Of Ants, and God, and Men
We prayed for a just end to the fighting in Gaza and the Ukraine on Sunday. I hope you did too. And Iraq. Facebook profile pictures are changing all across the web as Christians realize the horrors happening to our brothers and sisters there, suffering from the evil of Isis. The world is all too often a violent and evil place, we are reminded once again.
But we don’t need to go anywhere at all to see violence. As I type, a bitter struggle to the death is winding down on my patio. A large red fly is now being carried off by tiny brown ants, after a twenty minute hand-to-hand duel to the death. Well, I guess mouth-to-mouth duel would be more accurate. When I glanced up from my reading and noticed the battle, the fly seemed like it might escape. Twenty or thirty times more massive than its opponents, the fly seemed almost to be breaking free from the two ants who clung by their jaws to the end of his long, thin, segmented body. A third ant attacked the head, occasionally taking a Ferris-wheel ride on an antenna as the fly flopped from side to side. Random ants crisscrossing my patio joined the attack and left it, but at least one ant always held on to the fly’s tail, and slowly, over the course of ten minutes, the fly’s strength began to fail. I would probably need a microscope to see them, but I suppose their bodies, attackers and victim, are covered with bites and bruises, wounds perhaps inflamed by whatever venom ants and flies carry.
I was mesmerized. This was not a made-up battle royale staged by stuntmen or CGI technicians. Tiny, and silent to my ears, nevertheless, the violence and the death were real. My hopelessly self-centered mind marveled at the courage and teamwork and tenacity, imagining a nobility in the spectacle, in the valiant resistance of the fly, and the grim determination of the ants. Upon just a moment’s reflection, I realize I assume these things with no solid basis. Did the combatants experience fear? Or are insects feeling-less machines, who run strictly on instinct until their life ends? I have no idea. I do know they fought for their lives, and one life ended. Violence and death are real.
And violence and death are everywhere. God in his mercy restrains most human violence, including preventing me from tearing into the boorish lout who offends me in the grocery store. God restrains me through laws and police and the voice of my parents in my head, and maybe even through my life experiences, since I’ve come to be friends with many at-first-difficult people. But violence and death are by no means exceptional. Living in a happy household, enjoying peace and prosperity, it takes an Ant-vs-Fly death match to remind me. Living with a brute, or in the inner-city, or Iraq or the Ukraine today, the reminders come more often, and in human form.
As I watched the insect war on my patio, I was slightly reminded of David vs. Goliath, except David was all by himself, no brothers in arms. Then, being a Lutheran, my look-for-Christ-everywhere mind thought of how the Son of God was killed by puny men, so that the men could live, which is in a sense what happened to the fly, who will be a wonderful meal for the anthill. (Do ants celebrate when a giant fly is drug up the slope to the entrance?) But of course, the metaphor breaks down quickly, because, outwardly and effectively, Jesus wasn’t bigger and stronger than His foes. In essence He was and is bigger and stronger than any foe, of course, since He is God. But He emptied Himself, taking on the form of an ant, and using none of His almighty power to defend Himself from the swarms of ants who attacked from all sides. The One Man who could have won every battle gave Himself up, in order to save the very ones who were bent on destroying Him. There is no comparison for this mystery in all the universe.
Just as there is no comparison for the Resurrection. The fly is being digested, even as I type. Dead men don’t rise. But Jesus did, because He is the eternal Son of God. And in His rising we find the only permanent solution to violence and death, in the forgiveness of all our sins. The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the lion with the fatted calf, because of the little child who leads them, the child who has put his hand into the pit of vipers, that is, the Child, the Son of Mary, who threw His whole being into the pit of human sin and hatred, in order to take all the venom into Himself. In Him, and Him alone, there is hope for violent men like me and you, and the promise of a new heavens and a new earth, where they will hurt and harm no more, forever, Amen.