Why We Set Things on Fire
May 28, 2020
Let’s start with a story, a biblical one. Surely, one of the first recorded instances of vandalism and setting someone else’s property on fire. Seems timely.
There was once a young boy who watched a great injustice, a great personal injustice that hit close to home—the rape of his own sister. The perp? His own oldest brother. A weird, perverted familial crime filled with complications. The boy, naturally, wanted justice.
So the boy goes to the only place he knows to turn—to his father. In this case, his father also happened to be the king. Perfect. If anyone had absolute authority to do what is right, it was this man. Unfortunately, the king, his own father, did nothing. Absolutely nothing. The boy appealed. The boy screamed. The boy kept asking. He was never heard. Justice was nowhere to be found.
Even worse, the boy couldn’t even make a direct appeal. As the king, his father placed several layers between them. The boy, in his adolescence, had no idea what to do with this situation. Imagine the energy, the emotions, the questions. Where is the justice? Why won’t anyone listen? Why is this poor girl being abandoned even after being raped? Why is the perpetrator walking around like nothing happened? And where the hell is dad in all of this?
As he grows with these questions, these emotions also grow inside of him. Completely understandable. He becomes angry, and as he becomes more able to take matters into his own hands, he does. He kills his older brother. Justice, one way or another. And when it comes to dad, he will make him listen.
So he sets his fields on fire. And finally, David turns his ear to his son, Absalom.
I am white and privileged. I talk too much and don’t listen nearly enough. But based on the above, I’m going to make some assumptions:
-I’m assuming that people set things on fire because their questions haven’t been answered.
-I’m assuming they’ve seen injustice happen within their own families and they’re the ones tending to the victims.
-I’m assuming they’ve demanded justice and have seen nothing happen.
-I’m assuming that the ones in power have created layers upon layers so that communication can’t even happen.
Maybe instead of thinking in terms of “right” or “wrong”, we begin to wonder why people — all of us, really — set fires in the first place. And if we wonder where in the world we can start, we can begin to backtrack and listen to the longstanding appeals for justice that have been going on even when we haven’t been listening.
[2 Sam. 13-14 if you want to read the above story for yourself.]