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Week 2

The second Biblical reflection of the Seven Weeks for Water 2014 is by Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, Germany. Citing examples from the Bible, he highlights that water is absolutely necessary for life and that everybody has the right of free access to water for their sustenance, irrespective of their economic status.
Week 2

A refugee at a camp in Darfur is enjoying fresh drinking water supplied by Norwegian Church Aid. © ACT Alliance/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

The second Biblical reflection of the Seven Weeks for Water 2014 is by Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, Germany. Citing  examples from the Bible, he highlights that water is absolutely necessary for life and that everybody has the right of free access to water for their sustenance,  irrespective of their economic status.

Water for Life

Water is life. It is as easy and simple as that. Rivers are our lifelines; human populations have settled on their banks since ancient times. The great cultures developed along the rivers, and along them migration has flowed to this day. Oases became places of refuge, especially when water was scarce in the summertime. Water was collected in cisterns and in huge, well-sheltered basins; small wells, too, became places where animals and humans gather.

Rivers and seas make the exchange of goods and knowledge possible – for good reason, the great seafaring nations have grown economically strong. Culture developed in regions alongside the waters; for example, this is evident by the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, even in antiquity, vessels from one spot were to be found in distant places: glass from the seashore city of Tyre was to be found even at the farthest ends of the Roman Empire, largely because the way over the sea was easier and less dangerous than were ordinary roads. Keeping this long, common history in mind, it is depressing to see that today the Mediterranean Sea is becoming more and more of a forbidding border, a deadly barrier hindering those who would flee from unacceptable living conditions. Once again, the water meant for life is becoming bitter, threatening, and lethal.

The Bible offers endless stories and poems about water, about its power for life, but also about its dangers – in order finally to lead us to life.

In other words: Water plays an import role in the Bible. That has to do with the original settings of the biblical stories. Water in the Middle East is precious and in no way to be taken for granted; on the contrary, droughts and a long dry season are too often the painful reality. Therefore, in Genesis 2, paradise – God’s own garden – is described as a lush park in which four rivers have their source: "A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches.  The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.” (Genesis 2:10-14 NRSV)

In paradise, water is found abundantly. Gold, bdellium and gemstones are named as well – through them the plenty of creation grows more visible. Where water is found, life is blooming, plants are growing, fruit is adequately nourished, humans and animals have plenty to drink, and even more: the water cools down our senses even in the grueling summer heat, and the banks of the rivers are places where everyone may take refuge and find rest. It sounds as if the author of this text was a desperately romantic person, imagining paradise in such a way. But the Bible knows all about drought and need, about struggling to dig small wells, about the many dangers presented by water; the description of paradise presents a beautiful contrast to those harsh realities.

Water is life itself: In Genesis 1 we find the concept that in the beginning, before all creation, there is only water, “the waters”, and that heaven and earth somehow must be encompassed within this setting. In the story of creation we glimpse the power or violent force of water: it requires the strong, creative power of God to tame and control these otherwise chaotic waters. And woe to us when the water-gates are opened again! Humans and animals are helpless when facing catastrophic flooding. This is what the story of the Flood, a few chapters later in Genesis, reminds us.

To continue reading, please download the reflection (pdf, 400 KB)

Please note: Opinions expressed in Biblical reflections or background resources do not necessarily reflect EWN and WCC policy.