Angels—heavenly beings who minister and appear to us on earth. What a glorious concept! And even more gloriously, the Lord has promised us the accompaniment of angels in the latter days:
I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up. (Doctrine and Covenants 84:88.)
Yet, we rarely talk about angels playing a role in our daily lives. We relegate them to the scriptures or to occasional, miraculous dreams to those much more spiritually sensitive than us. This is striking when compared to how often we talk about the influence of the Holy Ghost, which we treat (rightfully) as a blessing and opportunity available to all saints, every day of their lives.
So why do we not talk more about angels? I believe one reason is that we don’t understand their role—in particular, how that role differs from that of the Holy Ghost. After all, the Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead—a divine being—and can bless and affect us in a vast multitude of ways (see Preach My Gospel pp. 102–103 for a sampling). So once we have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, wouldn’t angels be superfluous?
Apparently not. This post explores four possible reasons why.
1. External vs. Internal Ministration
We find a clue in the connection between angels and the Aaronic Priesthood.
Doctrine and Covenants 13:1 states that the Aaronic Priesthood holds “the keys of the ministering of angels” (see also Doctrine and Covenants 107:20). In contrast, the Melchizedek Priesthood seems to be associated with the ministering of the Holy Ghost, because only bearers of the Melchizedek Priesthood can confer the gift of the Holy Ghost.1
Based on this association, we can postulate the following:
Angels are to the Holy Ghost as the Aaronic Priesthood is to the Melchizedek Priesthood
What do we know about the relationship of the Aaronic to the Melchizedek Priesthoods, and how can that inform us about the relationship between angels and the Holy Ghost?
The Aaronic Priesthood administers the more outward, physical duties and ordinances of the Church (baptism, the sacrament, the bishop’s storehouse and other financial and temporal affairs, and watching over the church; see Doctrine and Covenants 107:20). By contrast, the Melchizedek Priesthood administers the more internal, spiritual duties and ordinances of the Church (the gift of the Holy Ghost, the temple endowment, the sealing power, and the revealing and preaching of divine truth; see Doctrine and Covenants 107:18–19).
[Pro tip: If you hover over a scripture reference or footnote, you can see the associated text.]
In the same way, the Holy Ghost dwells within us and affects us in internal ways (bringing thoughts to the mind and feelings to the heart, increasing our capacities through spiritual gifts, revealing truth, illuminating our intellect, bringing things to our remembrance, etc.), while angels dwell around us and affect us in external ways (guarding us from evil influences and from the adversary’s forces, shielding or protecting us from dangerous circumstances or accidents, appearing in dreams or waking visions, or appearing physically to impart a message).
Support for this inward/outward differentiation is found in the wording of Doctrine and Covenants 84:88 (quoted earlier): “I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”
2. Preparatory vs. Exalting Functions
Just as the Aaronic Priesthood is known as the preparatory priesthood (because its ordinances prepare people for the higher ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood), angels seem to serve in a preparatory capacity. They are usually at the forefront of each new dispensation as they reveal the message of the gospel to prophets. They facilitate missionary work. They watch over and protect the servants of God. They “declare the tidings of repentance” (Helaman 5:11). In other words, they help prepare people around the world, in every age of time, to receive the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ, repent, and enter into the gate of baptism.
Of course, the Holy Ghost plays a vital role in this same preparatory process. It reveals and witnesses of truth to the earnest seeker, softens the heart of the penitent, and bestows spiritual gifts upon the messengers of the gospel. But the Holy Ghost also plays an exalting role that angels do not seem to participate in. After our repentance and baptism, the Holy Ghost sanctifies us, transforming our hearts and our minds bit by bit over the course of our discipleship until we become pure and holy, ready to be exalted in the kingdom of our Father. Angels can still assist in this process of exaltation, just as bishops, family, and friends can—but ultimately it is an experience that each individual must have directly with Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father, mediated by the Holy Ghost.2
3. Abiding Glory
Another reason, perhaps, for needing both angels and the Holy Ghost is that in certain situations, angels can intervene where the Holy Ghost can’t. The Holy Ghost is a deity, a member of the Godhead, and so possesses a divine degree of glory. Some people are living in such a way that they cannot abide the glory of the Holy Ghost (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:22–24). They cannot, or will not, feel His influence. The Holy Ghost has “ceased striving with them” (Moroni 8:28).
In such cases, if God still wants to intervene in their lives, He must send an angel. Possible examples of this principle in play include angels appearing to correct and rebuke Laman and Lemuel, Alma the son of Alma, and Balaam.
4. Physical Tasks
Lastly, angels (at least, resurrected personages) have physical bodies, while the Holy Ghost does not (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22). This suggests that angels would be better suited for physical tasks, such as appearing to bestow priesthood keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, rolling the stone away from the tomb where Jesus’s body was laid, or displaying the Nephite record and other Nephite artifacts to the Three Witnesses.3
How Do We Seek the Ministering of Angels?
