Let the Ants Teach Us

Mario A. Russo
On December 09, 2020

My son and I love watching nature shows. Quarantine measures imposed during COVID lockdown have given us even more opportunity to enjoy these shows together.  My son just entered the 3rd grade so his curiosity is firing on all cylinders. He wants to know about everything. We recently found some age-appropriate nature programs, and we watch one video each day on a different topic. Sometimes we learn about lions, other times giraffes, or chimpanzees, or wolves. They are all so interesting. But the episode about ants particularly piqued our interest.

When we first started watching this episode, I had the words of Solomon in my head. “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!” (Proverbs 6:6) Well, I would love to be wise so I thought this would be good. What I learned amazed me. The ant has a lot to teach us about the power and beauty of community, and how important that community is during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Considering the Ant

Ants work in a colony as one superorganism. They do what is best for the colony. Rather than use the colony for the good of the individual, they sacrifice their individual gain for the good of the whole colony. When one ant goes astray, the colony responds to correct it. Yes, they have a built-in self-correcting mechanism that ensures the welfare of the whole colony above the benefit of the individual.

There are different roles for ants within the colony. There are scouts, foragers, guards, and fighters, and some even work in sanitation, removing waste from the colony. But all the ants exist to serve the needs of the whole colony. Without the scouts and foragers, there would be no food. The scouts find the food and bring back news of its location so the foragers can go out and collect it. Without the guards, there would be no protection for the eggs. They ensure life for the next generation of the colony. Without the fighters, there would be no defense from invaders. Much like the immune system of our bodies, ants protect against other insects and ants from invading. Without the sanitation ants, waste would pile up and overrun the colony. All the ants in the colony have a role to play. Each ant must perform her job for the colony to function and be successful.

As we look around at our communities, we need to ask, how has COVID-19 affected my community? How can the Christian community work to bring healing and harmony to my community?
Mario Russo

The Argentine ant does not let proximity determine who can be in their colony. Found on most continents, the Argentine ant recognizes its own species. While most ant species defend themselves against other invading ants, the Argentine ant knows no such boundaries. They partner with other colonies of their species and form gigantic colonies. One such colony is 3,700 miles long. It stretches from Japan through North America to the Mediterranean coast of Europe. Though crossing over three continents, the Argentine ants live as though they are one colony.

One of my favorite species of ant lives in Brazil. The cooperative efforts of leafcutter ants provide their colony with a state-of-the-art underground city. In fact, these ants are known to form the second-most complex societies on Earth after human beings. The network of tunnels there stretches over 500 square feet, underground. One article described the ants this way:

“The community of ants—described as a ‘superorganism’ because of the way they coordinated themselves—carried out a Herculean task building their giant home. Each insect would have repeatedly carried loads of earth, weighing more times more than the worker, a distance of what would be just over half a mile in human terms… It features scores of highways connecting the main chambers—and, off the main routes, are side roads. From there, paths branch out and lead to the many rubbish pits and fungus gardens, which are grown from the vegetation collected by the workers.”

In many ways, ant colonies represent an entire society. By working together, the ants build an entire thriving community.

ant holding a piece of leaf

Considering the Church

About two thousand years ago, Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth. His aim was to help this church be a thriving community. However, this church was experiencing some interesting issues. One of those issues was that richer members were excluding the poorer members. The richer members were using the community for their own benefit, rather using themselves to benefit the whole community. Because of this, Paul writes to them about what it means to live in community. He says,

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ… But in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body… But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now, you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

Paul’s illustration of the body is helpful for understanding community. As an organism, the human body is a walking relationship with other parts of itself. It is on a constant pursuit of homeostatic balance. A never-ending quest for peace and stability within its own community. Likewise, the Church, as a community, is pursuing peace and balance within itself.

In many ways, a community of believers (a church), is reflected in an ant colony. Found all over the world, Christians recognize each other. We live and fellowship in localized colonies known as churches. And we defend ourselves against invading wolves that teach false doctrine.

We do what is best for the church community. Rather than use the church for our own good, we sacrifice our individual gain for the good of the whole church. When one believer goes astray, we respond to correct it. All the believers in the church have a role to play. Each believer must perform her and his job in order for the church to function and be successful. By working together, the Christians build an entire community where thriving is possible.

group of friends facing the sun with their arms around each other's backs

But the pursuit of peace and justice and harmony extends well beyond the “four walls” of the church building. It even extends beyond the spiritual body of the Church. As followers of Jesus, we pursue peace and justice in our physical neighborhoods and communities. As the Church, we pursue justice and peace in our city and in the world. We do that the same way we do it in the church. We work together to build a neighborhood, community, or city where human flourishing is possible. As we look around at our communities, we need to ask, how has COVID-19 affected my community? How can the Christian community work to bring healing and harmony to my community? By loving and worshiping Jesus and living in peace as the body of Christ, we call others to love and worship Jesus. During these difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must work to bring peace and justice to our communities. And it all starts by considering the ant.

Mario A. Russo
About the Author

Mario A. Russo

Mario A. Russo is a PhD in Theology (Science and Religion) candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and Director Emeritus of the Dortmund Center for Science and Faith in Dortmund, Germany. He is an ordained pastor who holds several degrees in both Christian theology and the biological sciences including a Doctor of Ministry from Erskine College and Seminary, as well as an Interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Psychology from the University of South Carolina. He has written and spoken on various platforms about issues related to science and faith for over 15 years. He lives in Greenville, South Carolina along with his wife and 2 children.
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