ITV 1, Thursday 5th January, 1st of 6 episodes, 9 – 10 pm

I didn’t get round to doing a review of the Doctor Who Christmas special (BBC 1) nor of Endeavour (ITV 1), both of which I enjoyed and highly commend. However, I didn’t want to spend time at the computer when I was supposed to be having a break. And it seems a bit late now to make further comment on them.

Meanwhile, a few days ago I watched “Eternal Law”. This fantasy drama features angels who, in the guise of lawyers – barristers – come to help people caught up in some crime/tragedy. The reviewer in the Radio Times, Alison Graham, is clearly not impressed, describing it as “the most flimsy of fantasies” although she concedes that it does have “some charm”.

I am not inclined to be as disparaging as that. Granted the premise does seem a bit silly, but the performances were good and in the first episodes there are several threads to follow. What does it mean for Mr Mountjoy to “pull the plug on the whole thing”? What is the history, and indeed the future, for the angel Zak Gist and Hannah, the girl he is not supposed to fall in love with? How will newcomer angel Tom Greening adapt to the reality of the human world? What will become of Richard Pembroke the angel who is working for the prosecution?

The closing sequence alludes to the premise of the drama: that there are angels in disguise in all sorts of lowly occupations though we may not realise it. There are angels everywhere. That is an angle also worth exploring. However, angels being charmed by humans is not a new idea by any means.

I’m not sure quite where I stand with angels in reality. For many years I accepted the idea that angels were inventions or metaphors to explain unusual encounters and supernatural experiences. There are some angels mentioned in Scripture but their chief role is that of messenger from God. Meanwhile, in Christian history, angels seem to result from a compromise with Greek and Roman mythology. There is only one true God in Christianity, so where does that leave the pantheon of gods in Ancient Greek and Roman culture? Well, perhaps if we turn them into angels we won’t have to destroy all that art etc. I readily admit that I have oversimplified Church history but my point is that belief in the existence of angels is not an essential part of the gospel.

I worded that last sentence carefully: it is not saying that angels do not necessarily exist. I am suggesting that the picture we have in our mind when we read about Gabriel or Michael, for instance, says more about later ideas about angels than about what the writers of the New Testament understood them to be. For example, Gabriel is often pictured with wings but there is no suggestion of them in the Bible. They have more to do with the idea of a winged messenger, that is to say, the Roman god Mercury whose speed was designated by the symbol of wings on his feet. I expect that there are other things about angels which we have imported from elsewhere too. I am also saying that you do not have to believe in angels in order to be a Christian – any more than believing in angels automatically makes you a Christian.

Having said that, there have been stories/reports of help coming unexpectedly from someone “out of nowhere”. The helping hand, the well-timed word from a stranger whom we never meet or see again. I have no doubt that the vast majority of instances are where a human being has shown a stranger an act of kindness but have simply not wanted to attract attention to themselves. Once they have done their deed they immediately go on their way without leaving their name. Human angels abound. But I do wonder if there are others.

It will be interesting to see how “Eternal Law” works out. No stars yet – I’m suspending judgement for now.

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