God is both just and merciful. Multiple Book of Mormon prophets testify of this, 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).
We ought to be just and merciful as well:
See that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually;
and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward;
yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again;
ye shall have justice restored unto you again;
ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again (Alma 41:14).
What does it mean to be just? It means to be fair, to avoid favoritism or prejudice, and to recognize and reward people appropriately for their contributions.
What does it mean to be merciful? It means to be kind, slow to condemn, and quick to show compassion.
Can we be both just and merciful at the same time? Absolutely. As the verse above indicates, fairness and kindness are complementary. Fairness doesn’t require harshness; it requires respect and courtesy. Kindness doesn’t require privileging some at the expense of others; it requires compassion for all.
As Alma explained to his son Corianton, justice occurs naturally in the universe. Actions have natural consequences, and when we choose to take an action, we also choose to experience the consequences of that action. (See Alma 42:17-25.)
Mercy, on the other hand, must be given. It is not a natural consequence of law; it is a natural consequence of love. God gives us mercy, not by ignoring or altering universal law, but by experiencing the consequences of our actions on our behalf. He does this for those of us who want to be better, who want to learn to avoid making those mistakes in the future.
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).
Can God give mercy to people who aren’t willing to receive it? Yes, He can. He does it all the time. “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). But the ultimate expression of His mercy, and His ultimate goal for us is to help us become the kind of people who do not sin any more, who obey the laws of the universe and who therefore live “after the manner of happiness” (2 Nephi 5:27). He can’t impose that change on us; we must choose to accept it.
Therefore…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).
Today, I will remember God’s justice and His mercy. I will strive to emulate Him by being both fair and kind. I will also strive to receive His mercy by repenting of my sins and coming unto Him.