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 make sure that The Legions of Hell are actually a threat. So we go down in cosmic denominators.
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, or may be be divided over which religion to support. 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, and their usual leaders, Celestial Paragons and Archangels. The opposite number of Demon Lords and Archdevils. The Armies of Heaven typically form these Councils' chambers militant.
- Digimon Frontier: The Three Great Angels, Seraphimon, Ophanimon, and Cherubimon, ruled the Digital World after Lucemon's fall and guard over God's Law, Wisdom, and love.
- Sands of Destruction: The world is governed by at least five beings:
- The Divine — mentioned only in passing as the one who provides the raw materials for creating the world and who may have engaged in some Divine Delegation, although the reasons aren't explored.
- The Destruct — a pair of angels whose job it is to systematically destroy the world every thousand years. Archangel Vreveil is the lord, and Kyrie is his assistant.
- The Planner — the one whose job is to decide on the parameters of the new world to be created and the kinds of people and creatures who will fill it. It is just a guide, however, and is unable to actively participate in creation. It apparently suffered a bit of a breakdown, due to the Balance of Good and Evil meaning that the world will never be entirely happy.
- The Creator — the one who actually goes about creating the world, guided by the Planner and using the materials of the Divine. All of humanity is the Creator, including anyone who has gained a human spirit and emotions, like Kyrie.
- 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.
- Magic: The Gathering: Angels appeared in the game long before gods did, and even in modern lore panels are strictly devoted to White, the color of law, order, and community, while gods can and do range across all color alignments. Thus, angels are often depicted as managing their own affairs. Both the settings Bant and Serra's Realm were ruled by a Council of Angels. With the lack of connection to gods comes also a lack of divine origin for the angels; they are in all cases sapient constructs of white mana.
- Crimson has a Council Of Angels show up in one issue. God makes it too, but doesn't say anything, and only Lucifer recognizes Him anyway.
- The DCU: 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.
- Lucifer features a few small subplots about angels arguing about whether they should attack Lucifer and whether or not it is God's will. God is notably quiet on the matter, although He does turn up a couple of times in various guises afterward.
- Preacher: A Council of Angels turns up, although their God's absence from Heaven was actually part of the plot — he'd run away because he feared the protagonist's power.
- Spawn: God eventually shows up as the being in charge of Heaven. He's of equal power to Satan (they're portrayed as brothers), and he only has power over Heaven and things Heaven owns. 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 is closer to a Gnostic viewpoint. God is the god of the Old Testament who acts supreme, but is 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 is god in the sense of the creator and ruler of Heaven who also created the angels, but he's not the supreme being. However, he and Satan are both so far above anything and everything else save their mother they can be considered gods. None of their other brothers are ever shown and, with power equal to theirs, Spawn easily trashed their combined armies.
- Angel of the Bat: The Seraphim and the members of his cult use this as their primary gimmick. 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.
- Bobby Dollar has the whole deal, with absent and vague God figure, much Celestial Bureaucracy and a healthy amount of backstabbing.
- Cradle Series: The Judges of the Abidan Court come off like this, ruling over all the Iterations and protecting them from Chaos. Lesser Abidan are powerful enough on their own, but the Judges are without a doubt the most powerful entities in all of creation. If there is a single God above them, they are unaware. The closest was Adriel, the original creator of the Abidan, who could create Iterations outright (instead of having to stitch them together out of pieces). He disappeared long ago.
- 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.
- The Dresden Files: Uriel turns up every now and then, 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.
- Good Omens: It's not explicitly stated 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.
- Guild Hunter: 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.
- 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.
- Incarnations of Immortality: 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.
- The Silmarillion: The Valar are beings broadly similar to archangels who have been charged with being the Guardians of Arda, the physical world, by Eru Ilúvatar. 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). While they're all good other than Melkor, none of them are perfect. The Valar are, in turn served by rank-and-file angels called the Maiar. The collective term for both types of angels is Ainur. However, they are not supposed to rule Arda but guide the peoples, which is a mistake fallen Ainur make. Apparently when the Númenóreans attacked Valinor after being incited by Sauron, the Valar laid down their governance of the world, although they sent Maiar in human form to Middle-Earth to help against Sauron.
- Space Trilogy: In 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...
- 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.
