An angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. You’ve probably seen television shows or movies that use this trope when a character has to make a decision. Both personas whisper into the character’s ear — the angel tries to persuade the individual to make the moral decision, while the devil tries to sway them to the dark side.
I used to think this angel/devil depiction was silly — until I found out that the Baha’i Writings actually discuss how the whisperings of angels and the whisperings of evil influence us. While there is some symbolic truth to this angel/devil imagery, what Hollywood tells us about angels and the devil is, of course, quite different than the reality.
What is an Angel?
It’s hard to know what angels physically look like because we have a limited ability to understand the afterlife while we are living in this material world. Instead, the Baha’i Writings explain the meaning of angels:
The meaning of ‘angels’ is the confirmations of God and His celestial powers. Likewise angels are blessed beings who have severed all ties with this nether world, have been released from the chains of self and the desires of the flesh, and anchored their hearts to the heavenly realms of the Lord. These are of the Kingdom, heavenly; these are of God, spiritual; these are revealers of God’s abounding grace; these are dawning-points of His spiritual bestowals. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha
This passage also gives us insight into the characteristics of angels: pure beings that have completely detached themselves from this earthly existence and fully anchored their hearts to the heavenly realm. They are even characterized as having extreme humility despite their honor, glory, and station.
The Baha’i Writings encourage us to become more angelic:
Abandon the concerns of mankind and be naturalized with the attributes of the angels of the Supreme Concourse, because these angels humble themselves to the lowest thing of the things despite their honor, glory, the loftiness of station and the greatness of their might. – Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha
Angels are also described as heavenly and spiritual, and as the revealers of God’s grace. In order to be the revealer of God’s grace and confirmations, they must interact with humans on some level. The Baha’i Writings, as well as many other religious writings, explain the different tasks and duties of angels.
According to Islam, there are two angels next to every human — one on our right and one on our left. The angel on the right records our good deeds and the angel on the left records our evil deeds. The Quran further explains that these angels are changed daily and the books that they write will be produced on Judgment Day.
God also sends angels to guide us and keep us on the right path. In The Book of Psalms in the Bible it says, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” Sometimes, our guardian angels are our loved ones that have passed away.
The Baha’i Writings tell us that praying for the departed allows us to remain connected to those who have passed, and may allow them to communicate with us:
Those who have ascended have different attributes from those who are still on earth, yet there is no real separation. In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you! When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty. This sometimes happens in sleep. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London
If angels have the ability to record our actions and guide us, and if we are surrounded by so many angels that can even whisper suggestions to us if we pray for them, why do we still make bad choices? Could there perhaps be another whisperer in our midst — an evil one, the devil?
What is the Devil?
The Baha’i Writings advise us:
However, instead of believing that this “evil one” — the devil — is a person, Baha’is believe this “evil one” is not a personality or spirit outside us. Instead, it is the lower, or material, nature within us.
The Baha’i Writings explain:
The reality underlying this question is that the evil spirit, Satan or whatever is interpreted as evil, refers to the lower nature in man. This baser nature is symbolized in various ways. In man there are two expressions, one is the expression of nature, the other the expression of the spiritual realm…. God has never created an evil spirit; all such ideas and nomenclature are symbols expressing the mere human or earthly nature of man. It is an essential condition of the soil of earth that thorns, weeds and fruitless trees may grow from it. Relatively speaking, this is evil; it is simply the lower state and baser product of nature. — Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace
As long as we are imperfect, we have this evil nature within us that we constantly need to strive to overcome by turning towards what is divine and pure. We need to purify our souls and detach ourselves from this world if we want to become like the divine angels. That starts with not blaming our wrongdoings on an outside personality perched on our shoulder, but by taking responsibility for our actions. To help us, we have divine angels who are endowed with the characteristics of God. Love permeates every fiber of their being and these angels assist us if we serve God.
It all boils down to one thing: deciding to do what is right as we navigate through life. We all have free will, so we have the power to choose which “voice” we will allow to guide us.