The Water Crisis and the Christian
Bradley Trout, GWC ERF (Evangelical Research Fellowship) PhD student
The facts are clear: there is a water crisis in Cape Town. After several years of low rainfall, Cape Town is experiencing the worst drought in ages. At the moment, almost every conversation in Cape Town lands up being about water.
I know that not everyone who reads this blog is from Cape Town, but I think what is said here is relevant to any crisis faced by a large people group consisting of those who follow Jesus and those who don’t.
The question is: how do Christians respond to this water crisis?
Let me be clear: I’m not saying that only Christians can respond well to such a crisis. I am well aware that there are (tragically!) some Christians, too, who are among the worst abusers of water. The point I want to make is different. I want to highlight what is distinctive about the Christian approach to such things, whether Christians live up to them or not.
Everyone – whether Christian or not – should despise selfishness. But Christians should have a distinct distaste for it. Here is why.
The centre of Christianity is the person of Jesus. Central to the Christian teaching about Jesus was that although he was God he didn’t use the fact that he was God to take it easy. Instead, he made himself nothing (or emptied himself) and became a servant, even if that meant laying down his life to die on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8). Paul is writing this about Jesus in order to encourage the Christians in the ancient city of Philippi to conduct themselves with a mindset like that in their relationships with one another (see 2:1-5).
Those whose central figure is Jesus surely have a special reason for shunning selfishness – it’s an orientation precisely opposite to that modelled by our Lord.
This means that, say, wasting water (name any form of selfishness here) is especially abhorrent to Christians because it is so opposed to the others-centred attitude of Jesus. This leads to the next point, this time stated positively.
There are many things that are unclear in Scripture, but something that is very clear is the others-centred orientation of Christian behaviour. Time and time again the New Testament tells us that this idea is at the centre of how we ought to live:
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
The second [greatest commandment] is…: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:39-40)
The commandments… are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law (Romans 13:9-10)
the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. (James 2:8)
So, Jesus, Paul, and James (a weighty group) all agree that this is what is most important in our conduct. It is the summary of Scripture. That’s quite a thought.
Consequently, those of us who take the Bible seriously (again, those who don’t may have other reasons for doing similarly) should be especially attuned to acting towards the best interests of others: it is the central teaching of our Scriptures!
We should therefore expect to see Christians at the forefront of every good endeavour: saving water, fighting prejudice, caring for the poor, showing generosity, and running forward with all that is good. The rule is straightforward: whatever we would like done for us, do for others. This is what it means to follow Jesus’ teachings.
The Christian record in the world is mixed when it comes to doing good deeds. Some will point to Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery as evidence of Christianity’s positive effect, while others will point to the Crusades or Apartheid as evidence of its failures.
Many of us who follow Jesus are painfully aware of the church’s failures in the past, and we make no excuses for them. But that isn’t the whole story, because we know that Christianity is about transforming away from the old (sinful humanity) and into the new (Jesus’ humanity).
Perhaps the shortest way of describing a Christian is to say that she or he is a person that is “in Christ.” In Christ means that Christians through faith participate in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Participating in his death means dying to sin, evil, and all our old, selfish ways. Participating in his resurrection means taking hold of the new life that has begun (but not finished) to work in us as his Spirit lives in us. In short, it means that Jesus’ death and resurrection are the pattern or the posture of our own lives.
The realization of this point can only lead to transformed lives overflowing with self-sacrificial love and others-centred orientation. When we believe in Jesus and follow him, we start to become like him.
And it is this that makes the Christian approach distinct when it comes to facing a drought or any civil or national crisis: we who follow Jesus participate in the life of the risen Lord, which means that there is something of the new nature at work in us, moving us away from a typically human self-preservation mindset.
There is a lot of talk in Cape Town at the moment about who is to blame for the water situation: the local government, the national government, population growth, etc. But for various and usually complicated reasons, these things happen. The more important conversation for us who follow Jesus is: how will we respond? The answer is simple: by following the others-centred approach to life which flows from being in Christ.