What is really important in life? Throughout history philosophers and religious people alike have attempted to answer the question, resulting in a wide range of opinions. But if we approach the question strictly from a biological perspective, then the list becomes quite short.

In the past few years the rise in “survival” reality shows on television has made me much more aware of our most fundamental physical needs. At the top of the list is our requirement for air, without which we lose consciousness in mere minutes and then will die shortly thereafter. Next we need water, which the experts tell us we can only go about 72 hours without, depending on the temperature, humidity, etc. Amazingly, we can actually go for a few weeks without food, and while we also need some kind of shelter to protect us from the elements, this is much less critical than our primary needs for air and water.

As I thought about this need, it struck me that air and water are the very two materials that God uses to teach us about spirit. In fact, in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as spirit are also the same words that are used for air. This makes sense when we consider how air and spirit are similar, in that they are both invisible and yet we can see their actions, such as when the wind blows and spirit manifests itself.

Like air, water is also used symbolically of spiritual matters. With the woman at the well, Jesus spoke of himself as being the source of “living water,” meaning  that he would give the spirit that would allow his followers to live forever (John 4:10). The Hebrews understood that “living water,” was life giving and moving, much like a constantly bubbling spring in the dry and parched desert.

Like air and water, the holy spirit is the gift of life the Father gives to all who follow Jesus. He is the Holy Spirit, and He is the source of life everlasting for all mankind. Craving air and water is one of our most basic physical drives. Likewise, only the spirit of God can quench our spiritual thirst and need for everlasting life.

The next time you reach for that glass of water or take in a deep breath of air, consider how essential they are for life and how they point us to the realities of the spirit of God.