Justice and Mercy

We’ve all been there…at least those of us who drive…the white sign on the side of the highway subtly says, “Speed Limit 65.” The law states that if you were to drive faster than 65 miles an hour on that road, you are guilty of breaking the law. Yes, 66 miles an hour is indeed breaking the law! Sometime between when we started to drive as teenagers and where we are in our lives now, we seem to feel comfortable that we get a free-pass within the first 5 miles an hour over the speed limit before we are breaking the law. The fact is that the law states simply that anything faster than 65 miles per hour is illegal. 66 is faster than 65, and is therefore illegal.

Similarly, as we try to be good Christians, following the teachings and commandments of Jesus Christ, there are laws to be followed. “Thou shalt not kill” means that we should not kill. If we kill, then we have broken the law, and justice demands that we should be punished. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” means that we should avoid activities that aren’t necessarily holy on Sundays. But, how do we find the line between holy and unholy? Obedience to spiritual laws isn’t always as definite as are the laws of the land. A vital part of our Heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation for us is balancing the scales of justice and mercy. And Alma 42 is a great illustrative chapter in the Book of Mormon that helps us understand how mercy and justice coexist without defeating each other.

In the scriptures, it seems that we are given two directives which are in conflict with each other:

  1. Be ye therefore perfect.
  2. If you sin, you must repent.

How can the same Father give the same offspring these two seemingly conflicting directives? When our son was in high school, as a father I would tell him:

  1. Please don’t drink.
  2. If you do drink, please don’t drive; but call me and I will come and get you – no questions asked.

By being a father, I fully understand what my Heavenly Father is trying to do for us. He would like us not to make mistakes; but if we do, He wants us to rely upon Him to correct our error. His Plan of Salvation for us, includes the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Through the Atonement, we can summon the mercy of Christ to satisfy the demands of justice. Our loving Heavenly Father has even said, through the prophet Alma, “Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.” (Mosiah 26:30)

If you choose to drive faster than 65 miles an hour on the highway, you are certainly placing yourself at the mercy of the highway patrolman who pulls you over, and whether or not you are cited for breaking the law. Doesn’t this simple thought make it that much sweeter to rely upon the mercy of Jesus Christ when we fall short of eternal laws? Until we understand how the mercy of Christ can indeed satisfy the demands of eternal justice and laws, we really should study more about the Atonement and redeeming love of Jesus Christ. Alma 42 is a great place to start that study.

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