Worms, Maggots and God’s Love
Jan 14, 2019
I am not an animal or a pet person. When I was a kid, we had dogs, rabbits, and even chickens and pigs, but in my adulthood, nothing about having a pet or an animal appeals to me.
In fact, I am sure if I had a pet it would die from neglect, because I simply do not have the time to take care of one. Because of this I often say there are only two kinds of animals I like: humans and the kinds of animals that end up on the dinner plate.
Now, in saying this, I have to confess to something that I do from time to time which might seem a bit odd to the reader. I don’t always do it, but in the summertime after a nighttime rain, it is pretty common to see earthworms squirming around on the sidewalk or parking lot. If I notice a worm really struggling far from soil, from time to time I will pick up the pathetic creature and bring it to the grass. I guess I have a soft spot for worms. (I also like to see robins spear them out of the ground to eat them.)
Now, suppose we were to take this one step further. Suppose, instead of worms, you were walking alongside of a road one summer day and you came across a dead cat (I really do not like cats) covered with all sorts of maggots, and you noticed one of the maggots confusedly inching away from the dead animal. Would you pick up the sorry maggot and put it on the cat? No! Of course not! You would likely be disgusted and want to get away from the rot. (At this point in the column, you are likely wondering, “What in the world is Kunst getting at?” Stick with me.)
In the book of the prophet, Isaiah, God, speaking through Isaiah, says, “Fear not, O worm Jacob, O maggot Israel; I will help you, says the Lord” (41:14). Why would God use such language?
Actually this is among the tenderest passages in the Old Testament of God expressing his love for us. We know that worms and maggots are really insignificant creatures, and in fact disgusting creatures. We would not assist a wandering maggot to get back to a carcass, and very few of us would help squiggling worms find dirt. And that is the point. God will stoop down and help us in our lowliness and in our sinfulness, which is often disgusting.
When Isaiah wrote these words, he was making this very point. No matter how lowly and gross and insignificant we are, God loves us so much he will still be there for us. The verse that precedes this one says this: “I am the Lord, your God, who grasps your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you’” (41:13). This could very well be the most tender and loving passage in the entire Old Testament (along with the maggot part, of course).
I am often asked why God appears to be a jerk in the Old Testament and a really nice guy in the New Testament. The fact is God does not change, but our understanding of him changes, and in Jesus Christ God reveals himself more fully.
The opening line of the Letter to the Hebrews addresses this: “In times past, God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways to our fathers through the prophets; in this the final age, he has spoken to us through his Son…” (1:1-2). How God is manifest in the Old Testament is only partial. Therefore our ancestors could only understand him partially. Yet even though the full revelation of God was not clear in the Old Testament, there are still clear references of his infinite love for us.
The words of God the Father telling us to have no fear because he is grasping us by the hand are full of comforting imagery. As lowly and disgusting as we are in our sinfulness, he will not abandon us but only embrace us. Whether it be the Old Testament or the New Testament, that message comes through loud and clear in the Scriptures.
And nope, I do not want a pet. I have 150-some kids on my campus at Stella Maris Academy!