I am not a glowworm – thank God!

by Dr Stephen Spence

I had the harmonies of the Mills Brothers singing “Shine little glow worm, glimmer, shimmer,” in my head providing the sound track for my recent trip through the Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand. In the darkness of these ancient limestone caves the roof looks like a night sky lit with hundreds of shining stars. Each star is a glowworm doing its thing – glowing. And it is quite a sight.


And in this case it can truly be said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder – beauty certainly isn’t in the intent of the glowworm who glows as part of the circle of (its) life. According to our Maori guide, the life cycle of the glowworm begins when the earliest of those hatching eat its yet-to-hatch siblings. (In this family you really do want to get to the table first!) But it’s not evil, it just is. It lives, it eats, it cocoons itself, it mates, it lays eggs, and it dies – its nine months are up. It doesn’t have relationships and it doesn’t build cultures. It does glow but it doesn’t see the beauty of its glowing. It seems kind of pointless and, on their behalf, I sigh with an existential sigh.

And this sighing on behalf of a glowworm who is unaware of my existence makes me think that my angst lies elsewhere. I just can’t see the point of a life that consists merely of the circle of life – the hedonist’s eating, doing, sleeping, sexing, dying – even if it is a pleasurable existence. I need a reality outside of my own existence to give beauty and meaning to my existence. I need a transcendent God to give capital-L Life, as well as my own small-l life, meaning. Without God the difference between the glowworm’s nine months and my “three score and ten” years is nothing. For without a transcendent God our actions are without value, they are just reactions to environmental stimuli. They lack beauty, they lack justice, they lack joy. Even relationships become devalued as means to an end if we are nothing but animated bodies.

So it can be argued that I am a Christian because I couldn’t bare to be a nihilist. But might it not equally be argued that I couldn’t bare to be a nihilist because I am not meant to be able to find satisfaction in merely existing. The glowworm doesn’t experience existential despair because it is not created in the image of God. But I am. I am more than an animated body, I am an enfleshed soul. I am created for a relationship with a transcendent God whose beholding of me gives my “glowing” beauty.

As C. S. Lewis has suggested, perhaps our thirst for God points to the existence of God in the same way our thirst points to the existence of water.