The problem with God is that His given definition is one of omnipotence and benevolence. This can make it tricky to depict Heaven, especially if you want to add some grey in there; or the notion that The Legions of Hell are actually a threat. So we go down in Cosmic Denominators; though not quite to the lowest.
The Council of Angels plot gets around this by stating that Heaven is run by angels instead, with varying powers running between the Physical Gods and the Powers That Be; not counting the really young ones. Often it's explained that in the last two millennia, God decided to retire someplace sunny, or work on some secret project, letting humans and angels work things out themselves instead of directly controlling them. The angels tend to be somewhat upset about this. Or maybe there is no personal God at all, and the angels follow some more vague ideal of goodness, themselves at least supposedly representing its highest embodiment.
Oh, even with God around, don't expect them to clear up whether Judaism, Christianity or Islam is right; often they're not sure themselves. If they do know, there seems to be an unspoken rule against telling anyone. It's also not uncommon for different angels to have different viewpoints on the nature of "good", often associated with human viewpoints.
They may even be a Celestial Bureaucracy.
In brighter settings, Fluffy Cloud Heaven is a diversion for newly arrived souls of humans. There's often a "Heaven of Heavens" where they go eventually; where presumably God really is. Hopefully this is where good beings who are "soul-killed" go as well. Nobody ever talks about what this is like, ever; and it's extremely rare for someone to come back from it.
In darker settings, God Is Evil and doesn't want to deal with the masses personally, and the angels either collaborate or are secretly rebelling. Or maybe God is good but non-interfering, but the angels took their free will the totally wrong direction, and became Knights Templar.
Hell might be run in a similar way, but it's perfectly possible that there's a Devil, but No God.
See also God Is Evil, Have You Seen My God?, Crystal Dragon Jesus, The Lowest Cosmic Denominator, and their usual leaders, Celestial Paragons and Archangels. The opposite number of Demon Lords and Archdevils.
- This is the entire concept of the manga / anime Angel Sanctuary, and it's a Crapsack Cosmology out there...
- In the CLAMP manga Wish, the various Angels are running around terrified that God is going to punish the various characters and themselves for stuff they've done. Surprising for a Japanese depiction, when God does make his opinions known, he's a decent guy.
- The Three Great Angels, Seraphimon, Ophanimon, and Cherubimon featured in Digimon Frontier and other Digimon related media. The trio ruled the Digital World after Lucemon's fall and guard over God's Law, Wisdom, and love.
- Magic: The Gathering has never had true gods per se, but it has plenty of angels. Both the settings Bant and Serra's Realm were ruled by a Council of Angels.
- However, with the lack of gods comes with a lack of divine origin for the angels; they are in all cases sapient constructs of white mana.
- The player's position is that of a planeswalker, which may be a human ascended to world-shattering power or some kind of inhuman force of purpose (such as whatever drives Phyrexia). So in a sense, the players are competing gods. Just crappy squabbling ones.
- The closest the setting has to a true god is Gaea, the will of Dominaria itself. And even then there is in-universe debate as to whether Gaea is a true god, another planeswalker, or an ascended being not unlike Yawgmoth. Yawgmoth even believed Gaea was really his former lover Rebbec.
- The vampire comic book Crimson had a Council Of Angels show up in one issue. God made it too, but didn't say anything. And only Lucifer recognized him, anyway.
- Lucifer featured a few small subplots about angels arguing about whether they should attack Lucifer and whether or not it was God's will. God was notably quiet on the matter, although he did turn up a couple of times in various guises afterward.
- A Council Of Angels turned up in Preacher, although their God's absence from Heaven was actually part of the plot — he'd run away because he feared the protagonist's power.
- God eventually showed up in Spawn as the being in charge of Heaven. He was of equal power to Satan (they were portrayed as brothers), and he only had power over Heaven and things Heaven owned. Then the "Mother of Creation" was introduced, as the being who made God and Satan and everything. And the Mother of Creation was Jesus. So, basically, God wasn't really God. The MoC is God, God is basically really just the "Head Angel in Charge". "God" does serve as a sort of one-man Council of Angels here, since he's in charge of Heaven directly without the apparent authority of the MoC.
