In the Christian tradition we speak of baptismal waters as the symbolic source of renewed life. That metaphor, however, is predicated upon a broader biblical vector concerning “living waters.” The prophetic literature contains a recurring eschatological promise of social and environmental restoration through the “rehydration” of the world, a rich tradition worth exploring for ecological theology.
In our historical moment we cannot talk about “waters of renewal” without first acknowledging the systematic “dehydration” of the earth by industrial civilization. Of the many specters of our deepening ecological crisis—climate change, species extinction, peak oil, declining natural fertility—one of the most pressing is “peak water.” The Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick describes this as “the critical point, already reached in many areas of the world, where we overtax the planet’s ability to absorb the consequences of our water use.” We see its symptoms in global desertification, widespread water insecurity, and declining water quality.
Our ancient ritual of baptism reflects a modern ecological fact: Without water there can be no life. Peak water, like the other grim trends, represents an endgame unless we “turn around.” This should compel Christians not only to seek earth-literacy urgently, but also to re-read our Bibles from the perspective of the “groaning creation,” as did Paul in Romans 8:21-22. Water is a good place to start. Though we in the First World take it for granted, it is a central justice and environmental issue that deserves both social analysis and theological reflection.