Justice: A Spiritual Perspective
While the above focused on justice as a character trait, Justice can also refer to an abstract spiritual concept. According to the “True to the Faith” manual: “Justice is the unchanging law that brings consequences for actions. Because of the law of justice, you receive blessings when you obey God’s commandments (see D&C 131:20). The law of justice also demands that a penalty be paid for every sin you commit. It requires that no unclean thing be permitted to dwell with God (1 Nephi 10:21).”
The law of justice determines what blessings we receive. In D&C 130 :20-21 we learn: “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.”
Justice has also been referred to as the law of the harvest which Paul summarized in Galatians 6:7 which reads: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)
Justice is often at odds with mercy because mercy is an overruling of justice. Mercy means absolving a person of the consequences for breaking a law which is, by definition, a form on injustice. Thus, God balances mercy and justice and warns us that His mercy cannot overrule His justice. In Alma 42 :11-15, Alma explains this principle to his son Corianton:
11 And now remember, my son, if it were not for the plan of redemption, (laying it aside) as soon as they were dead their souls were miserable, being cut off from the presence of the Lord.
12 And now, there was no means to reclaim men from this fallen state, which man had brought upon himself because of his own disobedience;
13 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 preparatory 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.
14 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.
15 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.
Since we know that justice requires that a penalty be paid for sin, the only way to appease justice is to pay the penalty. Jesus Christ is the mediator between us and justice and since he paid for our sins he can extend to us mercy without violating justice. Thus, God can be both just and merciful because He has personally paid the price for sins. He sets the conditions through which we obtain this mercy and these conditions are outlined in His Gospel.
President Boyd K. Packer summarized these principles in the following way:
“By eternal law, mercy cannot be extended save there be one who is both willing and able to assume our debt and pay the price and arrange the terms for our redemption. Unless there is a mediator, unless we have a friend, the full weight of justice untempered, unsympathetic, must, positively must fall on us. The full recompense for every transgression, however minor or however deep, will be exacted from us to the uttermost farthing. But know this: Truth, glorious truth, proclaims there is such a Mediator. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim.2:5)
Through Him mercy can be fully extended to each of us without offending the eternal law of justice. . . .The extension of mercy will not be automatic. It will be through covenant with Him. It will be on His terms, His generous terms, which include, as an absolute essential, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. All mankind can be protected by the law of justice, and at once each of us individually may be extended the redeeming and healing blessing of mercy.” (CR 1977 Apr:80)
Mercy only exists because of the atonement. Without the atonement, there is only Justice. Bruce R. McConkie explained it this way: “As justice is the child of the fall, so mercy is the offspring of the atonement. “Mercy cometh because of the atonement,” Alma says, “and mercy claimeth the penitent.” If there were no atoning sacrifice there would be no mercy-only justice. (The Promised Messiah, pp. 244-45)
The Gospel has been described as “merciful” and not necessarily fair. Lance B. Wickman taught: “It really isn’t fair that one person should suffer for the sins of others. It isn’t fair that some people can commit horrible crimes and then be completely forgiven and cleansed without having to suffer for them. It isn’t fair that those who labor for only an hour will get the same reward as those who labor all day. (See Matt. 20:16.) No, the gospel sometimes isn’t fair, but that is actually part of the good news. It isn’t fair—it’s merciful, and thank God it is so, for no human being can stand acquitted before the demands of absolute justice.” (Friends again at last- Lance B. Wickman)
While the Gospel is merciful, it still cannot destroy God’s justice. In his talk: “Love and Law” President Dallin H. Oaks teaches us about how God balances His love and His laws. President Oaks says: “The love of God does not supersede His laws and His commandments, and the effect of God’s laws and commandments does not diminish the purpose and effect of His love. The same should be true of parental love and rules. (Dallin H. Oaks- Love and Law)
President Oaks continues: “The effect of God’s commandments and laws is not changed to accommodate popular behavior or desires. If anyone thinks that godly or parental love for an individual grants the loved one license to disobey the law, he or she does not understand either love or law. The Lord declared: “That which breaketh a law, and abideth not by law, but seeketh to become a law unto itself, and willeth to abide in sin, and altogether abideth in sin, cannot be sanctified by law, neither by mercy, justice, nor judgment. Therefore, they must remain filthy still” (D&C 88:35).
As D&C 88:35 states, we cannot make up our own laws and reject the laws of the creator. God has assigned different laws for different kingdoms and whatever law we choose to obey is the kingdom we will receive. We read in modern revelation, “All kingdoms have a law given” (D&C 88:36). For example:
“He who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.