- Spawn was closer to a Gnostic viewpoint. God was the god of the Old Testament who acted supreme, but was not. MOC created the universe and a race of nigh-omnipotent, immortal beings and gave each a world to form as they wished. God and Satan both got Earth and refused to share acting like spoiled three-year olds, but were equal in power and could not kill each other. God created heaven, Satan created hell and they used angels, demons and humans to fight a proxy war. MOC grew disgusted with their fighting and removed them from their thrones to try and teach them to behave. This did not work. So God was god in the sense of the creator and ruler of heaven who also created the angels. But he was not the supreme being. However, he and Satan were both so far above anything and everything else save their mother they could be considered gods. None of their other brothers were ever shown and with power equal to theirs, Spawn easily trashed their combined armies.
- In the DCU cosmology, there are the four King-Angels (each head of the four hosts of Heaven: Eagle, Human, Bull, and Lion). Asmodel (the Big Bad of one of the JLA story arcs) is King-Angel of the Bull Host. When Asmodel stormed the throne room of Heaven to usurp God, he discovered that the throne room was empty. In the DCU, God is everywhere and everything, making Asmodel's efforts utterly futile.
- The Seraphim and the members of his cult use this as their primary gimmick in Angel Of The Bat. His Elite Mooks dress in animal masks, come in groups of four and are referred to as "The Four Faces of the Cherubim". The Seraphim himself wields fire-based weaponry, has six wings and covers his face, in reference to the creatures he named himself after. This is in contrast to Cassandra/Angel of the Bat, whose design is more simplistic and friendly.
- A form of this is used in the movie Wristcutters: A Love Story, with the People in Charge.
- In Guild Hunter there is the Cadre of Ten, made up of the ten most powerful Archangels in the world. The number can dip as low as seven, but there's never meant to be more than ten; there's only so much of the planet, after all.
- In Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series, the angels (primarily Gabriel) are running things because God is off contemplating his perfection in the "Heaven of Heavens". Unfortunately, while they mean well, they aren't up to the task.
- It's not explicitly stated in Good Omens that God isn't exactly running things, but Beelzebub and the Metatron certainly seem to be in charge of the Heaven vs. Hell thing, and aren't actually 100% sure what they're supposed to be doing, exactly. Crowley and Aziraphale then exploit this like hell. Unusually for this trope, the problem isn't that nobody can find God, it's that He won't tell anyone anything. And He smiles all the time.
- In Dora Wilk Series God rarely intervenes, and almost never directly, so Heaven is ruled by the Archangel Council, which consists of seven archangels and, in some situations, their families. Nevertheless, it's pretty clear that not all archangels are equal, as Michael, Gabriel and Raizel seem to have more influence than the rest.
- This trope is used by no less than C. S. Lewis in his climax to the Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength. The Oyeresu, "angels" in control of and personifying each of the other planets, have been forbidden to interfere with Earth, which is under the control of Satan, as God is working out his own plans for it. However, the rules also say that they're supposed to contain Satan's influence to within the lunar orbit... which means that under the right circumstances - like an invasion of Venus, for example - they can strike back...
- The Valar from The Silmarillion are angels who have been charged with being the Guardians of Arda, the physical world. They have many traits in common with both Christian angels and mythological gods (it's believed that J. R. R. Tolkien set his cosmology up the way he did so that his devout Catholicism and love of mythology wouldn't trip over each other), and while they're all good (with one notable exception), none of them are perfect and some have made mistakes. The Valar are in turn served by lesser angels/demigods called the Maiar. The collective term is Ainur. However they are not supposed to rule Arda but guide the peoples, which is a mistake fallen Ainur make. Apparently when the Numenoreans after being incited by Sauron attacked Valinor, the Valar laid down their governance of the world, though they sent Maiar in human form to Middle-Earth to help against Sauron.
- Uriel turns up every now and then in The Dresden Files, and the other three famous Archangels are mentioned. God exists, but prefers mysterious-ways methods. Other angels have turned up since, particularly when Harry was dead in Ghost Story.
- The Bobby Dollar series has the whole deal, with absent and vague God figure, much Celestial Bureaucracy and a healthy amount of backstabbing.