So how can we have the influence of angels in our everyday lives? This could be the topic of a whole other blog post (or book), but I’ll start with a few principles gleaned from the scriptures and prophetic promises:
- Exercise faith. Mormon taught that “it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men” (Moroni 7:37).
- Willingly follow prophetic counsel. In the October 2021 general conference, Elder Neil L. Andersen promised: “When we willingly follow the counsel of the Lord as revealed through His living prophet, especially if it runs counter to our initial thinking, requiring humility and sacrifice, the Lord blesses us with additional spiritual power and sends His angels to support us and stand by us.”4
- Develop it like other spiritual gifts. Moroni listed “the beholding of angels and ministering spirits” as one of the gifts of God, given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God to the believers in Christ’s church (Moroni 10:14). This suggests that we develop the gift of beholding angels the same way we develop other spiritual gifts: by seeking for them “earnestly,” asking for them “in the Spirit,” doing all things “in the name of Christ,” giving thanks unto God for gifts received, “practic[ing] virtue and holiness before [God] continually,” and remembering that spiritual gifts are given “for the benefit of the children of God,” not for sign seeking or gratification of pride (Doctrine and Covenants 46:8–9, 26, 28–33).
- Participate in and seek to understand temple ordinances. In the October 2021 general conference, President Nelson promised, “Seek—prayerfully and consistently—to understand temple covenants and ordinances. Spiritual doors will open. You will learn how to part the veil between heaven and earth, how to ask for God’s angels to attend you, and how better to receive direction from heaven.”5 Similarly, when dedicating the Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith implored, “We ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them” (Doctrine and Covenants 109:22).
- Heed the Holy Ghost. Elder L. Tom Perry taught, speaking specifically to young men of the Aaronic Priesthood, “If you will heed the voice of warning of the Holy Ghost and will follow His direction, you will be blessed with the ministering of angels. This blessing will add wisdom, knowledge, power, and glory to your life. This is a sure blessing promised to you by the Lord.”6
- Seek to be spiritually clean. Dallin H. Oaks taught, “In general, the blessings of spiritual companionship and communication are only available to those who are clean. [Through the ordinances of baptism and the sacrament,] those who hold the Aaronic Priesthood open the door for all Church members who worthily partake of the sacrament to enjoy the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord and the ministering of angels.”7
My challenge for you today is to think more about angels. Ponder the role they could play in your life, seen or unseen. Then begin to ask God that the power of angelic ministration be unlocked in your life.
What role can angels play in our lives that the Holy Ghost doesn’t already fill? The relationship between angels and the Holy Ghost appears to mirror the relationship between the Aaronic and the Melchizedek Priesthoods. This suggests that angels assist us in more outward, physical ways, while the Holy Ghost assists us in more internal, spiritual ways. Angels also play a key role in preparing people to repent, exercise faith in Jesus Christ, and be baptized.
We can increase our access to the ministering of angels by exercising faith, willingly following prophetic counsel, developing the beholding of angels as a spiritual gift, participating in and seeking to understand temple ordinances, heeding the Holy Ghost, and seeking to be spiritually clean.
Points to Ponder
- When we are promised “the ministering of angels,” does that mean the help of unseen angels, or the visitation of seen angels? Or both? Why or why not?
- What kinds of influence can angels have on us? Can they affect our thoughts or feelings? Why or why not?
- Moroni 7:22–32.
- Dallin H. Oaks, “The Aaronic Priesthood and the Sacrament,” Ensign, November 1998.
- Chad Nielsen, “‘The Keys of the Ministering of Angels,’” timesandseasons.org, February 12, 2021.
1. When I first drafted this post, I boldly wrote that the Melchizedek Priesthood “holds the keys of the ministering of the Holy Ghost.” But I was unable to find any direct prophetic or scriptural support for this claim. In fact, the exact phrase “keys of the ministering of the Holy Ghost” doesn’t appear a single time in Google’s vast online corpus! The closest support I found was this general conference quote: “The Aaronic Priesthood, with the keys of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel, prepares the way for God’s children to receive, through the Melchizedek Priesthood, the gift of the Holy Ghost, the greatest gift we can receive in this life” (Douglas D. Holmes, “What Every Aaronic Priesthood Holder Needs to Understand,” April 2018).
2. Another way to look at it is that angelic ministrations are an appendage to the role of the Holy Ghost, just as the Aaronic Priesthood is an appendage to the Melchizedek. After all, “angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost” (2 Nephi 32:3).
3. I hedged with the phrase “this suggests” because there are scriptural accounts where the Holy Ghost acts as if it had a body, specifically when it appears to Nephi “in the form of a man” (1 Nephi 11:11) and when the Spirit carries Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and to a high mountain (Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 4:5, 8). It should also be pointed out that any angels appearing previous to Jesus’s resurrection would not have had physical, resurrected bodies.
Banner credit (painting of guardian angel): Artist unknown, similar to works by Fridolin Leiber, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.