I’m embarrassed to say that there are many believers who think that any good deed performed by an ‘unbeliever’ is, in eternal terms, worthless. Maybe they’re thinking of Jesus’s words in John 15:5 where He said, ‘Apart from Me, you can do nothing’.
Clearly Jesus did not mean for His words to be taken literally. Without Him, all around the world, people carry on breathing. I wouldn’t call that ‘nothing’, would you? So of course the Fundamentalists and religious conservatives claim that He meant that you can do nothing of lasting value without Him. Maybe it’s that, I don’t know. And maybe that’s why the Fundies claim that nothing an unbeliever does has any eternal value. And therefore that God does not count those things as ‘good deeds’, whatever that might mean. Sorry this is all a bit nebulous, but, as with so many of the more silly ‘Christian’ religious ideas, it’s not all that well explained nor well-explored. People just accept this sort of twaddle without really thinking things through.
Whatever the reasoning behind it, though, this idea of their deeds having no value is really complete rubbish.
For a start, Jesus said that “anyone who gives you a cup of water because you are My disciple shall certainly not lose his reward” (Mt 10:42) So for the Scripture-proved believer, that settles it, doesn’t it? Jesus didn’t say that it had to be a believer who gave the cup of water…..
But let’s also look at a modern-day parable, usually used to illustrate that small acts of kindness have value. It’s called ‘The Starfish Story’
The Starfish Story: You Can Make a Difference
While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.
As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water.
He came closer still and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”
The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”
To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”
Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”
The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It made a difference for that one.”
The moral is obvious: so much needs to be done to change the world, so we must start one ‘starfish’ at a time, and change the world in small measures. Each little good thing we do makes a difference. It’s to encourage people to make a small difference, all of which add up.
And, of course, for each starfish – figuratively, this is of course people whom you help along the way – it does indeed make a difference. And Jesus did this; He healed people and gave them new life, one person at a time, and He made a difference. He didn’t do it to show off, nor really to get glory (except perhaps as a by-product for His Father); no, He did those things because a) that is what the Kingdom of God is like and b) because those things needed doing. Those people needed to be healed, fed, given wine, whatever – there and then, in the real world. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom in to the real world and sort things out because they needed sorting out.
His motivation was not necessarily relevant to those He helped; all they were bothered about was that their problem had miraculously gone away. And not all of those people upped and followed him as a result of His ministry either; in fact quite the contrary: many of the people shouting ‘Crucify Him!’ on the first Good Friday will have been people whom Jesus healed.
But as usual I digress. Like any good parable, there is another moral to the starfish story, and it’s this:
None of the starfish saved by the young man in that story could care less who it was that threw them back into the ocean!
It doesn’t matter to them that it was a boy or girl; young or old, believer or unbeliever that rescued each starfish. The point is that they were thrown back into the ocean and rescued. The deed has value.
In other words, all good deeds matter to those to whom they are done. Believer or unbeliever – that’s irrelevant. And when you really quiz these people who believe my initial proposition of godless deeds being worthless – actually they don’t really have any coherent argument about it. And certainly they have no argument against actually helping people no matter who you are.
Because, in the end, it does not matter who you are, so long as those helped get the aid they need.
And in doing that, maybe those ‘unbelievers’, whose deeds are dismissed so readily by certain religious people, are unwittingly following in the footsteps of Jesus. In fact, I believe they are. And their acts will not go unrewarded!
5 thoughts on “Deeds and Starfish”
Agreed, Tony. Would that all people do good deeds no matter what their religious beliefs.
I’m always reminded of C. S. Lewis’ insight in The Last Battle with the young man Emeth, who had done good deeds that he believed were in the service of Tash. Aslan explains:
“All the service thou hast done to Tash, I accept as service done to me. No service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.”
Or, as Christ said, a bad tree cannot bear good fruit, nor a good tree, bad fruit. And by their fruits you shall know them…
I love C. S. Lewis’s works, and have quoted from him before. The passage you mention always makes me choke up…..I love it!
Count me in as well, Tony. There happens to have been one ancient theologian who was very big on “works righteousness” even to the point of salvation based on our taking up our own crosses. Dude’s name was Jesus of Nazareth.