Baptism: A Waterlogged Community for Lonely Hearts
AUGUST 20, 2022
by Aaron Damiani
Loneliness is like water. It shapeshifts to fit any life situation, filtering down into the vacant spaces of our soul where friendship and communion should be. Loneliness leaves us with waterlogged hearts that drip heavy with sadness. The irony is that the presence of other people can intensify our isolation rather than relieve it.
For some, the pain of loneliness teaches us to distrust our own sophistication. After a while we would rather be loved than flattered. Maybe this is what motivated Nicodemus, an influential Pharisee (John 3:1), to press further: “How can a man be born when he is old?” (John 3:4). Maybe, just maybe, Nicodemus is tired of being on the outside looking in. Maybe he is ready to go through that spiritual birth and enter the family.
So Jesus explains the spiritual birds and bees to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5). How is a baby made in God’s family? According to Jesus, “water and the Spirit.” Two elemental forces must be brought together—one earthly (water) and one heavenly (Spirit)—to make new life. The veil between the seen and unseen worlds must become thin enough for us to enter God’s kingdom.
As the early church understood it, Jesus was referring to water baptism here. They saw baptism through the lens of Genesis 1, which describes how the Spirit brought forth God’s creation from physical water. They also understood baptism through the story of the Exodus, when the Spirit brought forth God’s children using the Red Sea. The Holy Spirit is like an artist that uses physical water as His medium. He loves using water to heal and re-create human beings, from the Red Sea in Egypt to the rivers that flow from the throne of God in Revelation 22.
Consider for just a moment how beautiful this image is: the Holy Spirit sets apart physical water to be a sort of womb for people who want to be born into God’s family. Since we need water to thrive anyway, this is a gracious choice that God would encounter us through such humble, earthy means. Inside this womb, God the Spirit imparts new life and a new heart and gives us the identity of a true child of God. God brings holy and lifegiving power to the waters; we bring childlike faith that He will meet us.
As a pastor, time and again I have seen God use the local church to set the lonely in families (Ps. 68:6). The waters of baptism run thicker than blood, as some are fond of saying. What better arrangement than to have Christ as our older brother, God as our Father, the church as our mother, with siblings and godparents to share our table? Yet you and I both know loneliness never quite goes away in this life, even for the baptized.
Before our loneliness is forever healed, we must pass through a second set of waters: the Jordan River, the biblical symbol for our earthly death and entrance into heavenly glory. On the other end of the Jordan are all the children of God, more dazzling than the most glamorous people we have ever rubbed shoulders with, and more loving than the most affectionate friends we’ve ever had in this life. God the Father is there, and Jesus our Brother is ready to meet us and welcome us at His table and dwelling (John 14:1–4). In his lonely exile, John the Revelator could see them clearly (Rev. 7:9–17). With the eyes of faith, so can we.
No matter how lonely we are, these saints keep watch as our cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:2). When we sing praises with lonely, longing hearts, the saints join our voices with theirs, along with the angels and archangels. Together with them, we worship the same Lord, we confess the same faith, we surround the same throne, and we stand in one baptism (Eph. 4:4–6). I suppose there was never such a waterlogged community than the people of God. In such a humble, beloved company, we are never truly alone.