Many believers have been given what’s called worm theology.  The name comes from the Isaac Watts hymn “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed,” one line of which says, “Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?”  Those who adhere to this view of life contend that low self-worth means God is more likely to show mercy and compassion upon them.  Worm theology convolutes low self-worth with humility.

Many were told as kids that they are worthless in and of themselves—that they possess no inherent value, even though the Bible says that all people are created in God’s image, endowing them with innate value and worth.  Making matters worse is that people who come from tough childhood experiences such as abuse and neglect have what a counselor friend calls "shame Velcro."  They are actually attracted to systems of belief that demean them.

After speaking to an audience in Boston, Dr. James Dobson was questioned by an elderly missionary.  She said that God wants her to think of herself as being no better than a “worm,” and that, by way of implication, Dobson was wrong to say children should grow up with a quiet self-respect and confidence in themselves.  Dobson and others who work to correct this false view of human worth are fighting a mighty battle.  “That teaching,” writes Dobson of worm theology, “did not come from Scripture.”

Worm theology pulls a child down, filling her with nagging insecurities about her value and significance. It’s as if parents, genuinely concerned that their children will grow up prideful and arrogant, want to make sure that this won’t happen, however, instead of helping their kids build self-respect and confidence in humility, their instruction and discipline ensure that life will pass them by, leading to bitterness and sometimes rage toward the Lord.

The apostle Paul wrote that we shouldn’t think more about ourselves than we ought; rather, we should use “sober judgment” in our self-assessment (Romans 12:3).  Sober judgment means being realistic.  It doesn’t mean we should pretend we don’t have gifts when we do, or that we should pretend we have talents, gifts, and abilities when we don’t.  Paul is telling us to be honest and realistic, not to despise ourselves.

Telling children they’re worthless is the rhetoric of despair—especially during adolescence when worries of inferiority often hit their peak.  And it’s especially damaging to children who already think they’re defective, that something is deeply wrong inside of them, not because they sin, but because they are “bad” and not as valuable as other kids.  They won’t allow themselves to believe they’re good at anything; they will ward off compliments, and if people kick them around…well, isn’t that what happens to worthless objects?

One of the most common ways a child deals with feelings of worthlessness, writes Dr. Dobson, “is to surrender, completely and totally.”

[This person withdraws into a] shell of silence and loneliness, choosing to take no chances or assume unnecessary  emotional risks.  This person would never initiate a conversation, speak in a group, enter a contest, ask for a date, run for election, or even defend his honor when it is trampled…As comedian Jackie Vernon once said, “The meek shall inherit the earth, because they’ll be too timid to refuse it.”

Dale Ryan is CEO of Christian Recovery International, the parent organization of the National Association for Christian Recovery.  Many of the people seeking help struggle with this understanding of God and are unable to live whole, God-glorifying lives.  Ryan writes:

Does God avoid us because we are sinners?  If you have any doubt, any hesitation, about the answer to this question, I urge you to go back to the Bible.  Did God avoid us?  Is it not just the opposite?  Did not God come to us?  When God saw our pain, our brokenness, our defects of character, our insanity, what did God do?  God came.  Here.  To be with us.  To save us.  To make a new kind of life possible for us.  God’s holiness is not the fragile kind that would be tainted by contact with broken, bent, damaged people.  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who did not hide himself from our hopeless situation.  God saw.  God came—not to punish, not to nag, not to shame.  Thank God that we were not worthless “worms” to God!  We were, and are, precious, valuable.  Wanted, a source of delight to God.  That’s just basic Bible.  It may take a long time for this truth to sink in, but it’s not really fancy theology.  It’s Christianity 101…