- In Highschool Dx D, Heaven is ruled by an angelic council led by the Archangel Michael, who after the death of Satan formed a peace treaty with the new Dark Is Not Evil government of Hell. While mostly benevolent, they are concealing the fact that God is also dead, and that the emergence of "impossible" powers like Balance Breakers and Holy Demonic Swords is a result of Michael's imperfect attempts at taking over His duties.
- Angel has the Powers That Be, who are "powerful beings from a higher plane" who for sure aren't the God, but are quite powerful.
- The Council Of Elders from Charmed are The Lowest Cosmic Denominator of this.
- On Supernatural, only four angels have seen God; and of those four, one is Lucifer, and another is on permanent vacation masquerading as the Trickster. The rest of the angelic host are getting their orders through the other two, and have to take it on faith that He even exists. In the Season 4 finale, Zachariah, one of the higher-up angels (or at least higher up than Castiel, Uriel, and Anna, all of whom are angelic foot soldiers), tells Dean that "God has left the building." As of the season 5 finale: the Celestial Bureaucracy is in anarchy with the loss of Michael, allowing Castiel to go back and bring things to order. Also, Chuck was God's literal Author Avatar. In season six, this has escalated into a full-on civil war between angels, with more than a little spillover onto Earth.
- The MST3K-featured short "Once Upon A Honeymoon" has an apparently literal example, showing a celestial boardroom (complete with desk and PHONES) on Cloud 7.
- Dungeons & Dragons (prior to 4th ed, which changed a lot around) had not one, but three councils ruling the three races of celestials:
- The Celestial Hebdomad for the Lawful Good archons. These seven, one for each of the Seven Heavens of Celestia, most closely resemble the traditional Christian concept of archangels.
- Talisid and the Five Companions, paragons of the Neutral Good guardinals.
- The Court of Stars, leaders of the Chaotic Good eladrins (Name's the Same not to be confused with 4th edition eladrin, which are a PC race and can be of any alignment). They're more like fairy lords than angels, but embody Chaotic Good all the same.
- In Nomine depicts Heaven this way. Nobody in Heaven has actually seen God since the Middle Ages (although He is known to be in one of the higher, inaccessible levels of Heaven), and the Seraphim Council is running things as best they can in the meanwhile.
- At the same time this is mildly subverted, in that Yves, one of the archangels on the Council, occasionally acts as a vessel for direct communication by God — and may actually be God in disguise. (The fact that his illustration bears a striking resemblance to George Burns in Oh, God! only adds to the potential confusion.)
- Another theory is that Eli, Archangel of Creation, is God in disguise. There's a lot of theories.
- The Third Edition of the French version of the game states that He is in vacation in a thermal town, somewhere in France.
- In the Old World of Darkness game Demon: The Fallen, God couldn't run things himself, because the Infinite touching the Finite would have disastrous results. Thus he created the angels to run the universe. The drawback to this was that they had a lot of time to think things over without divine supervision, eventually resulting in the Fall.
- This is the situation with the Primordial Autochthon in Exalted; while he sleeps, his subsouls, the Divine Ministers, oversee his world-body. Trouble is, while the Ministers may all be aspects of Autochthon, they don't actually agree...
- The Elemental Dragons serve the same purpose for Gaia sometimes, with most of her being out in the Wyld, but are both a lot less fractious and a lot less likely to actually DO anything.
- Exalted has a lot of this. The gods were created to be the Council while the Primordials went off having their own fun, mostly playing the Games of Divinity (aka the Cosmic X-Box). The Incarnae (the highest gods) created the Exalted to take down the Primordials and then manage Creation as a new Council so the Incarnae could play the X-Box instead. And then the Sidereals rose against the Solars and threw them down, opting to take over the Council in turn because the Solars were going mad with power. Exalted history is one big succession of revolutions as the Council decides to off its superiors or is offed itself before it can do so. Meanwhile everyone else in the Celestial Bureaucracy just covers their heads and waits for the noise to die down before getting back to work (or to avoiding it).
- The Gods of Arr-Kelaan eventually revealed one of these.
- In Misfile, heaven is a corporation of angels, with all the expected inefficiencies and Obstructive Bureaucrats. God exists but seems to use a hands-off management style, as evidenced by the fact that He by definition is aware of the misfile (unlike Rumisiel's direct superiors) and hasn't done anything about it.
