Starfish, which are more properly called “sea stars” and are not really fish at all, have something wonderful about them besides a beautiful five-point radial symmetry and a cameo role in the dentist’s tank in Finding Nemo:If they get an arm bitten off by a predator, they can grow a new one. Not only that, but because most of a sea star’s vital organs are in its arms, some can even regenerate a whole new sea star from one arm and a bit of the central disk.
I heard that some fishermen once were annoyed when their nets kept catching sea stars rather than fish. So they took to slicing at the inconvenient creatures and tossed them back into the sea. Lo and behold, rather than decimating the population of sea stars, they increased it. The undesirable echinoderms they thought they were killing were in fact multiplying, thanks to the very act by which they tried to destroy them.
An analogous story is found in Acts 8:
“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were scattered throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria. … Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
It sounds like curtains for the new religion. But it’s just like slicing a sea star. Here is the rest of the story:
“Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And crowds with one accord paid attention. … So there was much joy in that city.”
Attempts to slice up the people of God have always resulted in multiplying them:
“But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad …” (Exodus 1:12).
They say the death of the martyrs is the seed blood of the church, and history bears that out. Paul, from prison, wrote:
“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard …” (Philippians 1:12-13).
In Iran, the government has cracked down on Christians after many years of pretending they were not there. In spite of this (or because of this), there are an estimated 1 million souls who have been won to Christ in that Muslim nation in the last three decades.
I see wider applications to the sea star phenomenon for our American lives, where beheadings remain a remote possibility (for now): Let us remember not to be discouraged by developments in our lives that look like setbacks, and like they could never conceivably advance the kingdom. Analogous to the amputation of a sea star arm is the pruning of a good tree or bush (John 15). God prunes severely to augment fruit production. And His specialty is bringing about surprising reversals that make the jaw drop. If one of your “arms” is cut off, like the sea star’s, do not conclude that you are crippled. Trust in God to grow one back and make you stronger than before.