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Corianton needed more than just discipline for his mission failure! He was full of both self-incrimination, and self-justification. He had four questions that his father, Alma, lovingly but sternly answered. The effectiveness of the work had been compromised by Corianton’s triste with Isabel. After contextualizing the gravity of his sin in chapter 39, Alma finishes his rebuke by addressing what may have been the deep issue Corianton harbored. It was President Kimball that so succinctly identified The Savior’s key to compassion:
“Jesus saw sin as wrong but also was able to see sin as springing from deep and unmet needs on the part of the sinner. This permitted him to condemn the sin without condemning the individual.”[i]
Alma answered the question as to why the coming of Christ needed to be preached so long before its reality, with a very personal response, “is not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming?” I have wondered if the soul that needed to know and feel that he was precious to God was Corianton. With older, faithful, and accomplished brothers, it is reasonable that Corianton was struggling in many ways that were reflective of his low sense of divine definition which most often precedes sin.
Alma continues striking deeply at the festering of Corianton’s weakness by then aiming at the lack of nourishing and sustaining roots of understanding the “very points”[ii] of the “Doctrine of Christ.” It is Elder Packer that would later say:
“True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. Elder Boyd K. Packer Oct Conf. 1986
The core of Alma’s teaching Corianton on the Atonement of Christ covers a correct relationship between justice, mercy, and law. When asked, most will define justice in terms of law, consequences and judgement. But Alma helps Corianton understand that God isn’t imposing consequences upon us by inventing laws that get in the way of our happiness.[iii] In fact, Alma had already taught that Father “has turned away judgement”[iv] as we go through the mortal process of learning to live in accordance with the divine nature. He makes it clear that though law is used by justice, it is also used by mercy, but is not the same as either one.
“And if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either, for they would have no claim upon the creature?” Alma 42:21
Law gives justice and mercy claim on an individual. Law may be just, but is not justice.[v] So then, what is justice? Again, Alma says that justice executes law which then inflicts the punishment[vi] without which there is no law.[vii] So, Justice uses law but is not law. But, is the only function of justice to execute law and inflict punishment. If so, then we are just splitting hairs?
Alma teaches that God would cease to be God without “the work of justice.”[viii] Unfortunately, this has been interpreted by some to mean that God would lose his “right to be god” if He made an exception to some transcendent law that He had to obey. It is easy to see, again, the problem with equating justice and some eternal code of law, for Alma makes it clear that justice is “God’s justice,” not someone or something else’s.[ix] Alma evidently knows something about justice that we need.
The language of Alma was a form of Hebrew. The word for justice in Hebrew is “tsdaqah,” or “tsedeq” which is also the word for righteousness, meaning, when speaking of Him, “God’s righteousness.” In Moses 4:30, God is clear that He is capable to do, and must do whatever He says. We could not have faith in Him if there were any inkling that He would make exceptions for us or anyone else. He is “an unchangeable God.”[x] Abinadi equates justice with God, himself.[xi] So Justice is part of the divine nature, not some administrator to which He is subject. Do we have anything in scripture that helps us understand this part of the divine nature and the relationship to law and or justice?
“The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed” DC 88:13
Law, when used here is what the Encyclopedia of Mormonism calls “descriptive law” meaning a law that simply describes how things work, natural law. This is differentiated from “prescriptive law” that someone writes including the required “affixed” punishment.[xii] The light spoken of here is the light of Christ.[xiii] His nature, a fulness of light and truth[xiv] is the environment wherein we exist and from which order and law function. It is through His light that we have “the physics” of the universe![xv] Furthermore, this pervading light or the natural law that results from this light can both sanctify and perfect.[xvi]
But, herein lies the challenge and need for a plan of redemption. Were we to enter the glorious (light) presence of our loving father or His son in this mortal state, we would be destroyed.[xvii] This is what is sometimes called “the wrath of God”[xviii] “that it might work upon the heart”[xix] thereby, motivating change. The fulness of the divine nature that sources the light, which could perfect us were we able to live the ensuing law, necessitates our current separation from His presence. Since we can’t seem to be governed by this descriptive law/light, due to our fallen natures, it won’t perfect us.[xx] Though it could perfect us as it did Christ since He was completely obedient.
So, justice stems from God’s nature and hence is unchangeable. Therefore, there are some things God can’t change or do.[xxi] Hence His warnings to us sometimes sound harsh and unloving. Mortality’s crises and injustices cause some to conclude that either He is not all powerful or not loving. But, in light of the realities of eternity and His nature, there is no leeway to this part of justice even though He is the epitome of love and kindness. Given the need for us to be capable of living in His presence and our independent agency and fallen natures, we need help.
We need time and some kind of system, without this fatal consequence, that would allow us to learn from our mistakes and mortal nature, then change and become capable to live at that celestial level of law/light; a system of prescriptive law. The system must also allow the reception and aggregation of light unto a fulness[xxii] so that we could eventually live in His presence. This is His work and glory motivated by His love for us, His children.
