At one point in his lengthy public and political life, Winston Churchill penned a note to a friend, “We are all worms but I do believe that I am a glow worm” (see it online at the National Churchill Museum website at nationalchurchillmuseum.org).
Tongue in cheek? Perhaps, yet laden as well with confidence and conviction. So, what did Churchill mean?
Through the thick and thin of his life, Churchill had a sense of divine destiny based on a deep-seated Christian worldview. The woman who raised Churchill was his beloved nanny, Elizabeth Everest, “Woomany” as he affectionately called her. Instrumental in developing his religious sensibilities, she taught him to pray and spent countless hours reading Bible stories with him. Though he might not be classified a regular churchgoer he “took the Bible seriously and was… an avid student of it. … He believed and confessed that Jesus was ‘the Christ,’” according to Churchill's great-grandson and co-biographier Jonathan Sandys in "God & Churchill: An Interview With Jonathan Sandys & Wallace Henley" (published on Oct. 7, 2015, and online at biblegateway).
Indeed, in 1891, as a school boy, he told a friend (and was so struck with his declaration that he wrote it down), “This country will be subjected somehow to a tremendous invasion … and I shall save London and England from disaster,” according to the interview. The idea obviously resonated with Churchill because earlier in his schooling he wrote an essay on Moses, as God’s prophet, destined to save his people under God’s overarching inspiration and direction, Sandys said.
Churchill’s rise to dizzying political heights came as he persisted through myriad ups and crushing setbacks. Bright, though not initially studious, Churchill attended Sandhurst, equivalent to the U.S.’s West Point, after finishing at Harrow. Upon graduation he used his parent’s connections to be appointed to military hot spots and after his capture and escape from a Boer War POW camp, he described his exploits in England’s Morning Post and returned to England to parlay his notoriety into a political career.
At age 36, he became First Lord of the Admiralty and during World War I ordered a daring attack, hoping to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war and secure an Entente victory. The campaign failed, halting his meteoric rise, eventually leading to his “wilderness years” as a marginal member of Parliament.
Yet he persisted, denouncing the Nazis and the evil “Herr Hitler,” until, as brilliantly portrayed in the movie "Darkest Hour," in May 1940 Churchill became Britain’s prime minister during World War II. Immediately faced with one of the most crucial decisions in world history, he determined to fight rather than submit to haranguing politicians and the false promises of Nazi treaties, and eventually the Allies prevailed.
So, the phrase, “We are all worms but I do believe that I am a glow worm”?
It is a biblical reference. In Job 25:6, Job’s friend bemoans the lowly state of man, “How much less man, that is a worm?” In Isaiah 41:14, the Lord applies the term to all Israel, while giving it a deeper context, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.”
These verses are not to remind humans of their nothingness because God frequently speaks highly of mankind. In Isaiah 43:1-4, New International Version, he explains, “I have summoned you by name; you are mine. … When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; … For I am the Lord your God, … your Savior; … You are precious and honored in my sight, and … I love you” (emphasis added).
Churchill understood that in the face of God’s infinite wisdom we truly are “worms.” However, out of his infinite love for us, God endowed each with a divine spark and infinite potential. Relying on God, we can become instruments in his hands and much more than we could ever become on our own.4 comments on this story
Consider the analogy of the world’s greatest track coach and a young runner with amazing potential, who is wise enough to know he will never reach great heights without submitting himself to the knowledge, training and mentoring of the coach. Yet by so doing, he assures his rise from mediocrity to greatness. Such is man’s relationship to deity.
When Churchill described himself as only a worm yet “a glow worm,” he was articulating his Christian conviction that he was destined for greatness as an instrument in God’s hands.
Churchill’s words should not be lost on us. It is unlikely we will lead in preserving liberty and freedom against tyranny and totalitarianism. Yet each of us, in our own way, can and will become glow worms as we tap into the divinity within by admitting to, allying with and living as disciples of Jesus Christ.