Justice and Mercy

Today I’ve been pondering the relationship between two of God’s attributes: justice and mercy. Multiple Book of Mormon prophets teach us that God is both just and merciful, including Lehi (2 Nephi 2:12), Nephi (2 Nephi 11:5), Jacob (Jacob 4:10), King Benjamin (Mosiah 5:15), Alma (Alma 42:15), and Mormon (3 Nephi 26:5, Mormon 6:22).

It’s easy to think about mercy and justice as opposites. After all, when we’re in trouble, the two outcomes look mutually exclusive: We will either be saved from the natural consequences of our foolishness, or we won’t. It is from this perspective that Amulek was speaking when he promised that “mercy…overpowereth justice” for those that are saved (Alma 34:15).

But from the God’s perspective, mercy and justice are not in conflict. They coexist, and He maintains them both. As Alma taught his son Corianton, Jesus Christ suffered on our behalf “to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:15).

Book of Mormon prophets clearly teach that the demands of justice must be met. Abinadi taught that the Savior has “the bowels of mercy” and is “filled with compassion” toward us, not because He has chosen to ignore or violate eternal law, but because He personally “satisfied the demands of justice” (Mosiah 15:9). Alma taught that, if mercy were to somehow “rob justice,” then “God would cease to be God.” But because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, “justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own” (Alma 42:23-25).

Who does mercy claim? Those who repent:

And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.
(Alma 34:16)

Today, I will remember that God is both just and merciful. I will remember that He is willing and able to “[encircle me] in the arms of safety.” I will choose to repent, so that God can shield me from the full demands of justice by satisfying those demands on my behalf.

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