“And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.
“And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory” (D&C 88:22–24).
In other words, the kingdom of glory to which the Final Judgment assigns us is not determined by love but by the law that God has invoked in His plan to qualify us for eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7).
Justice means we receive prescribed rewards when we obey the law attached to the reward. However, it also means that we receive prescribed punishments when we disobey the law attached to the reward.
President Boyd K. Packer taught:
“Each of us, without exception, one day will settle that spiritual account. We will, that day, face a judgment for our doings in mortal life and face a foreclosure of sorts. One thing I know; we will be justly dealt with. Justice, the eternal law of justice, will be the measure against which we settle this account. Justice is usually pictured holding a set of scales and blindfolded against the possibility that she may be partial or become sympathetic. There is no sympathy in justice alone-only justice. Our lives will be weighed on the scales of justice.The Prophet Alma
declared: “Justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:22)
I commend to you the reading of the 42nd chapter of Alma. It reveals the place of justice and should confirm that the poet spoke the truth when he said, “In the course of justice [only] none of us should see salvation.” (Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, IV. i. 199-200) Boyd K. Packer (CR 1977 Apr:78-79)
President Packer has recommended that we all read Alma 42 and understand the principles taught within this great sermon on justice. Eleven Principles found in this chapter include the following:
Principle 1: Life is a temporary probationary time to repent and to be reconciled with the Laws of Justice by entering into a covenant with God and serving Him.
Principle 2: As we are cut off from the presence of the Lord we are free to act according to our own will.
Principle 3: Mercy can only come about through repentance otherwise it would destroy justice and God would cease to be God.
Principle 4: Repentance implies that we are under condemnation or are suffering punitive consequences for our actions which need to be relieved.
Principle 5: Sin implies that there is a law that has been transgressed. And a Law implies that there are consequences for breaking that law.
Principle 6: The punishment for breaking a just law is remorse of conscience unto man.
Principle 7: If there are no laws that restrain behaviour we must live in fear and lose protection.
Principle 8: Justice only exists where law exists. Justice is the equal application of that law to all who are under its effects.
Principle 9: In reality there are certain laws that when transgressed bring about punishment. Mercy can come upon those who repent and the rest justice claims and executes the punishment otherwise God would cease to be God.
Principle 10: The atonement brings about the resurrection which causes men to be judged by their works according to the law and justice.
Principle 11: Mercy cannot rob justice. If it did, God would cease to be God.
President Dallin H. Oaks has warned us that God’s love will not overrule His justice and that the ultimate fate of those who transgress God’s laws will not be good. He said:
“Some seem to value God’s love because of their hope that His love is so great and so unconditional that it will mercifully excuse them from obeying His laws. In contrast, those who understand God’s plan for His children know that God’s laws are invariable, which is another great evidence of His love for His children. Mercy cannot rob justice, and those who obtain mercy are “they who have kept the covenant and observed the commandment” (D&C 54:6).
We read again and again in the Bible and in modern scriptures of God’s anger with the wicked and of His acting in His wrath against those who violate His laws. How are anger and wrath evidence of His love? Joseph Smith taught that God “institute[d] laws whereby [the spirits that He would send into the world] could have a privilege to advance like himself.” God’s love is so perfect that He lovingly requires us to obey His commandments because He knows that only through obedience to His laws can we become perfect, as He is. For this reason, God’s anger and His wrath are not a contradiction of His love but an evidence of His love. Every parent knows that you can love a child totally and completely while still being creatively angry and disappointed at that child’s self-defeating behavior.
However, some gifts are given to us unconditionally and do not depend upon our obedience to law. President Oaks taught:
“The love of God is so universal that His perfect plan bestows many gifts on all of His children, even those who disobey His laws. Mortality is one such gift, bestowed on all who qualified in the War in Heaven. Another unconditional gift is the universal resurrection: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Many other mortal gifts are not tied to our personal obedience to law. As Jesus taught, our Heavenly Father “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) (Dallin H. Oaks- Love and Law)
Just as God gives some things unconditionally, we also give some gifts unconditionally as well. For example, parents provide many benefits like housing and food even if their children are not in total harmony with all parental requirements. But, following the example of an all-wise and loving Heavenly Father who has given laws and commandments for the benefit of His children, wise parents condition some parental gifts on obedience.
Sometimes we understand things by contrasting them with their opposites. Three opposites of justice include:
1. Injustice: violation of the rights of others; unjust or unfair action or treatment.
2. Discrimination: treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.
3. Prejudice: an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.