Justice and Mercy have always fascinated me. One of my favorite classic books has always been Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Javert represents Justice in that story in his dogged persecution of Jean Valjean, who symbolizes Mercy. Javert can’t stop chasing Valjean to bring him to justice for stealing a loaf of bread decades ago and escaping prison. This story shows how rigid the demands of justice can be, and in Les Miserables, Javert finally commits suicide after she shows mercy, because he cannot come to peace with having snatched the prize out of Justice’s hands.
But in this chapter, Alma shows in marvelous beauty how Justice and Mercy can both be satisfied, through our Savior Jesus Christ.
Alma still perceives that his son worries about the punishment of the sinner, “for ye do try to suppose that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery.” (1) It sounds as if Corianton can’t come to peace with the interplay of Justice and Mercy in his own life.
Alma explains how they can complement each other by teaching about the Fall of man, starting with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. He shows how God was merciful to them, putting the cherubim there to keep them from eating of the fruit after they had transgressed. That route would have led Adam and Eve to live by Justice only, and remain forever in their sins, without an opportunity to repent.
But God didn’t allow that to happen.
And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.”Alma 42:4
This life is a merciful gift, a time to learn more about our God and repent, so we are drawn closer to Him and purified through His redeeming power. Yes, we will make mistakes. That is why our Eternal Father set up the plan of redemption to save us, through His only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord, and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will.”Alma 42:7
After the Fall of Adam, it became necessary “that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death.” (9)
Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state; for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice. Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.”Alma 42:13
Without the Atonement, mankind were in a desperate state—“in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence.” (14)
Alma tells Coianton that only an infinite atonement could meet the demands of justice “therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.” (15)
Justice and Mercy work by eternal laws. God can’t rob justice by granting mercy alone. That’s why He condescended to earth to sacrifice Himself and take upon him all of our sins, so He could satisfy justice and extend us mercy.
Alma explains this eternal law.
Repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul.”Alma 42:16
The plan hinged on our free agency. God could not force His children to return to heaven. That was the devil’s plan, and it entailed slavery of our souls—eternal bondage to him.
We have two choices placed before us in this life—
1) to repent of our sins in order to grasp hold of the infinite Atonement our Savior provided for us, or
2) rebel against that which is good and godly, and be led into eternal bondage.
Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man.”Alma 42:18
What we do with that remorse of conscience decides what we will choose for eternity. Do we want to live with God, or be subject to the devil? It’s such an easy choice, but the devil is subtle in his plans to destroy us. He makes his way seem much easier and ‘fun.’ But it is also all lies.
But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.”Alma 42:22
These eternal laws are set in stone. Even God will not break them…or He would cease to be.
But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; (Hallelujah!) and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God (restoring unto men what was lost during the fall); and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.”Alma 42:23
This is how the Savior’s Atonement makes it possible for me (and you!) to receive mercy, without robbing justice.
For behold, justice exerciseth all HIS demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is HER own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.”Alma 42:24
I found the gender words of particular note. Justice has a male connotation. It can act like a father, providing what is needed by law and protecting us from unfairness. Mercy has a female slant. Mercy nurtures and heals, like a mother. Just like a father and mother complement each other in working to raise children, justice and mercy are both vital to our salvation.
God’s plan is fair and just. That’s what Alma is trying to teach his son.
And thus God bringeth about his great and eternal purposes, which were prepared from the foundation of the world. And thus cometh about the salvation and the redemption of men, and also their destruction and misery.”Alma 42:26
God is no respecter of persons. He loves us all!
Whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.”Alma 42:27
The law of restoration comes into play with our free agency. What will we choose in this life. Our choices will be restored to us in the next life. If we choose God, we will be restored to Him. If we don’t, we will be restored to misery. It is fair, by eternal laws.
Alma wraps up his speech to Corianton by giving him some wise advice.
And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.” (29)Alma 42:29
Godly sorrow is healthy sorrow, because it strengthens our faith in Jesus Christ. Any other demeaning or depressing grief that does not lead us back to God is unhealthy and must be cast out.
O my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility.”Alma 42:30
He wants his son to be happy, and knows wickedness won’t ever bring him that. When we try to excuse or justify our sinful behavior in any way, we deny the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The closer to Christ we come, the more enabled we become at seeing our own sins and repenting of them. Christ actually shows us our weaknesses and sins, so we can become humble and repentant.
The farther we get from Christ, the more adept we become at excusing our behavior and justifying it. The devil whispers in our hearts how to do this.
Christ excuses no sin, no matter how trivial it might seem to us. Sin is sin. Any sin (small or large) will cut us off from His presence forever, if we do not repent of it.
When we let our sins trouble us to repentance, and we ponder the justice, mercy, and long-suffering of our God, He will forgive us and exercise mercy on our behalf. He will allow us to taste of the fruit that brings everlasting joy and peace in this life…and He will bless us with all that He has in the next life.
Justice and mercy are both vital and necessary traits of God. He is both just and merciful. And I thank Him for that. I believe Corianton thanked Him also, because these last few chapters of his father talking to him provide him with so much hope.
He had committed a grievous sin that displeased his dad and, more importantly, the Lord. But Alma teaches him that all is not lost. He has hope through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
In Les Miserables, Javert could not come to terms with using justice and mercy, and it doomed him. But in reality, no matter what awful sins any of us have committed, or how far from God we have run, He is always ready to welcome us back with open arms, like Alma did to his son.
Christ has paid the debt for our sins. He is completely just…and merciful. He is the Only One who can save us because of this perfect balance of these eternal powers.
Alma ends his talk with his son by calling him again to the ministry.
And now, O my son, ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people. And now, my son, go thy way, declare the word with truth and soberness, that thou mayest bring souls unto repentance, that the great plan of mercy may have claim on them.”Alma 42:31
We can all repent when we fall. The Savior can pick us up, dust us off, and enable us to become valiant in our faith in Him again. In fact, that’s what He wants for us. This life is the time to repent and come unto Him.
How are we doing in this task?