Learn from the Ants

As a kid, I used to be fascinated by anthills. I constantly wondered how animals with such tiny brains and no obvious ways of communicating on a large scale could create such a complex society. It wasn’t until I grew old enough for deep theological reflection that I realized my view of the ants was probably about the same as God’s view of us. If I looked down on the Twin Cities from ten miles up, I’d see a lot of little beings with limited intelligence and no obvious leader running into each other, but somehow managing to survive.

Obviously, there are some differences between me and God, so the analogy doesn’t really work. God created us and is all-knowing, and has the power to guide the course of history, so if He (or She or Them or It, depending on your beliefs) wants us to survive, He/She/They/It can help us out. That thought comforts me, because I don’t have any faith we would survive long on our own. We’ve shown we’re good at solving specific problems of logic and engineering, but in terms of actual wisdom, we haven’t advanced much since our knuckle-dragging, club-toting, raw-meat-eating ancestors were on the scene.

I wish I was more hopeful, but there are enough reminders each day of humanities’ limitations to make hopefulness difficult to maintain. In the short-term, I can always find good news stories, or examples of individuals going out of their way to help others, but long-term, I think we will need to rely on luck or divine intervention to save us from ourselves.

When I was a teenager, the main threat came from the nuclear weapons we had created – you know, the ones that could keep us safe by destroying the world 20 times over. Later it was the hole in the ozone layer. Then climate change came along. Now we’re back to world conflicts.

I shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve known for a long time that we’re really good at causing problems. Countless prophets have told us we will destroy ourselves. The people who think up doomsday scenarios for Hollywood movies just look at the most extreme but logical consequences of our actions, and then show us where we’re headed.

If the old cliché ever came true and alien said, Take me to your leader, I’m not sure who I would send them to. In theory, I should take them to the White House or somewhere like that. In practice, the mafia might be a better choice, or a mob of rioters after their team loses the Super Bowl.

The only bright spot I can find in all this is that, as I said earlier, I can always find small good news stories. So far, enough people have done enough good and wise things to keep us out of the abyss. We may not agree on whether God prompted them to act as they did, but we can probably agree that we are fortunate that they are among us. Let’s pray they can keep doing what they’re doing to keep us from doing what we seem destined to do.

by Marti Maltby, Director Peace House Community – A Place to Belong

This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.