from the dead, and a train-driver. What could the angel who attends those being resuscitated have been doing when he was a man on earth? And what is the train-driver going to do in heaven?
Let us start with the train-driver: his job is to convey a train from place to place, with passengers and goods intact. His use, however, may be the love to see the consequences of travel brought to fruition for his passengers. Thus in heaven the same use could well be the subservient use of ensuring the accomplishment of other angelic uses. For a train-driver by his work allows people to carry out their uses in greater freedom, by getting them where they have to go!
In heaven, of course, there is no need for trains, so the train-driver has to do something similar, but with the same outcome of allowing other uses to be fulfilled by means of his own subservient use. What could such an active labor and practical service be like in heaven? Perhaps he attends groups of newcomers through various states in the world of spirits, ensuring that the Lord's work of raising them into heaven goes according to schedule, thus according to Divine order, yet ensuring at the same time the spiritual freedom of each newcomer. Such work would be much more rewarding than just going back and forth between depots. There would be the same demand for handling complex situations with skill and coordination. Alas, we cannot describe the how of it any further.
And the angel who attends those being raised from death? What could his use or work on earth have been?
Surely when someone is being resuscitated, he or she is most vulnerable. It is the same as during sleep. People are most carefully protected during such vulnerable states, and yet during such states people have the greatest docility, can most easily be led heavenward.
What examples can be found of people who protect us when we are most vulnerable? The night-guards and the police are examples. Also teachers looking after children, nurses looking after invalids or the handicapped. There are any number of examples of earthly employments which could incorporate the love of protecting people when they are vulnerable, yet in the Lord's hands. Some people in such employments may in the other life find their use in attending those being raised from the dead, if they have become celestial.
So, yes, we can discover what is the use of our earthly employment. We simply have to remove in our minds, step by step, all the external material paraphernalia and tools of our work, until we get down to the basic customer-service we provide. "What is the final outcome of my service or product in terms of spiritual values?" That is the question.
A priest may answer, I help ensure that the Divine is seen to be present in all the experiences of people's lives.
A teacher may answer, I try to order all knowledge in conformity with and in ultimation of the Lord's Divine Truth.
A doctor or nurse may answer, I help reduce external states of disorder into correspondence, and I promote in externals freedom to obey internal states of order from the Lord.
A lawyer may answer, I allow every aspect of people's lives and motives to be seen in the light of Divine order.
A businessman or manager may answer, I help my neighbor to act from freedom according to reason, and to subordinate all human weaknesses under the government of Divine Providence, for the greater needs of the Lord's kingdom.
An engineer may answer, I allow all kinds of uses to be brought to fruition by helpful intermediation.
A farmer may answer, I serve to bring external things into a state of health and vigor to bring about the nourishment of the soul with goods and truths from the Lord.
A soldier may reply, I help to protect and defend all in the Lord's kingdom in their correct and free performance of uses from the Lord.
A policeman may reply, I serve to ensure the freedom of speech and action, thus of understanding and will, in all just and fair events in the Lord's kingdom. The same applies to a judge.
A fireman may reply, I protect the lowest ultimates of use in the Lord's kingdom from the destructiveness of anger, and help to remove the fire of self-love.
And finally, in the most popular job in the whole world, the housewife may answer, I help serve the Creator of the universe in maintaining every state of good and truth whatever that is seen to come from the Lord.
Such could be our heavenly job descriptions. But as to how each of these uses will be carried out in heaven it is impossible to describe. The external way we do a use here on earth is no doubt different from the external way it is seen to be done in heaven. Yet the heavenly employment corresponds to the earthly use. So it will come as no surprise to us when we finally take up our heavenly use; nor will the active labor and practical service we then provide seem strange to us. Rather, we imagine that we will take to them as ducks to water.
3. Finally, can we improve on our work here on earth, from the knowledge of angelic uses inflowing?
We can most certainly be encouraged by the fact that there is no useful employment on earth on which the angels are not already expert. Angels know how to do every use with such expertise that it would make our head spin. Yet our expertise would have angelic overtones if we have in us some or all of the spiritual qualities so far mentioned: the will to carry out one's duty honestly, faithfully and sincerely; the love of seeing the use accomplished; the will to shun evils belonging to or threatening one's work; the will to forego the honor and accept the blame for mistakes; the acknowledgment that the honor belongs to the use and its correct performance.
A "New Church Work Ethic" would certainly contain many of these elements. And strange to say, love to the Lord is present in the sincere performance of one's use, even though the Lord may not even be thought of at the time (See AC 5130). There is, for example, the case of the businessman who had been so busy on earth carrying out an honest business that he had no time to acknowledge truth more interiorly. He went to heaven as a surprise (See Faith 30).
So what do angels do? They do the Lord's work of saving men. We are the raw material. And we are saved as we serve our uses, by the angels' inspiration from the Lord.
* * * * *
Angels talk with each other just as men do in the world, and on various subjects, as on domestic matters, and matters of the civil state, and of moral and spiritual life. And there is no difference except that their talk is more intelligent than that of men, because it is from interior thought. I have been permitted to associate with them frequently, and to talk with them as friend with friend, and sometimes as stranger with stranger; and as I was then in a state like theirs I knew no otherwise than that I was talking with men on earth. (HH 234 (Compare AC 5249:2.))
-New Church Life 1981;101:144-146,181-183, 232-237