Probably the most underrated component in life is water. Any scientist will tell you that without water, human life is virtually impossible. Water is so simple and so humble, yet it packs so much power. Two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen – H2O. With this equation comes one of the most essential elements of life on earth.
Awhile back I was substituting for a high school chemistry class and the topic we were covering was the importance of water in order to have life in the universe as well as sustain human life on earth. Shortly after I was teaching a religious education class on the necessary requirement of baptism through water for spiritual life. It began to dawn on me that there is a deep connection and meaning with water that occurs in both in the physical dimension and water in the spiritual dimension.
In order to see the connection you first must realize that a human person has two components to him. The two dimensions that make a human person is body and soul. The body is the physical makeup of a person and all the integrated parts within (digestive system, reproductive system, nervous system, etc.) The soul makes up the totality of a persons thoughts. The soul is the whole system of what is motivating your thoughts. The body in your physical dimension can be observed by a scientific process. However, the soul cannot as no one can know your thoughts. As brain scientist Steven Pinker said, “The existence of subjective first-person experience [thoughts] is not explainable by science.” (How The Mind Works, p. 184).
So, the two dimensions that make up a human person have a physical framework (body) and non-physical (soul) framework. Also, there is a deep connection between the dimensions of body and soul. Think of body and the soul like the words of a book and the meaning of the book. The words of the book are like the body and the meaning of the book is like the soul. Notice that if you alter the words of the book (physical) you also change the meaning of the book (non-physical) and if you change the meaning of the book, you simultaneously change the words of the book. Therefore, these two realms of physical and non physical have to be interconnected.
Given this, we can see how water is necessary for both your body and soul. Therefore, water is the indispensable ingredient that operates in both the material and immaterial dimension. So, let’s take a look at the highly important, but often overlooked substance that brings us life in both dimensions – Water.
First, here are some interesting facts about water as it relates to the physical dimension. Water is so important that your body actually has a specific drought management system in place to prevent dehydration and ensure your survival. Water makes up more than two-thirds of human body weight, and without water, we would die in a few days. The human brain is made up of 95% water, blood is 88% and lungs 90%. A mere 2% drop in your body’s water supply can trigger signs of dehydration, short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and basically usher in a slow deterioration of your mental and cognitive facilities. In other words, a lack of water and your body shuts down. Just as a car cannot run without gas and oil your body cannot work without water. In fact, all the cell and organ functions that make up our entire anatomy and physiology depend on water for their functioning.
Water also regulates your body temperature by controlling over-heating through perspiration and from evaporation which produces a cooling effect. Water also helps our bodies remove toxins in many different ways through urination, perspiration and through your digestive system.
Nutrients from the food we eat are broken down in the digestive system where they are dissolved in water. Water allows these nutrients to pass through the body so they can be distributed throughout the body to all the cells and organs. In addition to the daily maintenance of our bodies, water also plays a key role in the prevention of disease.
While it might be an after-thought, the fact that water flows and moves is highly important. Because it flows, water provides an efficient way to transfer substances to and from cells. Scientist Brian Glazer indicates, “But the other part of the equation — that water can carry things into and out of the cell — has to do with water’s unique chemical configuration.” (see here)
Also, the very way water is constructed illuminates how important water is. The water molecule is made up of two hydrogen atoms bonded to an oxygen atom. The precise way the hydrogen and oxygen atoms are bonded together in water makes water so immensely vital.
What’s the big deal with waters dissolving abilities? Because of this water is the perfect medium for transmitting substances and chemicals, like phosphates or calcium ions, into and out of a cell. The whole functioning of the cell is dependent on water. And given the cell is like software for the human body, water is the substance that holds the human body together.
In addition to water’s importance to the human body, water is also necessary for all life here on Earth. 70% of Earth is made up of water – whether it be the ice caps, the countless lakes and the vast ocean waters. Where you find water in the Earth you also find life, from microbes, to plants, to the entire animal kingdom. In fact, as scientists search for life on other planets their motto in this hunt is “follow the water.” In other words, where there is water, you’ll find life.
Not only can water dissolve nearly anything, but it is the only material that can exist in three forms. The three forms of water is that of solid, liquid, and gas within the narrow range of temperatures that occur on Earth.
The fact that water can be in all three phases in a relatively tight range of pressures creates many opportunities for life to flourish, As Glzaer indicates,.
“All three [states of water] available on our planet creates this really neat variety of habitats and microclimates,” For instance, frozen ice can be found in glaciers that carve through mountains, whereas water vapor helps warm the atmosphere.”
