Alma 32 and being “compelled to know”

In response to my post on Alma & Korihor, a friend of mine referred to Alma’s discussion in Alma 32:16 about those who are “compelled to know.” So this morning I’m looking at verses 16 through at least 18 to think about his response.

Verse 16 says, “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.”

I don’t know what to make of it yet, or how it falls into this current study, but I found it intriguing that he is equating (“or rather, in other words…”) being humble with believing the word of God. Or is he? I just found that interesting. His discussion about being humble so far seemed to me to be a discussion of the fact that they were kicked out and therefore didn’t have the same pride as the rest of the Zoramites. It seemed to me to be a discussion of how the saw themselves; they were lowly in heart, etc. I didn’t see that has having any direct relationship with their belief in God’s word. So where does the connection lie? I suppose I do remember Alma saying he turned around and saw they were ready to receive God’s word. But his discussion of humility, as far as I had read previously, didn’t discuss this aspect. It was a commentary on their lack of pride. I don’t think those two things always have to go together, do they? Lack of pride = ready to believe? Not sure. It seems a prerequisite, but not necessary companion.

So what is he saying here? Let me look again at the verses.

Ah, I do see a few points that change my thoughts on Alma 32:16. He does say in verse 13 that “sometimes” if someone is compelled to be humble they seek repentance, etc. Not necessarily equated, then.

Also, I re-read their original question to Alma, and they specifically ask How are we supposed to worship if we’re so poor we can’t go into the synagogues? The fact that 1, they want to worship and 2, they want a way around their problem to do so, combined with their humble demeanor, is probably why Alma says that they were humble and prepared to hear the word.

So anyway, back to Korihor, belief, etc.

What strikes me now in the story of Alma 32 is that they were ready to believe whatever Alma told them, before they heard it. This is a pattern I am noticing in the Book of Mormon. Lamoni tells Ammon that he will believe whatever he tells him. He has already decided to believe, before he even knows what Ammon has to say! How unusual does that sound to us! We think of preaching as a chance to share with someone ideas and doctrines that they can then go and pray about. But in Lamoni’s case, his heart was changed enough already that he was ready to change his thinking to whatever Ammon told him was true. The same happened with Lamoni’s father and Aaron. This seems to be a pattern, at least with the Lamanites.

But it seems to also be what is going on here in the land of the Zoramites. The poor approach Alma and, it seems to me, and perhaps to Alma, that they are ready to receive whatever he will tell them. Their hearts have already been softened, or changed, to that point. They have some sort of faith, or, as Alma will put it, they at least have a “desire to believe.” Something has been stirred in them already. Because of their humility, they have already planted some seed without even knowing it! Or, they desire that seed, to know what Alma will say. Perhaps that is a good way to tell Lamoni’s story too. Ammon’s love and power had humbled him to the point that he desired that seed without even knowing what it was. His ground was ready to receive it and to plant it. And is not that readiness already some sort of “faith”? I think Alma is trying to say it is. If we plant it, we plant with at least some sort of minimal faith. Otherwise we would reject it completely. So it seems.

So, what does all of that have to do with Korihor and faith. Well, I was already thinking along these lines (the way Lamoni and others believe and then hear the word) before I got to Korihor’s story. But let’s take a look at Alma 32:16 now and see what they teach me.

At first glance, it’s easy for me to want to force this part of verse 16 to say something like I just said above: “yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.” Taken out of context, it could sound something like “without being brought to know what the word is.” But in context, I think Alma means something like “knowing” as a state beyond faith or believing.

Let’s look at verses 17-18 now:

17 Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe.

18 Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.

So (this is for you Mike), I can see his question about faith as relating to two different parts of these verses. First, it could be read that asking for a sign is not faith. (Which I think was your objection to my reading of Korihor.) Second, it could be read as a counter to the last part of verse 17. There are those who say if they see a sign, then they will believe. Alma counters that particular part of their request by saying that is not belief; if a person were to receive a sign in such a way that that person “knows of a surety,” then that person knows and doesn’t believe.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Alma weighs in on the question of whether or not it takes faith (even if the person doesn’t think it does) to ask for a sign and to receive a sign as from God. I think in Korihor’s case, we can see that since we know he did believe and Alma knew it too. But that’s our only test case in Alma, that I can think of.

I wrote the post because I hear sometimes people saying, “I can’t believe how dumb atheists are. I mean, right here Alma shows us that earth and all its complexities should prove to us that there is a God. How could this all come by a big bang?…” etc. Mostly my point in that other post was to say that I don’t think Alma is trying to prove anything in some sort of general, objective standard way. I think he is talking to a person he knows 1, doesn’t have a solid argument, in that same general, objective standard sort of way, and 2, already believes somewhere inside them but is being too proud to admit it. I think I know what Joe’s response would be; he would say that Paul argues that all of us, somewhere inside us, already have felt and know truth (not details of information, but truth or light in a more general sense). Either we humble ourselves and admit it, or we are proud and fight against it.


One response to “Alma 32 and being “compelled to know”

  • mjberkey

    Interesting. I think that your second reading of “Now I ask, is this faith?” is more what I had in mind, and I hadn’t really considered the first seriously. It makes sense. The sign-seeker says, “if I know of a surety, then I will believe,” and I feel like it’s precisely that implication that Alma wants to show if false, saying in the next verse pretty much exactly the opposite. “If a man knows a thing, he doesn’t believe it.”

    I could be totally reading this wrong, but to me that initially sounds like if we “know of a surety”, then we’re stripped of any choice to believe or disbelieve because we’ve been compelled to know. Or, to put it in the terms of your last sentence, we’re no longer free to be proud and fight the truth that we already knew deep down, or even to be humble and admit it either.

    When I talk about an objective observer, I don’t actually mean that there is such a thing. I just have people in mind who identify themselves as objective, but by that probably mean that they won’t believe until they are compelled to believe. And Alma is saying, I think, that they have it wrong. You cannot be compelled to believe, because belief is a choice (an act of faith/fidelity?). You can only be compelled to know, and that’s not faith.


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