Fighting Fire With…Water: How Love, Not Anger, Saves The World

Fighting Fire With…Water: How Love, Not Anger, Saves The World October 9, 2018

It’s been a doozy of a week for our world.

I was off line for the weekend, attending my sister’s wedding in Pennsylvania.  When I woke up yesterday morning, back at home in San Francisco, I was inundated by headlines that hurt my heart, by texts from tearful friends, by an emotional exhaustion that’s hard to explain, by a discouragement that’s hard to name.

After a sexual assault victim was given the middle finger by a roomful of white men after she’d found her courage to tell her story, after millions of women saying “MeToo” were dismissed as well, after the president of the country mocked a sexual assault victim and thousands of rally-attenders cheered him on, after a man of questionable (possibly criminal) character was appointed to make the highest rules of the land….

Good God, where do we go from here?

These words came to me in the early morning hours as I cuddled under a blanket with a cup of coffee, silent and still, staring into space, wondering how to answer that question:

Fight fire with fire.

If it’s the political system that has screwed women, use the political system to get justice, to yank power out of the hands of the people who have abused it.  Engage an enraged base and mobilize it to retaliate.

That’s one  strategy.

And while I’m registered to vote and I hope everyone else is too and I hope we all exercise that right as we vote for the people we believe to be the most qualified, capable and upstanding candidates on the November 6th ballot, the reality is that casting a big vote every four years and a smaller vote every two years in between, and feeling grieved and horrified and on the verge of despair the rest of the time, well – that’s no way to live.

My soul says there’s more than that.  My heart says there’s a way to live that transcends that.  And the faith I claim to follow says so, too.

Fight fire with fire.

I researched that phrase as I was writing this morning.  Apparently Shakespeare was the first writer on record to use those words together:

Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire;
Threaten the threatener and outface the brow

The phrase became more widely used when American pioneers living on the expansive prairie were threatened with wildfires that swept across the plains and consumed their cattle, crops and homesteads.  The pioneers began to start what they called “backfires.”  When they saw a fire sweeping towards them, the pioneers would race home and set their own posessions on fire, trying to destroy everything flammable, all the wood and hay and fabric, that the bigger fire could use as fuel.

Fight fire with fire.

The phrase has morphed from literal fire-fighting advice to a metaphorical way to combat an opponent.  The dictionary says that the phrase fight fire with fire means “to use the weapons or tactics of one’s enemy or opponent, even if one finds them distasteful.”

Threaten the threatener, as Shakespeare said.

Raise your voice against the one who’s raising their voice at you.

Strike the one who just struck you.

Threat for threat.  Word for word.  Blow for blow.

Fight fire with fire.

I find no hope in that.  I find no freedom in that.  I find no transcendence in that way of thinking and living.

When you fight fire with fire, you burn your own house down just so your enemy can’t have it.  But in the end, you’ve still lost everything.

When you fight fire with fire, you speak and act and think the same way as the opponent whose ugly way of being you decry.

Fight fire with fire.  

It’s destructive, retaliative, futile.  It doesn’t create; it only destroys.  It doesn’t find a way forward; it always ends in a stalemate.  It doesn’t speak peace; it roars in a deafening blaze.  It consumes and is itself consumed.

As followers of Jesus, we’re not called to fight fire with fire.  We’re not called to use our enemies’ tactics, only in the opposite direction.  We’re not called to roar louder, destroy more, or up the world’s anger ante.

We’re called to be wholly different than the evil we encounter.  To transcend the futile fray.  To create a new and better world.  To live the way of Love.

Love whispers when it’s yelled at in anger.

Love forgives when it is wronged.

Love turns the other cheek when it’s struck.

Instead of weaponizing, love waves a white flag in war zones.

When we fight fire with fire, we are no better, and no different, than the ugliness and evil we abhor.

When we use anger to combat anger, we’ll only ever be locked in an endless stalemate.

When we use love?  That’s a different story.

When we use love, we heal instead of destroy. We de-escalate danger instead of fueling it.  We transcend the way of the world instead of grappling with it in the gutter.

Just like taking an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind, fighting fire with fire will burn the whole world down.

Jesus’ way is to fight fire with water, defusing anger with mercy, greeting fear with courage, whispering peace in the raging roar.

When we fight fire with water, we quench it.  We overcome it.  We silence it once and forever.

And we offer a lifesaving drink to our parched, thirsty, waiting world.


Browse Our Archives