The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday concerns justice and mercy for no society is truly free unless it is governed by these two eternal principles. As eternal principles, both justice and mercy have been in effect on this earth since the time of Adam and Eve. Justice ensures that commandments or laws are upheld; mercy takes the circumstances of the sin or the crime into consideration.
An ancient American prophet named Alma explained justice and mercy to his son, Corianton, who was guilty of great sin. He started his explanation by reminding Corianton that Adam and Eve were forced to leave the Garden of Eden because they had broken the law. Heavenly Father told them that they could eat of every food in the garden except the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Satan convinced Eve that she should partake of the fruit, and Eve persuaded Adam to eat also. They had broken the law and were forced to suffer the consequences of their choice.
The Fall of Adam brought death upon all mankind, both spiritual death as well as temporal death. This means that Adam and Eve were separated from God (spiritual death) and their bodies would eventually die (physical or temporal death). By driving Adam and Eve out of the garden, God gave them two great blessings. The first blessing was the opportunity to bear children and to learn the difference between good and evil, pain and pleasure, etc. The second blessing was time – time of probation, time of repentance, time of preparation and time of learning to serve God.
“And now remember, my son, if it were not for the plan of redemption, … As soon as they were dead their souls were miserable, being cut off from the presence of the Lord,
“And now, there was no means to reclaim men from this fallen state, which man had brought upon himself because of his own disobedience;
“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 preparation 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..
“And thus we see that all mankind were fallen, and they were in the grasp of justice; yea, the justice of God, which consigned them forever to be cut off from his presence.
“And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; 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” (Book of Mormon – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, Alma 42:11-15).
ElderJeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about justice and mercy in a fireside address at Brigham Young University. He described his experience of going with his wife to a ceremony in the Utah State Prison. There were 44 men who had “successfully completed a year’s course of Bible study, which was sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but open to all who cared to participate.” The men who completed the class were young and older; they were in prison for a number of years or for life.
There was a young man who completed his prison term before the ceremony was held and came back to get his certificate as well as to encourage the other men. “Guys, the perspective in prison is really bad. It really looks better on the outside. Try to remember that.” The young man then turned to those who had come from outside the prison for the ceremony – the outsiders: “You people are a light in a dark place. If it were not for love like yours, we would not be able to get from where we are to where we need to be.”
The inmate who conducted the services said that this ceremony was “the most auspicious occasion of our year” and better than Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Mother’s Day. “It’s better because we’re enlightened, and that’s as close as we come to being free.”
Elder Holland and his wife left the prison, and “the gates clanged shut behind” them; they returned to their home. Elder Holland had a difficult time sleeping that night. “In the early hours of that morning, I had feelings and thoughts and a response to imprisonment and freedom (and their relationship to enlightenment and love) that I never had before.”
“One impression” that came to Elder Holland was a memory of Alma’s words to his son: “Do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God” (Alma 42:25). He also remembered the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).
Mercy cannot rob justice. We reap what we sow. “If we sow thistles, we don’t really plan to get strawberries. If we sow hate, we don’t really expect to receive an abundance of love. We get back in kind that which we sow.”
Then Elder Holland remembered that we not only reap what we sow, “but we reap, somehow, always in greater quantity. We sow a little thistle, and we get a lot of thistle – years and years of it, big bushes and branches of it. We never get rid of it unless we cut it out. If we sow a little bit of hate, before we know it we’ve reaped a lot of hate – smoldering and festering and belligerent and finally warring, malicious hate.”
After Alma told Corianton that God had to be a just God, he then told him that God would also have to be merciful. He taught his son that mercy would claim the penitent. This thought gave Elder Holland encouragement: “Mercy could claim the penitent. I decided that if those men had to go to the penitentiary to claim mercy – and if by going there, they found the gospel of Jesus Christ or the scriptures or the Atonement – then their imprisonment was worth it.”
Elder Holland encouraged his listeners to go to the place of our “penitence” – to the bishop, to the Lord, to those we have offended or been offended by. “We have our own little penitentiaries, I suppose, all around us. If going there is what it takes to make us truly penitent and to enable us to lay claim to the gift of mercy, then we have to do it.” He reminded all of us that the Lord tells every generation what he told Joseph Smith: “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:9).
Near the end of his talk, Elder Holland said, “if we had to pick a theme for our existence – the existence we know now, not our past in premortality and not what lies ahead – that theme would have to have something to do with the quest for true freedom. We know that an important part of the great Council in Heaven was spent in teaching us how we might progress toward complete freedom. The Father’s course was one of agency and choice – the freedom to err but ultimately the freedom to succeed. As many safeguards as possible and all the powers of the universe were brought to bear to guarantee our freedom to exercise our agency and return to our celestial home. These safeguards include the fulness of gospel truths and the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ.
“We really do experience bondage and prison when we are not free…. We thank God that we live in such a time as we do, when the President and prophet of our Church does not need to live in fear of imprisonment and when we are not, at least politically and physically, required to go into bondage or into slavery. But there are other kinds of bonds and there are other kinds of prisons in our lives that we need to destroy. All that we came here to do, we need to do.”
How do justice and mercy apply in our nation today? In the words of Elder Holland, we can “repent of our sins,” “be charitable with the sins of others,” and “take courage toward our circumstances and want to do something about them.” Our nation is much divided – liberal and conservative, rich and poor, black and white, etc. – and our national leaders seem to be intent on creating greater division. By fanning the flames of the death of a black youth by a “white Hispanic” and making racial claims, our national leaders have encouraged numerous other black people to kill whites in revenge. Our nation is sowing hate and reaping more hate! If we continue doing what we are doing, we will continue to get the same results. In order to bring about a change, those guilty of crimes must be brought to justice but also receive as much mercy as possible. Our nation will never be totally free until justice and mercy work together to bring about true freedom and peace. Will this happen before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? I hope so!