Living water, liveable communities
BY MATT SEAMAN
Why should we as Salvationists be interested or concerned about issues relating to water? There are some strong biblical, ethical, practical and personal reasons for us – as followers of Jesus, as Salvationists – to be sensitive and attentive to the state of this precious, God-given resource.
Of all that can be classed as important to our everyday lives, water is among the most essential. The human body, on average, is composed of 55-75 per cent water. More than 70 per cent of the Earth is covered in water, of which only three per cent is fresh water. Transport, farming and food, energy, commodities, our own cleanliness, health and well-being are intimately tied to the physical properties and availability of water. Try to think of something that is not related to the use of water!
As Australians, we have experienced the extremes of water availability. Enduring severe water shortages through drought or excessive amounts of water through flooding both have devastating effects on many aspects of life for impacted individuals, families, communities, animals, plants, economies and ecosystems.
Many Salvationists have personally experienced droughts and/or floods, and individual and communal physical burdens and emotional distress in the aftermath of these water-related events.
We, as The Salvation Army, are known worldwide as reliable first-responders and a dependable source of service and support in these tough situations, as we aim to bring honour to God via the sacrament of service.
Globally, there are also other significant issues that can arise when water is not shared carefully, wider community and environmental impacts are not considered, or where there is the potential for pollutants to contaminate water supplies.
Some home-grown examples include: concerns over water rights along the Murray-Darling River Basin; controversial river usage proposals, such as the Traveston Dam in south-east Queensland; and the rapid growth of potentially water-contaminating coal seam gas extraction across Queensland and NSW.
The negative social and physical effects that human practices have on water are commonly most acutely felt by the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Globally, impoverished communities and individuals are, for the most part, faced with the greatest and most concerning competition for food and water, increases in water pollution and waste, and other resource scarcity issues. Simply put, caring about water and the environment more broadly is part of caring for people.
In his paper Water: More than a Symbol, Reverend Dr Clive Ayre gathers water-related biblical symbols in four ways.
First, as many Australians know, water can be strongly connected with destruction. Consider the scriptural descriptions of the flood (Genesis 6-8), and the power of water in the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15).
Second, water also relates to “cleansing and renewal” in practical, symbolic and ritual ways.
The third symbol connects water to “refreshment”. When considering water in the Scriptures, there is also a significant link between physical water and “living water” – the Water of Life. This draws our thoughts towards the refreshment found through the Holy Spirit (Rev 21:6; John 7:37; John 4:14).
The fourth scriptural water image is seen in Matthew 10:42, where “Jesus highlights the simple act of giving a cup of cold water to someone in need as a prime example of the values of the kingdom of God”.
A few years ago, National Water Week focused on the importance of “liveable communities”. To contemplate the theme “liveable communities” through the lens of “the household of God” adds a wonderful dimension for Salvationists. As theologian Ernst Conradie maintains, the household of God includes animals, plants, energy, food, water supplies, soil and “all the building materials of the house itself”.
Aware of Jesus’ descriptions of kingdom values which include the gift of clean water, how then do we, as followers of Jesus, as The Salvation Army within God’s household, respond? Some responses include:
- Being aware of where our water resources come from, how much is available and being used or abused;
- Exploring additional ways we can responsibly steward the resources God has provided and;
- Being mindful and thankful for God’s provision.
As Rev Dr Ayre states: “Water means the possibility of life. It is quite literally a matter of life and death, both for human and all other life on planet Earth.”
Let us continue to care for water – a precious resource we have been entrusted with – in order to encourage the flourishing of all of God’s loved creation for the glory of God.
(First published in ‘Others’ 6 MAY 2016, available here)