In the HBO drama The Newsroom, news anchor Will McAvoy offers a memorable response to a college student’s simple question: “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”

The student commits a logical fallacy in framing the question. She assumes McAvoy agrees with her presupposition that the USA is the greatest country.

It’s easy to see the problem here. She’s begging the question by assuming a particular conclusion—her particular conclusion. As it turns out, McAvoy does not think America is the greatest country in the world. And he embarks on a soliloquy for the ages.

Eventually, McAvoy does concede that the USA is first in three categories, one of which is the “number of adults who believe angels are real.” In stating this, he seems to imply that belief in angels is absurd.

If that’s McAvoy’s implication (he’s a fictitious character, so this is all conjecture), he’s committing a logical fallacy of his own. He seems to say: We can’t prove angels exist, so it’s ludicrous to believe angels exist.

This is the fallacy known as the “appeal to a lack of evidence” (argumentum ad ignorantium, in case you care). Just because we can’t prove something exists doesn’t mean it doesn’t actually exist.

Okay, math is hard and we’re dealing with a triple negative here. Try looking at it this way: If you can’t prove something does exist, you haven’t proved it doesn’t exist.

The movie It’s a Wonderful Life takes a decidedly different approach to angels. We might even call it whimsically daft—and I’m speaking as someone who loves the movie. Clarence is a former human who has become an angel and is now in heaven, except he’s been sent back to earth where he’s trying to earn his wings. (Hey, it’s a movie! We can permit some creative license here.) Director Frank Capra’s imagination of angels—as entertaining as it was—is useless to counter McAvoy’s implicit denial of their existence. Capra’s view is manifestly fanciful.

Coincidentally, the erroneous idea that human beings become angels after we die may stem from a distortion of a quote Jesus made in the Bible. Doubly coincidental, Christ was pointing out a fallacy some religious leaders were making as they tried to trick him. Even more coincidentally, these religious leaders, known as the Sadducees, disbelieved an idea they couldn’t prove was real. The Sadducees didn’t believe in an afterlife. Such skepticism isn’t far removed from McAvoy’s.

Here’s the account as Matthew relates it. The Sadducees told Jesus a hypothetical story in which a woman outlived seven husbands, having no children by any of them. The religious leaders asked, smugly, “So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” (Matthew 22:28).

Jesus didn’t flinch. He said, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven” (vv. 29–30, emphasis added).

Jesus, of course, said, “like the angels,” not “will be angels.” Notably, if we take the words of Jesus seriously, he assumes the existence of angels in this passage. He also assumes the resurrection of the dead.

A character like Will McAvoy might say, “That’s just your holy book, written by flawed human beings. Your conclusion is baseless; you start with erroneous assumptions.”

We could argue the point all day, with only the eggheads finding the discussion stimulating. The rest of us would likely walk away angry. But there is a fundamental point we can establish here. The skeptical (like McAvoy) and the faithful (like Capra and like me) have to start with an assumption that can’t be proven empirically. Both sides can do no more than point to circumstantial evidence for their belief of what existed or didn’t exist at the start of everything.

As G. K. Chesterton noted in describing those who would deny God, “It is absurd . . . to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.”

And that has everything to do with what we believe about angels. For if we start with the belief that somehow nothing turned itself into everything, we have no need for the spiritual.

If we begin, however, with the belief that human personality originates with a Creator who likewise had personality, then it is not a large leap of faith to believe that this Creator also gave us a book in which he tells us the things we must know about this life and the next. And in that book, he might well allude to the existence of advanced beings different from humans. What’s more, although we can’t test this book for the existence of angels, we can test it for historical and prophetic accuracy. In doing so, we can prove or disprove its trustworthiness for what we do know.

Our choice of what to believe about this fundamental question has huge ramifications for what we believe about everything. Life. Love. Purpose. Justice. Death.

The next life.

The resurrection that Jesus assumed to be true gives us genuine hope for a lasting future where God’s kingdom will be fully realized. That’s the kingdom we’re really longing for when we celebrate Christmas. As we sing traditional Christmas carols, we voice this hope without even thinking: “Peace on earth.” “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground.” “Born that man no more may die.”

God, who by definition knows all things, has a habit of assuming the things that are real are real. And so he begins his book, the Bible, with a naked propositional truth: “In the beginning, God …”

The disciple John wove another thread into that self-evident strand as he opened his eyewitness account of the life of Jesus:

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought life to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.
John 1:1–5

This is John’s version of the Christmas story. Intriguingly, John doesn’t mention angels, but they aren’t the significant players here. The Word is. And that Word is Jesus. “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:14).

That’s news worth declaring to the skeptical and the faithful alike. That’s the reason for the angels coming.

That’s the reason for Christmas.

—Tim Gustafson

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