Week 4

Water is the lifeblood of the planet as well as the economy. In the Bible, it is one of the symbols for God's generosity and blessing, for healing and liberation. Yet in today's economy, we often do not share water generously and with compassion. It is being appropriated and becomes a bone of contention. The Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, former WCC general secretary, offers a biblical reflection on the concept of thirst for life and thirst for water, integral to human survival, as well as the greed driving manipulation of this precious resource in our world today.
Week 4

Young nomadic shepherd tending cattle, Tanzania. © Sean Hawkey/ACT Alliance

Thirst for water - thirst for life

A biblical reflection by Konrad Raiser*

The biblical writings reflect the conditions of life in a country where water was scarce and therefore precious as the most vitally necessary means of survival. People depended on water from springs and wells, or from rainwater collected in cisterns which were carefully dug out. The availability of a well or cistern was of particular importance for semi-nomadic people and their flocks. As the conflict between Abraham and his son Isaac with Abimelech shows, the ownership of a well could easily become the subject of quarrels between those with large flocks (Gen. 21, 22ff; 26, 15ff).

Water in the Bible is one of the symbols for God’s generosity and blessing, for God provides what people need for their life. God is being praised as the good shepherd who leads one to quiet waters (Ps. 23, 2). There is little that people can do to secure their vital need for water, apart from collecting rain water or digging wells. God sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous, just as God makes the sun rise on the evil and the good ones (Matth. 5, 45) When Hagar and her son Ishmael ran out of water in the desert, God opened her eyes to see the saving well (Gen. 21, 15ff). When the people complained to Moses in the desert, because they had no water to drink, Moses was told by God to strike the rock and water came out (Ex. 17, 1ff).

God’s generosity is to be reflected in the relationships in human community. To offer water to one who is thirsty, even to the enemy, is a basic criterion of right relationships (Gen. 24, 15ff; Prov. 25, 21; Matth. 25, 42; Rom 12, 20). Only a villain or a fool will deprive the thirsty of drink (Isaiah 32, 6; Job 22, 7). Having to pay for water is considered as a mark of oppression and unjust treatment (Num. 20, 19; Lam. 5, 4). Water is a free gift from God to be shared without restriction on the community. The promise of salvation, therefore, is expressed in the invitation to everyone who thirsts to come to the water and drink without having to pay for it (Isaiah 55, 1). And God “will pour water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground”. Water thus becomes the symbol for the outpouring of God’s spirit and blessing (Isaiah 44, 3).

To be thirsty for water is part of the human condition. It is the bodily expression of the longing for the fullness of life, but it can also turn into a greedy effort to maximize satisfaction. As the stories of the manna in the desert (Ex.16) or of the rich man who tried to store up his abundant harvest (Luke 12, 16ff) show, it is foolish to believe that the thirst will disappear by accumulating resources. In the dialogue with the Samaritan women Jesus points to the source that will quench the thirst for life: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again; but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing p to eternal life” (John 4, 13f).  And the book of Revelation concludes with the invitation: “Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift” (Rev. 22, 17). The source of this water of life remains inaccessible for human greed.

* The Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser is a theologian from Germany. He served as general secretary of the WCC from 1993-2003 and now lives in retirement in Berlin.

Ideas for study and reflection

In the same way as we have a definition for the “poverty line” with certain criteria for measuring poverty, it is time we had a definition for  the “greed line” to measure the greed instinct of the people who go on accumulating wealth and resources.

Can you start discussing about the “greed line” in your church?

Do you know what are the “greed indicators”?

Click here for more WCC resources on greed

Questions for discussion

  1. In what ways do you recognize water as a symbol of God’s gift and generosity?
  2. In what ways does God call you to offer water - and other gifts of God - to those who thirst or are in any kind of need?
  3. What are the areas in your life in which greed is expressed?

What you can do

  • In tropical countries, during summer the temperature rises over 40 degree Celsius. There are not enough public facilities for the people to drink water. Everyone cannot afford to buy bottled water to drink.  As it is practiced in many countries including India, can you organize a distribution centre for drinking water free of cost, on strategic locations?
  • “Think global, but drink local”: avoid bottled water whenever it is possible. For every litre of bottled water, about 2 litres of water are used just to produce the bottle.
  • Avoid buying bottled water, if in your country drinking the tap water at home is considered safe!


Opinions expressed in Biblical reflections do not necessarily reflect EWN and WCC policy. This material may be reprinted freely, providing credit is given to the author.