I’ve always heard the expression, “fight fire with fire,” but up until a few years ago, I didn’t know what it really meant. There are a few different ideas on this, but I witnessed something very interesting once that gave me some insight on this. The area in which I live is inundated with silvergrass. It’s very sharp, very tough, and when it dries…VERY flammable. It was a dry summer and someone let a flame get out of control and before we knew it, much of our neighborhood was in danger from a huge brush fire. When the forest service arrived, they used a bulldozer to make a trench that the fire could not cross and then they really surprised me…by setting more fires. They walked around in specific places and had these really interesting torches for creating what they referred to as “back-burns,” (if my memory serves correctly). I asked them why they weren’t using water to put out the fire and they said it would not be successful…and the best thing to do would be to go ahead and burn off the other stuff in a controlled way in order to get rid of the risk of any future flare ups. The idea was that when a fire was burning in a particular direction, they would set a fire from the opposite side of it and let the two fires burn towards one another, burning up all the fuel towards the middle and then essentially die out from not having anything left to burn. I actually thought it was a really good idea…and then it hit me…this means this fire will destroy a lot more ground than perhaps it would have if put out with water. This way of controlling fire is not about stopping the fire as much as it is about letting it destroy all that it can until it has nothing left to destroy…
This made me think of the way humans engage each other in conflict…how when someone comes at us in some form of assault, our natural reaction is to fight back in the same manner. Essentially, we strike back in the manner in which we’ve been attacked. This doesn’t resolve anything…it only results in the “last man standing” rule. Whichever person is able to take the most punishment and keep going is the “winner,” destroying all until there’s nothing left to destroy…
This is also how we engage each other verbally in conflict. We get angry and then we go on the attack and then whichever one of us has a larger arsenal of verbal weaponry is the one that “wins.” Interestingly…the truth is that no one really wins. Just like a fire, we simply run out of things to damage…and what’s more is that the damage done to the landscape during those moments wreaks havoc on life. I remember that during the work of the forest service with controlling our fire, there were lots of small critters that went flying out of their habitat…and there’s no telling how many of them died that night. It’s not just grass and ground that gets burned…but life…and the same holds true for us. Parts of our lives are forever damaged and scarred over by these types of engagements…and in many instances…little lives are harmed as well. The casualties are often much greater than we are aware.
In the Gospel stories, the night when Jesus would be arrested for execution, a group of armed men came with the officials to arrest Him. Peter, being the impetuous one of the group, pulls out a sword and takes a swing at a guy…in defense of Jesus. They were outnumbered, and definitely outmatched. Apparently, Peter swung at his head, and the man ducked but Peter managed to cut off his ear. If this situation had escalated at that moment due to Peter’s “fighting fire with fire” then the story would have ended in a bloody massacre. But that’s not what happened. Jesus told Peter that, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” Essentially He was saying that if we engage violence with violence…or attack with attack…verbal assault with verbal reaction…then things will never change…and life will continue to be destroyed.
In the following moments, Jesus essentially put out the fire. He didn’t set a “backburn” fire, nor did He match up against the enemy. He took a different path…and the situation was totally diffused. If we want to see things go in a different direction…if we want to stop the fighting…the destruction of the fire…the bloodshed from the sword…then we’ve got to do what He told Peter to do…we’ve got to drop our swords.
If we truly want to see a better world…a better existence here and now…then we’ve got to stop fighting fire with fire…which only destroys more ground. We’ve got to decide not to fight. We’ve got to put down our weapons and realize that violence begets violence…and it doesn’t matter who swung first…what matters is who stopped swinging in order to see things change.
*Image taken from: http://www.nclitigation.com/files/2013/05/FightFireWithFire3.jpg