Baptism as an act of humility

Generally speaking, in discussing Alma 32, we forget to focus on the good parts. Okay, that’s an overstatement, but our emphasis on the last half of the chapter does tend to blind us to the first half, where there are profundities galore.

In particular, we tend to forget that Alma is there as a missionary, preaching to people who have deliberately left the church. Why have they left the church? Well, if we take a look at the prayer from the Rameumpton, they say that the church teaches:

the tradition of [the Zoramites’] brethren, which was handed to them by the childishness of their fathers…the foolish traditions of [the Zoramites’] brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ (Alma 31:16-17)

They have left because they belief that the teachings of the church, particularly the teachings about Christ and (presumably) the efficacy of the Atonement, are crazy. You can’t count on some future God to save you now.

Of course, the poor are booted out of the synagogues (because if God is saving you now, you are rich) and they come to Alma, no longer able to worship God as they believe he wants to be worshipped. They have been cut off. This pleases Alma, because they might listen.

They might listen because they have been humbled. Because they have been humbled, they are blessed (because it means they might listen). But, they can also humble themselves.

In Alma 32:16, he explains how they humble themselves:

Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.

In what way is the decision to believe and be baptized an act of humility? You have to remember that the Zoramite religion appears to operate from a position of “What have you done for me lately?” in regards to God. If one had a good relationship, one saw immediate material blessing. If one had a bad relationship, one was banned from the Rameumpton. It is dramatically straightforward.

Alma is, essentially, asking the poor Zoramites to undergo a crazy ritual designed by an apostate, oppressive religion because a god who isn’t going to help you (in your lifetime) has asked you to do it.

Humility is in accepting that we don’t have the answers, that the answers may not be forthcoming, that it may not all wind up making sense, but in trusting God anyway.

Ultimately, the Zoramite view of baptism is the correct one. All you are doing is getting wet while someone says words over you. Without Christ, it is a useless endeavor (except for places selling white clothes). But if God is good, and I believe he is, and if this is his chosen church, and I believe it is, this arbitrary bath is necessary. Not for God, but for me and for my ability to trust him in the nonsensical and the sensical.

Baptism is an act of humility, because it doesn’t clean you. It is instead the act whereby we declare to God that we would like him to cleanse us.


  1. Steve Evans says:

    John C. you’re waxing profound on us!! I couldn’t agree more. I was having a conversation with a nondenominational friend yesterday, and she remarked at how arbitrary our Mormon rules and underwear were — but then, upon reflection, noted that baptism is just as arbitrary. She couldn’t understand why all these “useless endeavors.”

  2. Don’t worry, Steve. I’m sure that with sufficient time and repentance, this too will pass.

  3. er…my being profound, that is.

  4. Also underlying Alma 32 is the concept that the faith that is being discussed is all about Jesus Christ. This isn’t faith in some doctrine or aspect but rather in Christ himself.

    This is in stark contrast with the Zoramites who specifically denied the existence and coming of Christ.

    It would have taken true humility in the Zoramite society to accept that Christ did actually exist and would actually come to save us.

  5. Walt Nicholes says:

    Rubbing mud in the eyes of a blind man hasn’t been clinically shown to restore sight either. Bathing in the Jordan RIver (when there are numerous other fine rivers in other places) hasn’t been published as a cure for leprosy.

    These, as you note, are acts of humility, but also acts of faith. And faith is a real power – an exerted force (See Lectures on Faith) that has a real effect beyond the apparent ritual. We may not be aware, especially since our senses are sometimes dull, and the effects may be displaced in time, but the effect is definite, and declared in advance. (D&C 130)

    So at the time of baptism, supposing that all of the preparatory steps have been completed, a real thing happens. Sins are forgiven. Cleansing takes place. Something actually happens, beyond the “bath” itself.

    So ponder this: Can Christ forgive the sins of those who choose not to be baptized?

  6. As I have watched a number of convert baptisms over the last decade or so, I’ve been impressed by those adults who really get it, who have truly become converted. The huge burden of change involved in adults coming into the gospel requires an amazing amount of humility. And the older you get, the harder it is. I remember specifically some friends, a professional couple in their 40’s, no children, and the change and transformation they went through. He was ready a year before she was, so he waited, as he saw that the gospel was for both of them, and he wanted to take all those steps together with her.