- Good Omens (2019): While implied in the original novel, this is much more explicitly the case in the series. While Metatron is seen once acting as "the voice" of God (although Aziraphale compares this to a presidential spokesman being "the voice" of the president), Gabriel is the one that Aziraphale answers to, with Michael, Uriel and Sandalphon as his lackeys, God taking a hands-off approach to managing the universe at large.
- The Good Place: Both the Good Place and Bad Place have been run by something like angels (although not called that) and demons (who do get that name) for millennia if not longer. The closest being there is to God seems like the Judge, who's largely content letting the two sides keep running things on their own, although she eventually intervenes when the system has been shown as wholly messed up.
- "Once Upon a Honeymoon" has an apparently literal example, showing a celestial boardroom (complete with desk and phones) on Cloud 7.
- Supernatural: Only four angels have seen God; 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.
- 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.
- Dungeons & Dragons (prior to 4th Edition, which changed a lot around) had not one, but three councils ruling the three main races of celestials. It should be noted that there are definitely Good deities around in the various settings, who can have their abodes in the Upper Planes alongside these celestials. It's just that those goodly gods and goddesses are usually concerned with a specific divine portfolio, and worshipers on particular worlds, while the various celestial groups are more concerned about their alignment in general and defending their home plane. They are:
- 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. They're described as a sort of epic-level adventuring party, roaming Elysium looking for wrongs to right.
- The Court of Stars, leaders of the Chaotic Good eladrins (Name's the Same but not to be confused with 4th and 5th Edition eladrin, which are a PC race of elves and can be of any alignment). They're more like fairy lords than angels, but embody Chaotic Good all the same.
- Exalted: Exalted has a lot of this, although not with angels per se.
- This is the situation with the Primordial Autochthon. While he sleeps, his independent souls, 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.
- The gods were created to be the Council while the Primordials went off having their own fun, mostly playing the Games of Divinity. 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).
- 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.
- The organization of the angels is a fairly complex affair. Heaven is led by a number of archangels, each of whom oversees a specific part of the Symphony of creation, while common angels can become aligned with sub-concepts under an archangel's purview; for instance, the Angel of Glory would answer to Michael, the Archangel of War. Angels are further divided into a number of Choirs, which form a descending hierarchy of prestige and closeness to God — Seraphim, Cherubim, Ofanim, Elohim, Malakim, Kyriotates and Mercurians; there are also used to be the Grigori, before they got kicked out of Heaven for interbreeding with humans. Major issues and decisions are settled by the Seraphim Council, which consists of all elder Seraphim, the Archangels, and some exceptionally old and wise members of other Choirs. The issue of the human religions is also contentious and most archangels are hesitant to claim that any one faith is the correct one, but others support specific ones — Dominic and Laurence favor Catholicism, for instance, while Khalid and Zadkiel champion Islam.
- The lack-of-God angle is downplayed 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 are 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.
- Nobilis: The Angels rule Heaven, not the Creator, whom they have only ever known through a voice in their hearts that guides them. The Fallen (in 1e & 2e) believe that the voice of Cneph is nothing but a lie — perhaps the voice of Heaven itself.
- Pathfinder: Generally, the Upper Planes are run jointly by a combination of Good-aligned deities and their native outsider races, although the outsiders generally shoulder the brunt of the organizing. Heaven, the Lawful Good plane, is the most formally and rigidly organized of these, and is governed by a complex system of archon demigods alongside a few of the more politically-minded resident gods.
- Darksiders: Heaven is run by angels alone. A Creator is mentioned in the backstory, but it's not clear whether he's aligned with Heaven, as there are older and more powerful creatures than angels. Also, if the Twilight Cathedral is any indication, humans had an angel-worshiping religion.
- Dept. Heaven: 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.
- Diablo: The setting of Sanctuary 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.
- Disgaea: Hour of Darkness: Celestia has the angels (and in one of the Multiple Endings, the Noble Demon) praying to God, although 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.
- Fall from Heaven: 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.
- 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.
- Lusternia: Five extradimensional angelic beings, the Supernals, are worshipped by the Celestine Guild: Shakiniel the Defender, Raziela the Pure, Methrenton the Crusader, Japhiel the Wise, and Elohora the Noble.
- Nexus Clash: The creator deity 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.
- Shin Megami Tensei:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ultrakill: According to the lore entries for Gabriel, King Minos and his soul, and in the end cutscene for Act I, Heaven is run by such a council. If Minos Prime's lore is any indication, this is because God has flat out vanished.
- 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.
- 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.