Water in the cradle of life
Water may be more than a fluid to help facilitate life’s essential processes — it may also have been the protective cradle that carried the very building blocks of life to Earth, said Ralf Kaiser, a physical experimental chemist at the University of Hawaii, who has research experience in astrochemistry. One theory for how life on Earth emerged suggests that comets containing water in it smashed into Earth, bearing organic molecules that formed the precursors to life.
“One possibility is that because the building blocks are frozen within the water, it has this protective mantle around it that could be delivered,” said Kaiser.
It’s almost like water is necessary for the very creation of the human person because where there is water there is life.
Now that we’ve seen the importance of water on the material dimension, let’s see how important water is on the immaterial dimension of your soul. As we examine this, we’ll see that just as water is necessary for life of the body, water in baptism is also necessary for life of the soul.
Before we look at baptism it is crucial to note that the Catholic Church indicates that in every Sacrament there is a physical element and non-physical element associated with it. In baptism, the physical element is water – H20. The non-physical element is the Holy Spirit. Notice that one dimension of the Sacrament falls under the physical, scientific examination (water) and another dimension (spirit) that lies outside a scientific framework – similar to that of the body and soul. So, let’s see if we can see this water and spirit connection in the Bible.
Just as science indicates that life was created with the presence of water, the Bible also poetically describes that life was created with the presence of water involved in this process. Right after the author of Genesis declares that God created the heavens and the earth (universe), the author illuminates that water was present and playing an important role: “The earth was without form and void while darkness covered the abyss and the Spirit was hovering over the water” (Genesis 1:2)
So, the ancient author clues us in that at the infancy of creation water and spirit were present and played a role. When God creates, he always uses the same ingredients – water and spirit. Using the same recipe within the spiritual laws mirrors how God uses the same methods in creating the physical laws. Just like the law of gravity and that law of arithmetic (2+2=4) does not change in the physical realm, so to do God’s laws not change in the spiritual realm.
Then, Genesis reveals that man became so broken and fallen, that God had to wipe out the destructive people and re-create humanity all over again. He did this through the flood of water in which corrupted humanity was washed away to usher in a new creation. Indeed, after 40 days God revealed the new creation to Noah through a dove. What does the dove represent in the Bible? The Holy Spirit. So, here you have water and spirit again with a new creation. And if you need further insight that the waters in the flood in Genesis is a foreshadowing of water in baptism just listen to Peter
“God patiently waited in the days of Noah . . . in which his family was saved through water and corresponding to that Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:18-21).
Notice that Peter is connecting the water in Noah and the water in Baptism are for the same purpose – to recreate and save humanity. In other words, what God started with Noah in water, he finished with Baptism in water.
However, God’s people continued their downward fall and another new creation resurfaced in Exodus. God’s firstborn, Israel, was in Egypt where they were under persecution by Pharaoh. Pharaoh represents the devil. Egypt represents the world, and slavery represents sin. God delivered Israel out of Egypt through the Red Sea to their promised new land. This exodus from slavery in Egypt to the promised land represents their new creation. And how did they get to this new land? They went through the water in that dramatic parting of the Red Sea. So, to get to the new land they go through the water. Also, we learn that it was “a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day” that was leading them through the water like a guiding light. This pillar of fire and cloud is identified as the Holy Spirit. So, again we see that God uses water & spirit to save his people from their fallenness and deliver them to a new land; a new creation.
Indeed, throughout the Old Testament, we see clues how God will provide his people a new creation and saving power through water. There is the famous episode where one of the king’s servants, Naaman, goes to the prophet Elisha for healing. Naaman had leprosy – a nasty physical illness. Naaman was expecting God’s prophet to give him a grand, powerful way to be healed. Instead, Elisha simply told Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times, and he’ll be healed. Finally, when Naaman accepted this simple method of “wash and be cleansed” his once defiled flesh became “like baby’s skin” (see 2 Kings 5:7-14). So, we see that Naaman sickness was removed and his skin was literally recreated by water.
In another famous episode, the prophet Ezekiel was announcing to Israel what the new covenant will look like and notice that he uses the words water and spirit again. “I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back as my children. I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. . . I will give you a new heart and put a new Spirit within you” (Ezekiel 36: 25-26). So, the key ingredients of the new covenant are going to be ushered in with water and spirit.
Every time God creates something new we notice the same two ingredients – Water and Spirit.
Jesus himself was baptized and there are several clues that his baptism reveals. When John baptized Jesus in the water it reads, “And when Jesus was baptized he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and the Spirit of God descended like a dove, and behold, a voice came down from heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3: 16-17).
