daily office meditation, January 11th: don't be afraid, little bug

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Isaiah 41.14

"Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you insect Israel! I will help you, says the LORD; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel."

I am no fan of how certain segments of Christianity have referred to human beings as "worms." It has been used as an expression of human sinfulness, depravity, and inherent nastiness. While I do believe that, in the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans, "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," I do not believe in "total depravity." All humans are created in the image of God-an image that is marred by sin-but never lost. I find such language dangerous, because it does not provide a basis for the essential human dignity conferred on all created beings, just for existing.

I don't believe that God looks on sons and daughters, however wayward, with contempt or condescension because he sees them as somehow too morally compromised. And I certainly don't believe in nonsense like, "God cannot even bear to look at us in our sin, God can only look at Jesus." The primary function of the story of Jesus of Nazareth is to show us that we in fact have a God who looks us eyeball-to-eyeball. The remarkable proclamation of the gospel, is that God looks at us with the same perfect love and delight with which the Father looks at Jesus. So in this regard, humans are not mere worms or wretches. Love has already dignified us too much for that. 

Yet in this context, I utterly adore the playful way God, through the mouth of the poet, refers here to Israel as a worm, as an insect: "Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you insect Israel!" The expression is familial and affectionate, like a pet name. The language of worm or insect does not gesture toward our infinite moral impurity, but to our smallness.

This is at least part of the liberating word of the gospel, to a people who are living under the tyranny imposed on us everywhere from our advertisements, to our social media, to yes, even our therapeutic pulpits--the tyranny of largeness. The proclamation implicitly preached to us on all sides is that the world revolves around our whims and preferences, that we are bigger than we really are. At first, it sounds like we are being conferred significance, importance.  But of course significance is far too heavy a weight for us to bear.  We are given something much better: created to be ridiculously small, and yet infinitely loved. Being small, being worm-like, is grace indeed.  

I'll never forget the moment when, on a life-altering spiritual retreat in San Diego a few years ago, my spiritual director Sister Anne told me that all of my finest achievements, any book I would ever write, was like a two year-old's drawing that a parent lovingly puts on the refrigerator--not appreciated because it is good, but because I made it. And that my biggest failures were no more surprising, nor more frustrating, than when a two year-old soils their diapers. The scale of our problems is directly correlative to the scale of our lives. For most of us, we don't need our lives to be magnified into wide-screen, but shrunken down to the small screen.

We are not nearly as large, as we think we are. And this is great grace.

And so our playful God tells us, "Little bug! Little bug! don't be afraid, insect-friend! I will help you!"