I find God’s justice and mercy fascinating, not only because he perfectly embodies such qualities, but because we as human beings apparently have such a hard time reconciling them that we are apt to build a more selective image with only one of those qualities. Thus in the 17th century, it seems many were apt to forget God’s love and mercy in favour of his wrath and hatred of sin. Today we seem apt to commit the reverse error: we emphasise God’s love and mercy, but forget his justice and righteousness. In doing so, we not only build up a false image of God, but also diminish the quality of God we do remember. His justice and mercy are linked, for his justice is connected to his love and mercy for those we have sinned against. To paraphrase something I’ve said before, to be merciful without condition to predators is to be merciless to their victims. Hence God’s mercy is conditioned upon repentance. Likewise God’s desire for us to change and repent and follow him is based in his love and his desire for our exaltation: a love that never asks us to change or repent is one that would be content to leave us stuck in mediocrity, one that would ultimately be happy to sit back and watch us be damned.
A particular quote that I feel captures both God’s justice and his mercy was expressed by Joseph Smith. However, I often find it quoted with the second half missing, in keeping with the bias of our current era. So I thought it worth quoting in full:
Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and at the same time more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect in every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be.
– Joseph Smith, 18 April 1842
It strikes me that one of the sobering dimensions of the gospel is the democracy of its demands as it seeks to build an aristocracy of saints. Certain standards and requirements are laid upon us all. They are uniform. We don’t have an indoor-outdoor set of ten commandments. We don’t have one set of commandments for bricklayers and another for college professors. There is a democracy about the demands of discipleship, which, interestingly enough, is aimed at producing an aristocracy of saints.
– Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Full talk available at the Interpreter
But take the happiest man, the one most envied by the world, and in nine cases out of ten his inmost consciousness is one of failure. Either his ideals in the line of his achievements are pitched far higher than the achievements themselves, or else he has secret ideals of which the world knows nothing, and in regard to which he inwardly knows himself to be found wanting.
William James, The varieties of religious experience
In the eighty-fourth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord decreed that the whole Church was under condemnation, even all the children of Zion, because of the way they treated the Book of Mormon. “And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent,” said the Lord, “and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon.” (D&C 84:57).
Zion cannot fully arise and put on her beautiful garments if she is under this condemnation.
Second, for whom was the Book of Mormon meant? Moroni, the book’s last writer, speaking to us said, “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.” (Morm. 8:35). God inspired Mormon, its chief compiler, to put into the book what we would need in our day.
Fourth, what is the major purpose of the Book of Mormon? To bring men to Christ and to be reconciled to him, and then to join his church—in that order.
We do not have to prove the Book of Mormon is true. The book is its own proof. All we need to do is read it and declare it! The Book of Mormon is not on trial—the people of the world, including the members of the Church, are on trial as to what they will do with this second witness for Christ.
Ezra Taft Benson, “A New Witness for Christ”, 154th Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1984
All right, Christianity will do you good a great deal more good than you ever wanted or expected. And the first bit of good it will do you is to hammer into your head (you won’t enjoy that!) the fact that what you have hitherto called ‘good’ — all that about ‘leading a decent life’ and ‘being kind’ — isn’t quite the magnificent and all-important affair you supposed. It will teach you that in fact you can’t be ‘good’ (not for twenty-four hours) on your own moral efforts. And then it will teach you that even if you were, you still wouldn’t have achieved the purpose for which you were created. Mere morality is not the end of life. You were made for something quite different from that. J. S. Mill and Confucius (Socrates was much nearer the reality) simply didn’t know what life is about. The people who keep on asking if they can’t lead a decent life without Christ, don’t know what life is about; if they did they would know that ‘a decent life’ is mere machinery compared with the thing we men are really made for. Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear — the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.
‘When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away’ (1 Cor 13:10). The idea of reaching ‘a good life’ without Christ is based on a double error. Firstly, we cannot do it; and secondly, in setting up ‘a good life’ as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence. Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts; and if we could we should only perish in the ice and unbreathable air of the summit, lacking those wings with which the rest of the journey has to he accomplished. For it is from there that the real ascent begins. The ropes and axes are ‘done away’ and the rest is a matter of flying.
– from C.S. Lewis, “Man or Rabbit?”
I came across this story a long time ago, when it was very helpful to me in understanding several things. Since I’ve just come across it once again, I’d thought I’d post it:
There is a little farm on the edge of Tooele where my father was born. My Aunt Jessie still lives there. She’s in her nineties now, and she has so many grandchildren and great grandchildren that none of us can count them, but she knows them all. She’s a remarkable person. It was on this farm, when we were teenagers, that my father decided my brother and I needed to learn how to work. He was running the newspaper in town and being president of a stake that covered a hundred square miles. He was pretty busy, but he had my brother and me working on that farm. We were in the 4-H program, and a bunch of the fathers of the boys in the 4-H program bought some purebred, registered Guernseys from the Northwest and brought them down, and we all got a cow. I should say my brother got a cow, and, since I was his little brother, it was mine by association. I don’t know how many of you have had experience with cows, but our cow had heifer after heifer after heifer, and, when you get a heifer, you end up with another cow; and, when you end up with another cow, that’s one more cow to milk. It was not very long until we were sort of in the business. We had a number of cows that we were milking, and it was quite an experience. We built a little reservoir on the farm so that we wouldn’t have to get up at three o’clock in the morning to take the water. We could run the water in the reservoir and use it as we needed it.
We had some great experiences on the farm, my teenage brother and I, unsupervised. I think he was more steady than I was. We had some fruit trees and a lot of lucern, a lot of hay. We grew some corn; we grew a little wheat. We had a number of things on that farm. We weren’t the best farmers in the world. We were doing the best we could, but we were not the best farmers. We were surrounded by other farms, and those farms were being farmed by people who knew what they were doing. One day one of the neighbors came to my father. He was a farmer, and he had a whole list of the things that my brother and I were doing wrong. I think I could have added more things to that list than he had. Anyway, he went down the list as he was talking to my father, and my father sat back and then he said, “Jim, you don’t understand. You see, I’m raising boys, not cows.”
Elder Loren C. Dunn, “Our Spiritual Heritage”, BYU Devotional, May 4th 1982
To God I cried with mournful voice,
I sought his gracious ear,
In the sad day when troubles rose,
And filled the night with fear.
Sad were my days, and dark my nights,
My soul refused relief;
I thought on God the just and wise,
But thoughts increased my grief.
Still I complained, and still oppressed,
My heart began to break;
My God, thy wrath forbade my rest,
And kept my eyes awake.
My overwhelming sorrows grew,
Till I could speak no more;
Then I within myself withdrew,
And called thy judgments o’er.
I called back years and ancient times
When I beheld thy face;
My spirit searched for secret crimes
That might withhold thy grace.
I called thy mercies to my mind
Which I enjoyed before;
And will the Lord no more be kind?
His face appear no more?
Will he for ever cast me off?
His promise ever fail?
Has he forgot his tender love?
Shall anger still prevail?
But I forbid this hopeless thought;
This dark, despairing frame,
Rememb’ring what thy hand hath wrought;
Thy hand is still the same.
I’ll think again of all thy ways,
And talk thy wonders o’er;
Thy wonders of recovering grace,
When flesh could hope no more.
Grace dwells with justice on the throne;
And men that love thy word
Have in thy sanctuary known
The counsels of the Lord.
Isaac Watts, Psalm 77 part one (based on Psalm 77)
Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.
Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago