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Fight Fire With Fire
The Two Fiery Situations In September
In the month of September 2010, we have had two terrible situations that have revolved around the threat and tragedy of fire: The threat to burn the Muslim holy book and the tragedy of the gas pipeline explosion. In both instances, people have come out of the situation with hurt and retaliation while some have lost their homes and lives in the destruction.
In a matter of days, a controversial preacher, Terry Jones, planned to set ablaze thousands of Muslim holy books with the express conviction that the Quran was evil because it espouses something other than biblical truth—it fuels radical violent behavior among Muslims. He unofficially dubbed 9/11 as the “International Burn The Koran Day.”
The Afgan reaction toward Jones’ plan was telling. It actually sparked protests in that part of the world. Several hundred demonstrators ran toward a NATO compound where four attackers and five police were injured in clashes. Afgans pelted rocks at a signboard and a passing US military convoy. They burned tires, blocked highways, and even went to the extent of burning the Stars and Stripes shouting, “Death to America!”
The story has a David versus Goliath quality about it. An unknown pastor shepherding a small church of 50 members in Florida calls out a challenge to the daunting Muslim world. Surprisingly, his message ignited the attention of the worldwide media along with the top US General in Afghanistan and the most powerful Office in the Free World. Both leaders countered and/or condemned the Quran-burning event warning that the repercussions would put American soldiers and civilians living in Muslim countries in harm’s way.
There is a kernel of truth in regard to Jones’ reason for burning the Quran. Violent behavior from Muslim extremist groups erupted even before the event took place. Interesting that the Muslims behind the protests didn’t burn a Holy Bible, but rather burned the American flag—the western infidel’s symbol of freedom and democracy. True to form, Terry’s threat more than teased them, but brought out an isolated ugly truth behind their belief system.
Of course, this does not excuse the Florida pastor from his detrimental and dangerous actions. The Dove World Outreach Center embodies a great contradiction in regard to its name. Ironically, their species of dove has lost its innocence.[i] This bird is a biblical symbol of peace through the Holy Spirit. The church’s irreverent exploit destroys its central vision of “world outreach.”
Like Islam, Christianity has its share of rogue leaders and fanatical followers that bring shame to the gospel message of Jesus Christ and his kingdom. Rather than being led by the Holy Spirit, they are swayed by the human flesh. The destruction of the Twin Towers and the loss of lives on 9/11 was a tragedy of epic proportions. It made monsters of Muslims as it roused up the American sleeping giant to retaliate with a crushing blow in Baghdad—“Shock and Awe!”
Yet we know from the Scriptures to leave room for the wrath of God, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”[ii] Christians are not to fight fire with fire. Rather, we are to love our enemies by feeding their hunger and quenching their thirst for by this we will heap burning coals upon our enemy’s head.[iii] If we must burn something, let us not burn Qurans, but burn coals upon the heads of those who hate us. It was the 19th century German philosopher Nietzsche that once cautioned, “Do not slay the dragon, lest you become the dragon.”
The Greek word anthrax means “burning coals.” This word appears only once in the New Testament. It is from this word that we get our English word “anthrax.” Anthrax, which signifies a fiery boil, is a highly infectious fatal bacterial disease of mammals—especially cattle and sheep—that causes skin ulcers and is transmittable to humans by inhalation and through feces and infected meat.
The Greek word soreuo appears only twice in the New Testament. The other reference is found in 2 Timothy 3:6. It signifies a heaping up into a pile as in “to overwhelm with a heaping together of anything.”[iv]
It is clear that the “burning coals” that are to be heaped on the head is not a literal but a figurative reaction against revenge. Figuratively speaking, heaping burning coals upon the head of an enemy is meant to melt and/or soften the heart causing it to glow with love. This also includes the burning pangs meant to shame one’s enemy whose evil is answered by good. Vengeance may break the spirit of the enemy, but love will break his heart and “move him to burning shame”.[v]
There’s the story of a woman involved in bitter quarrels with her husband. Seeking counsel, she was asked, “Have you tried heaping burning coals of fire on his head?” She replied, “No, but I tried a skillet of hot grease!” This woman, like Pastor Jones and others, failed to realize that Paul used a figure of speech, a style of rhetoric often found in the Scriptures. A Bible commentator noted, “The original meaning of this figure of speech has been lost, but Paul suggests that the enemy will burn with shame for his abuse of one who loves him”.[vi]
What will forge the Christian challenge in response to the 9/11 anniversary of the U.S. terrorist attacks? Especially when the aftermath of the attack leads to the building of a mosque neighboring Ground Zero. We must fight the fire of fanatics with the fire of the Holy Spirit. What form will our “burning coals” take? How can we creatively heap burning coals upon those that loathe us—coals that will quench the fire line of hatred and drench it with divine love from above? Are we willing to fight the fire of seething human hate with the fire of supernatural divine love?
[i] Matthew 10:16.
[ii] Romans 12:19.
[iii] Romans 12:20.
[iv] Thayer, 612.
[v] Barclay, 184.
[vi] Coffman, 442-43.