Worm Theology and the Image of God

There is nothing so dangerous or necessary in the world as singing Isaac Watts’ coarse and abhorrent words would (Christ) devote his sacred head for such a worm as I? The confession that we are “worms” places us at the crux of our belief. Our very lives are on the line as the words come to our lips.

I remember being a kid and getting ready for our fishing trips. While ardent fly-fishermen may scoff, it is tradition on the West Coast to show up at a fishing trip with a coffee can full of worms (Scoff if you like, natives of Montana, even the river is headed toward the “Best Coast”).  Some of my fondest memories were digging in the dirt in hopes of finding the perfect bait for a small-mouth bass. But even as a 7-year-old boy, I had to admit that activities centered around worms were fairly uncivilized.

And so when I see Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed on the Sunday bulletin, I can only pray that we use the more civilized edition for the first verse, where the sacred head is devoted to “sinners” like me, not worms. Seriously, who wants to think of themselves as worms? Gross.

Worm Theology Work?

And there is a particular danger associated with what some more civilized theologians have dubbed “Worm Theology”. I’ve been reading a book by a philosopher named Erich Frohm lately and one of the few sentences that make sense to my little brain has stuck with me the last week or so. He wrote: self-humiliation and a self-negating ”conscience” are only one side of an hostility, the other side of which is contempt for and hatred against others.[1] And he has a pretty good point.

After all, are we as Christians any better at loving the world as, say any other religious contingent seeking to better society? I saw a statistic just the other day that pointed out that the greatest contingent of German activists who gave their lives to fight against Hitler’s Reich were Jehovah’s Witnesses. One of the basic tenets of their theology is that mankind can please God with their works. That would be the opposite of Watts’ (as well as David and Isaiah’s) designation of the worminess of humanity.

In all humility, we have to give credence to Gandhi when he famously rejected Christianity on the basis of Jesus’ followers’ unwillingness to live differently in the world.

And I think, at least in part, our failure to love our world has to do with our acceptance of our own worminess. There have been times in my own life, and it is a constant pull for me to find comfort in my frailty, my brokenness, and my own worminess. But again, I am missing the point when I excuse myself from obedience to Christ on the basis that I am a worm, and not a man!

Do you remember how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness by manipulating the word of God? He speaks in half-truths and twists the truth into a lie.

Acceptance of our worminess is only a half-truth.

We have been created for more than shame. We are more than worms, although our continuation of Adam’s desire to be like God has warped us, jaded us, and broken us. We have not lived into the glory we are created for. But we have been created for so much more.

Are You Worms or Men?

We were created with the image of God stamped on us, written into our DNA, spoken into our lifeless beings. We were created to hear the voice of God, to celebrate our life in him, to rule and reign with him, and to live life together with him.

But we have accepted the half-truth that we are worms. We assume we are unloveable and therefore unloved. Each time we believe this, we prefer the word of Satan rather than the word of Jesus. His life, death, resurrection, ascension, mediation and promise of return testify to his view of us. He has plans for his broken humanity.

This is the best news for worms. God refuses to scrap his creation. He is not too civilized to play with worms, to call us back to our original nature, to transform us back into the women and men he created us to be. Our worminess is not the end. It is not the whole story.

Will we be bold enough to confess with David, with Isaiah, and with Watts? Or will we stubbornly refuse to agree with the mess we have made of ourselves?

The choice is ours.

[1] Frohm, E. Escape from Freedom, p. 118.

8 responses to “Worm Theology and the Image of God”

  1. All your points very well taken, and these are my thoughts exactly as well. Worm theology or worm Christianity is really neither at all, despite the bible verse about being a worm, found here and there (or even a puny mite, as in one of the psalms!).

    But as gross as worms are they are just a larval stage of another creature, in some cases, mere flies but, if we look at a larva and call it a caterpillar, maybe something nicer, like a butterfly (or a moth, if we’re night owls… yum!).

    Yes, in some sense we are larvae, though I prefer a different metaphor… until we are born again, we are spiritual fetuses. Doctor Devil wants to abort us if he can, but holy Mother Church is waiting there patiently for us to be added to her children.

    Thanks for these excellent words!

  2. Actually the “sin” is not desiring to be “like” God, we were created in the “image and likeness” of God; but in desiring to be “as” God with God-like autonomy, “a law unto ourselves”.

    “Humanism was not wrong in thinking that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, but in thinking that man can get them for himself without grace.” –Simone Weil

    “As soon as man began considering himself the source of the highest meaning in the world and the measure of everything, the world began to lose its human dimension, and man began to lose control of it.” – Vaclav Havel

  3. In Orthodox theology, the two words “image” and “likeness” are not used interchangeably as they are for Roman Catholics and Protestants. For Orthodox Christians, “image” denotes the powers and faculties with which every human being is endowed by God from the first moment of his existence. “Likeness” is the assimilation, the growth process to God through virtue* and grace. We call this growth process “theosis.” For Western theology, man was created perfect in the absolute sense and therefore, when he fell, he fell completely away from God. For Orthodox theology, man was created perfect in the potential sense. ~Fr. George Nicozisin

  4. We fail to see our own wickedness in the light of the absolute perfection of Almighty God. Compared to Him, we are “worms”. Isaiah 41:14 shows this when Jehovah compares Israel to Himself. “You are mere worms, but I the Great God will help you”. If we could see our actual spiritual condition without Christ, we would look up to the worm.

  5. Thanks for your comments Jeffery. I appreciate your use of Isaiah. I would ask you if there is room in your statement for the tension and mystery that our God so often invites us into?

  6. Hi Casey

    Actually I think the words of this hymn are quite beautiful, but I can see where you are coming from and I would feel the need to add some balance with some audiences about How God sees us, e.g. adopted sons of God, and I do not want to make a theology out of it. Wesleys” Depth Of Mercy” gives a different slant.. We are not actually worms in Gods sight.

    1. Watts is clearly contrasting the greatness of God and the lowliness of man to show how undeserving we are of his mercy and forgiveness.
    2 .In terms of repentance calling ourselves worms can be quite appropiate though not necessary, some have acted like low life -worse than worms. and all need to repent
    3.I have sadly committed some bad sins even as a christian but my my sins have been removed as far as the east is from the west. I do not dwell on my sins but if I get a little to bumptious or arrogant such words remind me of the fact that my standing before God is the Blood Of Christ and it helps me to be less proud.. So th hymn could be used at communion amongst mature believers.



    1. Thanks for your comments Mark! Just one more thing to chew on in this conversation: doesn’t out ability to confess and repent bear witness to the image of God and our inherent dignity? Here is where God’s kindness to us & our kindness to our selves may lead to repentance & restoration!
      Thanks again & I welcome your thoughts!

      1. Hi Casey, I think the first point you make bears quite a lot of thought and consideration and I am not sure I know the answer. We were originally made in Gods image but God destroyed nearly all the ancient world. I tend to think that the Holy Spirit is behind our confession and repentance but you may have a point.
        Gods kindness definitely leads to repentance and restoration- our kindness ? not so sure.

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