Couple things to note here. First, the obvious is notice that water and spirit appear in very close connection. Second, notice that the Spirit was identified like a dove. Now, do we see the connection of that dove that came to Noah in the water? Also, some commentator’s reference of the heavens opened up is a dramatic link because just like the Red Sea parted for the Israelites baptism, now in Jesus’ baptism, the sky parted so the heavens could open up. Also, when heaven opened up Jesus whole identity as the Son of God is announced precisely after he receives the water and spirit. It is almost like a person’s recreated identity to the world comes with water and spirit.
Then, we come to that scene where Jesus had an exchange with Nicodemus. Jesus gave Nicodemus a description that in order to get into heaven you need to be recreated or as in Jesus words “you need to be born again” (John 3:3). Nicodemus response in the next verse shows he doesn’t have a clue what Jesus is talking about. Then, Jesus gives him the straight forward direct answer of how someone needs to be recreated into God’s kingdom – and guess what two words he uses? “Truly, truly I say to you unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3: 5). There you go! Water and spirit – hello baptism! And if the reader doubts that Jesus’s water and spirit reference may not refer to baptism, right after the conversation with Nicodemus John tells us directly that it is linked to baptism because what is it that Jesus did next? “After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea and baptized” (John 3:22). In other words, in case you didn’t get the clue what water and spirit means, John seals the deal by telling the audience that Jesus went and did this water and spirit thing in baptizing.
This theme of salvation through water and Spirit pops up again when Paul is writing to Titus. Paul gives Titus a simple description of the ingredients of salvation and notice the water and spirit words again. “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Notice that God’s saving of humanity is done through washing, a reference to water, and the spirit.
There is yet another example with Peter. The day of Pentecost is celebrated in the Old Testament as the day the Holy Spirit comes down to the people. And it was on this day that Peter delivered his sermon to the crowd of 3,000 people. After Peter’s sermon, the people asked Peter what they should do to receive this new salvation/new creation. Did Peter say, all you have to do is believe? Or, all you have to do is accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior? No, he didn’t. Peter responded to the crowd’s straightforward question with a straightforward answer. “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2: 37-38). Hmmm….water and spirit again! Thus, on the day the Holy Spirit came down about 3,000 people went into the water of baptism.
Even in Jesus’ miracles we see the significance of water. Jesus had 100 different ways he could have performed his first sign. Yet, he chooses to use water to perform his first miracle in John 2. When they ran out of wine he chose to use water. Also, this was not just any water but the water of the Jewish rights of purification (see John 2:6). We can trace this water back to Numbers 19:11-12. This water was to be used under the Law of Moses to cleanse people from their defilement or impurity. Additionally, this purification water was to be provided on the third and seventh day. Curiously, John lets us know that when Jesus performed this miracle, it was on the third day (see John 2:1) and also it was the seventh day of John’s chronology of days (see John’s succession of days John 1:29, 35, 43, and 2:1 added up = day 7)
I can go on and on with other examples in which water is used to cleanse and recreate a person as this happened to the apostle Paul (see Acts 22:11-16, 9:10-19) and to Jesus’s bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:26), but I think you get the point. It should also be obvious that the water in baptism is no mere symbol. If all the water references in the Bible indicate an event that really happened, and that the water affected physically reality, to read water as simply a symbol would be to miss the importance of what water actually does. In short, because water actually does something in the physical realm of science, therefore, water does something in the spiritual realm of a person’s soul. Indeed, the effects of water in baptism is greater than the effects of water on the earthly level. The presence of water in the earthly sense allows finite life of the body to exist while water in baptism ushers in eternal life of the soul.
Do we begin to see the pattern that just as water is necessary for physical human life to thrive in the material realm so too is water necessary to thrive for a person’s soul in the immaterial realm. No wonder as water cleans physical dirt off the body that baptism cleanses the soul of the person.
Recall that scientists have indicated that the very way the hydrogen and oxygen are bonded together creates the importance and uniqueness of water. Isn’t it now interesting to see that in the theological sense the spirit is always associated with water to perform the internal cleansing of the soul? Isn’t it also likely that the mystery of why hydrogen and oxygen are bonded in this very way in the physical realm is most likely an echo of that spirit that always accompanies water in the spiritual realm?
Also, recall how scientist made a big deal about water’s ability to come in three forms. Is it a coincidence that God – the author of all life exists in three forms of Father, Son, Holy Spirit. So, God’s instrument to deliver physical life on earth in water also exist in three forms of solid, liquid, and gas? Hmmm – Is it no wonder that both the ultimate source of life (God) and the physical source of life (water) both come in three forms? Indeed, in the fact of water both on earth and in baptism we see the handiwork of God.
Jesus was so simple, so humble yet so powerful at the same time. It is no wonder that the recipe he uses in water is the same. Water – so simple, so humble, yet also so powerful. With it, physical life can exist. Baptism so simple, yet so powerful, and with it, one is born into the eternal family of the Trinity.