A Christian Consideration of God's Sacred Gift of Water
Section I. Creation
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis l: l, 31).
Our Christian faith teaches that God created all that is: the universe, including the earth and all its creatures, as an overflowing expression of divine love. All creation, then, shares in elemental being with God. And, all creatures are therefore united and inter-connected through their essential created origins in our Creator God.
While believing that all creation is God’s, we find that God has given humanity a particular role as creation’s stewards and caretakers of God’s “household.”
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the
garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (Genesis 2: l5).
As such, we are responsible to care for all aspects of God’s created order to the best of our ability. This is the primary and fundamental principle of our stewardship. Therefore, our care for the environment and our actions with regard to our climate is a matter of ethics – the need for us to respond appropriately to God’s entrustment to us. And, as globalization and interconnections increase, we are developing a greater understanding of our essential relationships within this created world.
Section II. Water
Scripture indicates “water” is a basic substance in creation.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep;
and the spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. (Genesis I: 1-2)
Scripture relates that God looked upon what God had created and saw that it was “good.” It was “good” because the effect mirrored the infinite goodness of God. Water is an essential element in the created order, pointing to our origins, both physical and spiritual.
We have learned how essential water is. Most of our world is water and all earthly life requires water. Human civilizations rise and fall with the availability of water and in many parts of our world, animals and plants live by the annual cycles of available water. However, beyond what it supplies physically, water serves also as a continued reminder of the blessing love of our Creator God. The current environmental crisis is the result of our forgetting that water is more than a physical substance to be used and valued only as a commodity. Water is a fundamental element of survival – both physical and spiritual.
Frank Griswold (Cf. Bibliography) writes, “The Bible, the story of our creation and recreation, is engulfed in water...” The symbolic richness of water includes “cleanliness, healing, blessing, welcome and hospitality, initiation, repentance, liberation, refreshment, hope, fruitfulness, ministry, grandeur.” Scripture is full of the use of such symbols. So, while our physical bodies cannot exist without water, water is also integral to our life of faith as disciples of Jesus Christ. Our spiritual lives are a redeemed gift, an outpouring of divine love, birthed in the waters of baptism. We are called to remember our baptism and be thankful.
Given these understandings, we find that Christians have a vital role in today’s environmental movement. While we may be coming late to the table, we offer the key understanding that God is essential to the right ordering of this created world, and that humanity is entrusted to care for that divinely ordained order. To do otherwise is to fail in our calling as followers of Christ.
Accordingly, we call all Christians to live in this world as responsible caretakers for this creation in which we have been placed because this is God’s will for us. We affirm our member denominations’ calls to responsible stewardship of creation, remembering that God loves all that God has created and wills that each and every part of this complex web of life continue in its marvelous and divinely appointed complexity.
- Will share this document with our member denominations and congregations.
- Encourage all to examine their own lifestyle to determine what choices they can make to live more lightly on this earth.
- Recognize that this statement of belief calls us, individually and as communities of faith, to take specific, concrete actions to conserve, protect, and honor God's sacred gift of water.
- Urge greater support of our leaders and legislators in their work of enacting necessary reforms.
Finally we call each person of faith to a renewed life of prayer, using the power that God has given each of us through the Holy Spirit who moves over and in the waters to show us what we must know and to empower us to do those things that are necessary to ensure a continuing life of blessing for all.
This statement was prepared in the course of the year 2009 by the Peace, Justice, and the Integrity of Creation Committee of the Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society. Many voices have contributed to it. We give special thanks for the editorial contributions of The Reverend Donavee Copenhaver. The VECBS Board of Trustees contributed to this statement and approved it. It is available on the website: www.vecbs.org. We now offer it to our member denominations. We beg God’s blessing on our work and the results of our efforts.
June 17, 2010
A Short Bibliography
Materials utilized by Committee Members in developing this paper
- Avison, Jessica. “Critique of Water Aid as an International NGO and Charity and Its Role in a Newly Globalized World.” In Global Green Politics: a World Environmental Movement, Ian Altendorfer et al, 87-97. Privately published by University of Vermont Honor Course 195, Fall Semester, 2008.
- Brinton, Henry. “Opinion: Green, Meet God.” USA TODAY, November 13, 2009.
Buttars, John. “Bible Study: Water and the Bible.” Harcourt Memorial United Church, Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Water Network, World Council of Churches, 2009.
- Carter, Alan. “Distributive Justice and Environmental Sustainability.” Heythrop Journal, XLIV, 2009.
- Griswold, The Rt. Reverend Frank T. “Keynote Address”, 2007 Mollegen Forum. Virginia Theological Seminary https://www.vts.edu/ftpimages/95/misc/misc_44485.pdf
- Harakas, Stanley S. “Ecology: A Christian Oversight.” Contemporary Moral Issues Facing the Orthodox Christian, Sections 41/42. Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing Company, 1982.
- Lang, Dominique. “Une appréciation théologique de la crise écologique contemporaine.” Esprit & Vie, Septembre, 2007.
- McMichael, Christine E. “Freshwater Use in the U.S” (Environment in Focus, Week 83) Earth Portal, November 28, 2008. www.earthportal.org/?p=1134
- Swenk, Theodor. “The Spiritual Nature of Water.” National Catholic Reporter, February 3, 1989.
- Theokritoff, Elizabeth. Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives On Ecology (Foundations). Yonkers, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009.
- “Water: An Essential Element for Life.” Third Meeting, Kyoto, Japan, July 26, 2006. L’Osservatore Romano.
B. Resources for Further Study
- “Ecological Debt is a Spiritual Issue,” World Council of Churches News, September 1, 2009.
- Copenhaver, Donavee. “Water Statement”(Submitted to the Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation Committee of the Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society, July 17, 2009); Selections from United Methodist Social Principles; “Clean Water” (Protection of Water, #13, United Methodist Book of Resolutions, 2004); Statement of National Council of Churches; Downloadable Resources.
- “Green Christianity.” Common Declaration of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope John Paul II. Paxis, 9, no. 1. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Department of Religious Education, Fall 2009.
- “Orthodox Perspectives on Creation.” Report of the World Council of Churches Inter-Orthodox Consultation. Sofia, Bulgaria, 1987, pp. 6-8.
- Pope Benedict XVI. Video Message to United Nations Summit on Climate Change, September 24, 2009.
- Pope Benedict XVI. Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth). Encyclical, June 9, 2009.
- Brown, Edward R. Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation. Madison, Wisconsin: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
- Cohen-Kiener, Andrea. Claiming Earth as Common Ground: The Ecological Crisis through the Lens of Faith. Woodstock, Vermont: SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2009.
- Edwards, Denis, ed. Earth Revealing, Earth Healing: Ecology and Christian Theology. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2001.
- Hessel, Dieter T. ed. After Nature’s Revolt: Eco-Justice and Theology. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1992.
- Hessel, Dieter T. ed. Theology for Earth Community: A Field Guide. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996. Updated and reprinted by Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2003.
- Maguire, Daniel C. and Larry L. Rasmussen. Ethics for a Small Planet: New Horizons on Population, Consumption, and Ecology. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.
- McFague, Sallie. Life Abundant: Rethinking Theology and Economy for a Planet in Peril. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001.
- Rasmussen, Larry L. Earth Community Earth Ethics. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996.
Sleeth, J. Matthew. Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006.