I began this study with the thought that justice and mercy might simply be two sides of the same principle. As I worked through the scriptures, though, I’m starting to think I was wrong. Each is distinct from the other, but both work together for our good.
The way I would define them now is that justice is the principle of fairness by which sin is punished and virtue is rewarded. Mercy is the conduit by which the punishment of justice can be diverted to Jesus’s atoning sacrifice, and the blessing of justice can be received by us.
In any case, I’ve certainly gained a deeper appreciation for why both of these principles needs to exist. Without both, God’s plan for us could not be fulfilled.
Laws Provide Blessings When Followed, but Curses When Broken
Commandments are not given to restrict or condemn. They are given to enable our betterment. It is by receiving and following law that we receive blessings. Every blessing comes as the result of adhering to some law of God’s, and our spiritual maturity is developed by bending our will to His.
However a law cannot simply include a principle and a reward for when it is followed. A law must also detail a punishment for when that principle is defied. Once both consequences, one good and one bad, are affixed to the principle, then the demands of justice will swing one way or the other dependent upon our behavior.
Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21- There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
2 Nephi 2:11- For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.
All of us Have Fallen Short of God’s Laws
This certainly seems like a straightforward plan to receiving all that is good, and avoiding all that is bad. All one has to do is keep the law perfectly. And it would be a simple path to perfection, if not for the fact that we are born with a tendency to sin. We are imperfect beings, with imperfect minds and bodies, susceptible to coercion, deception, and misunderstanding.
We all have our particular strengths, areas by which Satan always seems to fail in his efforts to sway us. But also have our weaknesses. And Satan does find them, exploit them, and sooner or later each one of us tastes of forbidden fruit and now stand condemned by the law that was supposed to have liberated us.
With all of the human race failing to attain perfection, we would be doomed as a whole to eternal damnation.
Romans 3:23- For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God
Moses 6:55- And the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter
Jesus’s Sacrifice Restores us to the Benefits of Justice Via Mercy
Except there was one man who didn’t break a single one of God’s laws. Jesus of Nazareth was the only human ever to walk a perfect life. I do not know how much of that was due to the extra dose of divinity that ran through his veins, or whether it was simply due to his personal nature. In either case, the fact is he was born a human, was therefore put under the same law of perfection, and he actually managed to fill that measure in its entirety.
While I do not know the reasons why, one requirement for being able to replace one law with another seems to be fulfilling the first. As the only one to manage that particular feat, Jesus was free to take the punishment for all of our failings on himself, supplant the demands of perfection, and grant us mercy instead.
Alma 34:14, 16- And behold, this is the whole meaning of the law, every whit pointing to that great and last sacrifice; and that great and last sacrifice will be the Son of God, yea, infinite and eternal.
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.