Many of our cities have been set on fire over the past year. We have witnessed people’s livelihoods and dreams going up in smoke over and over again. I confess – it is heartrending to watch people lose their lives and their livelihoods and not be able to stop the senseless destruction which benefits no one. I recently had a conversation with a firefighter friend of mine, who said these obvious yet profound words to me. “You don’t fight fire with fire, you fight fire with water.”
My friend should know. After all, he’s a fireman. He fights fires for a living. He’s been putting out fires all of his life. Of course, he was speaking literally, about physical fires. But then he applied this truth to the metaphorical fires we all face in our lives saying, “you fight fire with water, but you have to figure out what the water is.” How true! What is the water that will put out, extinguishing for good, the flames of hatred, anger, greed, jealousy, hurt, revenge etc. that threaten to engulf us all and take our very lives? What is the water? We need to know because water is what will save us all from being burned up alive by the fire.
Indeed we are in danger of being destroyed by many fires – the fires others set, the fires whose flames we fan, the fires to whom we supply the fuel that keeps them alive, the fires we set ourselves. Just as a long, severe drought creates conditions conducive to fires breaking out and spreading rapidly, so COVID (well actually, not COVID, but our responses to COVID such as lockdowns and isolation and job loss and economic insecurity) has created the perfect storm of conditions necessary for fire to run rampant. Interestingly, this applies to both literal and metaphorical fires. The former seem to be a result of the latter. Our metaphorical, interpersonal fires are not put out and the result is the literal burning down around us of our cities, our neighborhoods, our homes, our businesses and our once beautiful public places and spaces.
I think it was Gandhi who said if you live by the “an eye for an eye” philosophy, the whole world ends up blind. Well, fighting fire with fire gets a similar result – the whole world ends up burned beyond recognition. So what is the water we all so desperately need in order to put out the fires that will otherwise consume and destroy us all? Proverbs 15:1, 4, 18, 23 and 16:24 tell me something about what this fire-fighting water might look like,
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”
“A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.”
“A man finds joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word!”
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
So my words can be fire starters or they can be the water that puts out the flames that otherwise will burn me and those around me. I learn from these verses that gentle words can turn away anger, patient words can calm a dispute, pleasant words can bring healing, indeed the right words can bring joy and life. It seems well chosen words are part of the water that I need to fight the fires I find myself surrounded by during these difficult days. What other fire-fighting weapons do I have at my disposal to add to the water in order to fight the fire? Romans 12 tells me some actions I can take to fight the fires surrounding me.
“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. . . . Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. . . . Live in harmony with one another. . . . Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, . . . ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’ . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-21)
That’s a lot of clear direction right there, isn’t it? Just as my fireman friend said, “we don’t fight fire with more fire”, God’s word tells me not to “repay anyone evil for evil” – but to “overcome evil with good.” I am to fight the fire of evil with the water of good. I read in Luke 6:27-31 more actions I can practice that will put out present and potential fires –
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Loving, doing good to, blessing, praying for, giving to . . . these actions are certainly water, life giving water, water that is able to put out the flames of hatred, anger, cursing, being mistreated, striking, . . . these make up the water I can use to fight the fire. I don’t fight fire with fire, I fight fire with its opposite, its natural enemy – water. I guess that’s why Jesus said to “overcome evil with good.” I am to overcome hate with love, darkness with His light, greed with generosity and lies with His Truth. Current culture would tell me to respond in kind to others, to fight fire with fire. But God has another, more excellent way for you and for me to follow.
When we figure out, as my fireman friend said, “what is the water that we can use to fight the fire?” we will be on our way to fighting the good fight and putting out the fires fueled by hate, anger, greed, envy, dissatisfaction, strife, lies, – all fires of the evil one, who is the enemy of our souls. Peter said,
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) and we know this about love,
“Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10)
love does no harm, hate destroys everything and everyone that it touches – the water of love will put out the fire of hate,
“And now these three remain; faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
sincerely, Grace Day