- In Holy Bibble, there is a council of archangels who occasionally gather around a table to discuss things, though more often than not it seems that the angels on the council generally make secret decisions on their own, undermining the whole system all together.
- The setting of Sanctuary in which the Diablo series takes place primarily concerns a war between demons from the Burning Hells and angels from the High Heavens. The demons are led by the three Prime Evils and the four Lesser Evils, and in the final book of "The Sin War" trilogy, a council of five angels referred to as the Angiris Council decide the fate of the world after the main conflict is over. The angels, by the way, are doing a really lousy job, but then they're kind of jerks anyway, the main exception being Tyrael, the archangel who cast the deciding vote for humanity to continue to exist.
- Celestia from Disgaea: Hour of Darkness game has the angels (and in one of the Multiple Endings, the Noble Demon) praying to God; though he doesn't actually seem to live there. It's implied that there is a higher heaven (where Kurtis's dead family is); and "lower" hells. Although, to be technical, Celestia and the Netherworld aren't Heaven or Hell at all, but the Japanese concepts of Tenkai (literally "Heavenly world") and Makai (literally "Demon world") that don't have equivalents in modern Western thought.
- In the bonus chapter of the PSP remake, Volcanus tries to trick Flonne by calling out to her and claiming to be God. Make of that what you will.
- Considering what a dick Vulcanus is - being burned by the anti-evil pendant and all - it's probably fair to say he's not a reputable source to be listening to in terms of what might or might not be God's intentions in the series.
- In the bonus chapter of the PSP remake, Volcanus tries to trick Flonne by calling out to her and claiming to be God. Make of that what you will.
- Tears to Tiara had the Twelve Angels/the White Angels. Then one died and Arawn took his place. And then quit spectacularly. Because the rest of the angels are assholes. God is probably dead. The angels aren't sure, but they're no longer looking for him, though they claim to carry on his work.
- In the Dept. Heaven series, the council of the Seven Magi rule Asgard after Ragnarok causes the gods to (apparently) die out. It's implied that there will be some second advent of the gods someday, but the Magi are there to run things until that happens. Too bad Hector is one of the Magi and his six fellows don't seem to be on to him. Interestingly, the Magi all seem to belong to the humanoid race living in Asgard—and they rule over the angels.
- The Strategy RPG League of Angels has something like this, with the plot (such as it is) being that demonic forces have turned the game world into a Hell on Earth and locked the Angels away; the heroes' goal as he progresses through it is to release them and restore the Council's power as he does so.
- In Shin Megami Tensei I and Shin Megami Tensei II, there's a Council of Angels who do most of the work on the Law side. In II they go from potential allies to pure villains. God himself is even worse, just less willing to get personally involved unless he has to. And him and the Angels have a strained relationship between the games.
- Devil Survivor also has a small council of Angels working in the containment zone, but they're a little bit nicer than Shin Megami Tensei II's Angels. That's because instead of the four main Seraphs (Michael, Uriel, Gabriel and Raphael) there's a lower angel who isn't a Knight Templar of the worst kind: Remiel, Angel of Hope and Compassion.
- In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, the Three Wise Men take this role, taking the opportunity provided by the Schwarzwelt to initiate their own plans for an eternal kingdom of the Lawful God. They "graciously" give the Protagonist and his crew access to the Demon Summoning Program so they do their dirty work.
- In Shin Megami Tensei IV, the Four Archangels fill this role, even having another angel disagree with their judgements. They want to create a new race of people who are free from the capacity for selfish actions, and Mastema wants to let humans stay as they are.
- In the Fall from Heaven mod for Civilization IV, the Creator of Erebus is nowhere in sight. Everything is run by angels, who call themselves gods. Most of the problems for the mortals are due to the interference of the angels.
- In The World Ends with You, the Angels/Producers are the ones who run the Reapers' Game from behind the scenes. They rank even higher than the Composer, who is portrayed in-game as an allegory for God/Christ Himself.
- The creator-deity in Nexus Clash is impersonal and amoral, so the angelic side is run by one of these instead. It's composed of an overzealous holy warrior, and all-loving earthmother figure and an angelic personification of compromise and cooperation. As might be imagined from their cosmic portfolios, they don't always agree on which course of action would best serve the greater Good.