Most people hear the story of the “Good Samaritan” when they are children. A guy stops to help a fellow traveler who has been robbed, and the moral is that we should help each other in the same way. A straight-forward moral story that gets filed away, along with all the other moral stories that we are fed throughout our childhood. Is that all there is to the “Good Samaritan?” Let’s take a look.
A quick revision of the story Jesus told
A traveler goes from Jerusalem to Jericho and gets robbed along the way. They take everything, even his clothes, and leave him “half dead” (KJV.) Two travelers go by that way and don’t stop, a third one does. This third traveler has every reason to keep going, possibly more than the other two. Jesus tells us indirectly that he too would have made a first-class prize for any robbers. He had oil and wine, he had an animal and, he had enough money to pay the innkeeper extra and still continue his journey. So, not only does he know that he’s a prime target, he knows that the probability of being robbed is extremely high; the evidence is lying in front of him, bleeding. But, instead of turning his back on his rapidly expiring fellow traveler, he turns his back to the danger. Instead of rushing away as the other two had, he rushes to his aid. Only after he has ‘stablished his patient’ does he begin the slow and perilous trip to the next town.
Essentially, what the Good Samaritan did, was absolutely insane
We don’t see it as insane because we all share a core set of objective moral values that will override our reason without us even noticing. There is no logical path from what the Good Samaritan saw to what the Good Samaritan did, yet we see no contradiction. Someone wishing to deny the existence of God may say, we are enlightened beings and therefore understand that we would not want to be left to die as the first traveler was. But that’s exactly why the other two travelers kept going; the possibility of ending up the same way was too much for them. They may have wanted to stop, but in the end, their reason and sense of self-preservation won out. We all know the feeling; when we should help, but we just can’t make ourselves do it. Why should we feel anything? Why, five miles down the road, should our mind still be occupied with the complete stranger who seemed to be in such distress? This has no survival value.
Helping Strangers is not Good for Survival
If we are simply the smartest animals on the planet and entirely a product of our environment. If our minds are merely the result of blind natural forces, then the electrical activity in the brain that we call thoughts should serve survival and nothing else. If genetic mistakes and struggle for superiority are the forces that created us, there is no possible source for compassion of this magnitude. Jews and Samaritans hated each other.
Looking back on the story, someone could come up with all sorts of theories to explain God out of the equation, theories cost nothing. Nevertheless, the fact remains that until someone points out the madness of the Good Samaritan’s actions, when we hear the story, we all nod our heads in agreement because we know that what he did was right.
Why Do We Aspire to Goodness?
At this point, it’s common for someone to get the wrong idea completely, and to think that the take-home message is that you need to believe in God to be good. After all, this is a Sunday school story. You don’t need to believe in God to be good, any more than you need to believe in internal combustion to ride in a bus. Where unbelief comes unstuck is explaining the good, any good, without God. And more importantly, explaining why we have such a high standard of behavior which we all know we very seldom meet. Could it be that we were made for another, perfect world?