    They’ve been in the church about 8 years, and have two adopted children now. They’ve both served in leadership positions,. But both of them humbled themselves to really effect major change in their lives. It has truly been a transforming experience for them.

  7. cahkaylahlee says:

    I really liked this part:

    Humility is in accepting that we don’t have the answers, that the answers may not be forthcoming, that it may not all wind up making sense, but in trusting God anyway.

    There’s something to “becoming like a little child”.

    I have an uncanny memory for things that happened when I was little (I think my memory has been filled up now, I can barely remember what happened yesterday.). So if you’ll indulge me in sharing my memories from when I was (almost) eight…

    I remember learning in Primary about how the water represents being clean and how being “buried in the water” is like burying our sins and not doing them any more. But I certainly didn’t understand much more. I knew that I didn’t know the church was true, but I felt good when I said my prayers and read my scriptures and certainly hoped that it was true. I thought about how disappointed my parents would be if I told them I wanted to wait until I was older to get baptized. I thought about how my parents lived the gospel. I thought about the possibility that my Primary teacher was lying to me and decided it might be the case. I thought about the possibility that my parents were lying to me, and could not accept that possibility (despite being 99% sure the tooth fairy and Santa weren’t real). I decided to get baptized because I trusted my parents and I loved the Book of Mormon. I decided to get baptized because I wanted to know that the Gospel is true.

    Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about baptism for some reason. I’ve come to realize how much symbolism is packed into such a simple ordinance – I feel like I am just now beginning to understand it! Have I found answers to questions I asked years ago, yes. And I absolutely love how the teachings and ordinances of the Gospel grow with your understanding and preparation. If I had been told of all the symbols surrounding baptism when I was eight, I would not have understood the beauty of it all.

    As to why we are baptized: Aren’t ordinances for our instruction as well as our salvation?

  8. Walt, ponder this: Did Christ forgive Joseph Smith’s sins at the First Vision?

  9. #5 – He did, on multiple occasions throughout His ministry.

  10. Baptism is an act of humility, because it doesn’t clean you.

    We’re teaching our oldest about baptism in preparation for her own. The single biggest point I want her to understand is what you say above. Water does not cleanse; the Spirit cleanses. Baptism is a sign that we want the Spirit to cleanse us. It’s the whole difference between the baptism by water and the baptism by fire.

    Unless one thinks of baptism in that way (i.e., as two “baptisms”) then the sacrament prayers make no sense as a renewal of baptism. But when we realize that the presence of the Spirit cleanses us from sin, then the sacrament—“to have his Spirit to be with them”—makes sense.

  11. As I have watched a number of convert baptisms over the last decade or so, I’ve been impressed by those adults who really get it, who have truly become converted. The huge burden of change involved in adults coming into the gospel requires an amazing amount of humility.

    Oh, yes. I finally understood the meaning of the word “meek” when I watched an adult’s baptism, knowing some of what he had overcome.

    I wonder how many of us would be willing to be baptized as adults. Bloggers frequently take a stand that this or that gospel requirement ought to be modified to suit their convenience or conscience. Add to that the unflattering look of ruined hairstyles and wet jumpsuits plastered to shivering bodies, and being gawped at by observers standing above you, and there’s a real recipe for self-consciousness. It takes more than one kind of humility for an adult to be baptized.

  12. Thanks for all your commentary. I have nothing to add to it; I just like it.

  13. The Right Trousers says:

    I don’t have anything to add, either, but I did want to thank *you*, John C., for starting this fantastic discussion.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Ardis, #11, I have often pondered your question. I hope that I would have been baptized as an adult had I not grown up in the faith, but frankly I’m skeptical. I somehow can’t imagine were I not already LDS letting two young men who knocked on my door in to tell me about their church. Which means that I stand in awe of the adult convert who submits in such profound humility to be baptized. And I’m a little bit envious of such folks as well.

  15. Yesterday in my ward, three people bore their testimonies who are recent converts. They all joined the Restoration within the past year or two, and they are all over the age of 30.

    It was interesting to me that all three of them expressed a sense of surprise or bewilderment at their conversion. They couldn’t quite explain how it happened, even though they were very grateful that it had. Two of them used the word *grace* to describe the unearned and undeserved gift they had so unexpectedly received.