“No, not here!”
It was 3:00am, I was on my way home from work, and my car had just died.
For the past few miles of highway it had been acting up, and as I stopped at the red light at the top of the exit ramp it lost any ability to move – later I found out the transmission had failed.
The exit had two lanes, so even though I couldn’t even move off to the side, other cars could get around me. I flipped on my four-way emergency lights, and sat there trying to figure out what I was going to do.
No cell phone (it was a few years ago), no idea why my car wouldn’t move, and frightened that some inattentive driver was going to rear-end me.
Suddenly lights shone bright in my mirror. I stuck my hand out the window to wave them around, but then their four-ways came on and a woman in her mid thirties knocked on my window.
She asked if I needed help and I explained my predicament. “Alright,” she replied “well first we have to get you out of this intersection. If you can still brake and steer I can push you with my car into that parking lot down the road.”
A few terrifying minutes later we had made it into the parking lot, and we got out to survey the damage. My car looked fine, but her’s was a bit scraped up in front.
I thanked her profusely, and asked for her contact information so I could repay her for the repairs I knew her car was going to need. She refused. When I insisted she said it was okay and that she would just tell her husband it was like that when she came out of work.
After letting me use her cell phone to arrange for a ride, she drove off.
Over the next few days, almost every time I told that story I got the same response, “God sent an angel to help you.”
I was reminded of that night recently, when a friend was telling a similar story. He and his wife were broken down in the middle of the Appalachians when a man stopped to help them, drove a half hour each way to get a part to fix their car, and instead of letting them pay him back he left them with $100 to “get something to eat.”
My freind’s response, “It must have been an angel, no one would do all that.”
Now, I believe in angels. They might not be a very central part of my faith, but the Bible talks about them and I have no reason to discount their existence.
But in situations like these, I’ve become convinced that most of the time angels are a cop-out.
Maybe we can’t imagine driving an hour out of our way, or scraping up our car, all for a stranger. Since we can’t imagine doing it ourselves, we don’t want to admit there are people far kinder and more generous than us, and we attribute it to angels.
Maybe we have such a low view of people, such a strong doctrine of the fall and human depravity, that we have no room for people who do these acts of love with no thought of gain for themselves. Angels then become an easy explanation to how anyone could do such a thing. They can’t, only angels do.
Or, maybe, in those moments we are faced with the realization that the proper response to what was done for us is to pay it forward, to do the same for others, and that’s hard. Saying, “it was an angel” releases us from that responsibility.
It could be that the woman who helped me that night was an angel, but I don’t think so. I think it was just someone who took pity on a stranded driver at 3:00am, banged up her car to help him, and refused to consider repayment.
And, in many ways, that is far more powerful an idea than the suggestion that I encountered an angel.