A Worm and No Man
We’ve probably all heard at some time or another someone say that God becoming man is a greater lowering of Himself than one of us becoming a worm. I never liked that analogy, but I also never gave it much thought after I’d heard it. One of those “I suppose it is true, but I don’t feel like thinking about it.” In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis in talking about reading Scriptures suggests that we admit if there is something we don’t like about a passage and ask ourselves why it is that we don’t like it. So I decided to do that with the Incarnation/worm analogy.
I’ve concluded it is a completely false analogy because it is based on category mistakes. Here’s my reasons.
God became man to redeem us. There was a purpose for his taking on our nature and that purpose was to raise us up, to make it possible for us to be greater than we were created. He became man so that we might live in Him, become like Him and be with Him forever in eternity. At the root of the reason for God becoming man is love. There is something about us, our image and likeness unto God, that makes us lovable to the One who authors our very existence. God becoming man is a thing of beauty, not an act that reviles, but an act that inspires and draws us by love into a closer union with Him. It seems impossible that God could become man, that He could take on a nature that He created. Only because it has happened do we know that it is possible. To take the truth that the Son lowered or humbled Himself in taking on our humanity and make it into an act of debasement strikes me as wrong. It seems that one is looking at the Incarnation backwards. The Incarnation, is first and foremost, an elevation. God is taking a nature that He created and raising it to heights that seem beyond that nature. He has taken one of us and raised her higher than all the angels by becoming her Son. How does He do this? By degrading Himself? I don’t think so. He does it by an act of humility, by an act that is an expression of the Divine Essence. If Christ came to be our exemplar, then the Incarnation itself must be an example to us – that we don’t degrade ourselves ever, but we do lower ourselves in the sense that we practice humility – we consider everyone else greater than we are. And in the paradox of the Christian life, this loving act of lowering ourselves really elevates us. We should also remember that in this beautifully humble act, Our Lord lost none of His divinity. He remained God while becoming like us.
It almost seems silly now to consider one of us becoming a worm in some sort of analogy to the Incarnation. It borders on the sacrilegious. However, there are few things we might look at. Our becoming a worm, if it is possible, makes no sense. Worms are not redeemable. They, in some way, reflect the glory of God, but they don’t reflect it enough to merit a place at the Eternal Banquet. Secondly, we cannot be exemplars to worms. Worms are perfectly worms – they act upon the nature they’ve been given flawlessly. If one of us became a worm what would we do – show them how to aerate the soil better? They’d be able to show us how it is done. In short, we would have nothing to offer to a worm. So the analogy of our becoming a worm as somehow less of a lowering than God becoming man just doesn’t make any sense to say. The Incarnation is so elevated above anything that we could ever do and transcends and renders senseless any analogy. It seems to me to be an act of lowering the Incarnation to try to do so.
Jezu, ufam Tobie.