As I’m writing this on Monday morning, I’m watching the news updates on the continuing drama around the shootings at the Washington DC Navy Yard. The most recent report lists 13 fatalities, including a gunman, and multiple injuries. There are still questions about whether other accomplices are still at large.

I’m witnessing, by way of television, the scurrying about of hundreds of “first responders,” police from a variety of agencies, Homeland Security officers, U. S. Navy security details, fire trucks of all shapes and sizes, paramedics, ambulances, Mass Casualty Units and several helicopters. All the emergency vehicles have their lights flashing, and there are alarms sounding from several directions. Everyone is on high alert.

Because I am at a safe distance and viewing from a perspective that is above the frantic activity, it suddenly dawns on me that this is similar to observing what happens to an ant colony when I “attack” it by poking a stick into a crowded area. Previously, the ant city’s life had been busy, but purposeful and orderly, much like a modern U. S. urban center on a working day. But my stick attack changes everything.

The flow of activity immediately responds to what’s happening at the area threatened by my stick. A group of larger ants quickly converge on that spot to deal with the intruder. If I had a magnifying glass, I’d be able to see that these are soldier ants, armed with the latest model assault mandibles. They are the ant colony’s first responders. Within a couple of seconds, I notice that some paramedic ants are beginning to carry off the wounded. I imagine that there are ant schools nearby, where young are taught and nurtured, and these go on protective lockdown.

When things calm down and the threat seems to have been eliminated, the general sense of frenzy gives way to a recovery operation. The army ants begin to slip away, and they are replaced by smaller worker ants who methodically clean up debris and restore order. Within a few minutes, the pattern of ant urban life begins to function as it usually does.

This observation about the similarities between how human colonies and ant colonies deal with a crisis leads me to these reflections:

(1) The world of non-human living things around us contains many wonders that most of us never notice. God has encouraged us to be more observant: “Go to the ant, you lazybones; consider its ways, and be wise. Without having any chief or officer or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest. How long will you lie there, O lazybones?” (Proverbs 6:6-9). This is only one of the many lessons we can learn if we enroll in God’s Nature School.

(2) Ants are weak and tiny; yet, working as one, they can accomplish great things. We also are weak and tiny; yet when a community of human beings work together to solve a problem or confront a threat, they can achieve awesome results. Unfortunately, much of the time we are working against each other and cancel each other out.

(3) It’s good to be reminded how small we are in the scheme of things. The spies sent by Moses to check out the Promised Land reported that it indeed “flowed with milk and honey.” but they added the bad news that the people who lived there were mighty and fearsome; compared to them “we seemed like grasshoppers” (Numbers 13:33). This perspective helped them realize that only God could give them the victory. Our strength and coping ability are only insect-size, and we would learn to trust God more if we acknowledged this.

— Pastor George Van Alstine