Alma calls this system, “a probationary time” or “preparatory state” or “plan of redemption” or “the plan of mercy.”[xxiii] The vast majority of times the word mercy as found in the Old Testament, is translated from one of two Hebrew words: checed = spousal love, or raham = parental love. Both of these two most profound kinds of love are tough-love resulting in growth through prescriptive law. Alma notes that without law, we cannot progress since neither justice nor mercy could have an effect.[xxiv] These prescriptive laws within this plan and as part of this state, are enacted by two things, according to Alma:
So, in order for God to not become a sponsor of sin, as He would if He just allowed it, man must change or repent in order to receive forgiveness. And, there had to be a plan for this system that allowed sinning without immediate and fatal consequence like those from the descriptive laws outside the system. God had to “take upon himself” or “kaphar”[xxvii] (cover) our sins from the descriptive consequences of His nature, during a temporary time that would allow for repentance. Then, we would need something so enticing and moving to motivate us to both deny ourselves of the appetite-rewards of physical matter and to repent, once we discovered by our own experience to “prize the good.”[xxviii] Therefore, “God himself”[xxix] came among men to atone (kaphar) for our sins and “bring about the bowels of mercy;”[xxx] both His and ours.
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless, the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance.” Alma 7:12-13
Justice includes God’s perfecting and sanctifying nature that results in all the laws that describe the natural order of the universe and His faithfulness in doing all that He says both descriptively and prescriptively. Mercy includes God’s infinite love that results in His giving His son to provide a preparatory state whereby we have time and all God’s patience and resources, including prescriptive law or the “directions” of how to gain celestial capability through the reception of His light. It is no wonder that Elder Packer summarized so simply by saying: “Justice is another name for Mercy, and Mercy is another name for Justice.”[xxxi]
We can see from the record that Corianton did repent and go on to serve valiantly and effectively, once he had repented with correct doctrinal understanding, empowering the real change offered by the Atonement of Christ.[xxxii]
[i] President Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, August 1979, “Jesus the Perfect Leader”
[ii] 1 Nephi 15:14
2 Nephi 31
[iii] Alma 42:1 And now, my son, I perceive there is somewhat more which doth worry your mind, which ye cannot understand—which is concerning the justice of God in the punishment of the sinner; for ye do try to suppose that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery.
[iv] Alma 33:11 thou hast turned thy judgments away from me…
[v] Alma 42:18 Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man.
[vi] Alma 42:22 justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment
[vii] Alma 42:17 How could there be a law save there was a punishment?
[viii] Alma 41:13 Now the work of justice could not be destroyed; if so, God would cease to be God.
[ix] Alma 12:18 Then, I say unto you, they shall be as though there had been no redemption made; for they cannot be redeemed according to God’s justice; and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption.
“Justice is not just an abstract principle, not merely some eternal ideal, some mystical regulation in a law-driven universe. Justice is an attribute of Deity, a condition and requirement of God. It is the justice of God which rewards righteousness. It is the justice of God which punishes sin.” (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols., 3: 315.)
[x] DC 20:17; Mormon 9:19; Moroni 8:18
[xi] Mosiah 15:27 he cannot deny himself; for he cannot deny justice when it has its claim.
[xiii] DC 88:6-7 he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ.
[xiv] DC 93:2 And that I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world;
4 The Father because he gave me of his fulness
36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.
[xv] DC 88:12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—
13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.
[xvi] DC 88:21 And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom.
DC 88:34 And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same.
[xvii] DC 5:19 the inhabitants thereof are consumed away and utterly destroyed by the brightness of my coming.
Moses 1:11 I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.
[xviii] DC 76:33 For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity;
Revelation 14: 10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
[xix] DC 19:7 wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.
[xx] 2 Nephi 2:5 And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.
[xxi] “But as a consequence of being perfectly just, there are some things God cannot do. He cannot be arbitrary in saving some and banishing others. He “cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” He cannot allow mercy to rob justice.” Elder D. Todd Christofferson, Ensign Nov 2014
[xxii] DC 93:31 Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.
32 And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation.
33 For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy;
[xxiii] Alma 42:4, 10, 13, 15
[xxiv] Alma 42:21 And if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either, for they would have no claim upon the creature?
[xxv] Alma 42:13 “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.”
[xxvi] Alma 42:15 “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.”
[xxvii] Hebrew Kaphar = to cover. It is translated as “to atone” or “atonement” as in Exodus 30:10
[xxviii] Moses 6:55 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, that they may know to prize the good.
[xxix] Alma 42:15 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.
[xxx] Alma 34:15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.
[xxxi] YSA CES Broadcast, Elder Boyd K. Packer, 11/7/93
[xxxii] Alma 49:30 30 Yea, and there was continual peace among them, and exceedingly great prosperity in the church because of their heed and diligence which they gave unto the word of God, which was declared unto them by Helaman, and Shiblon, and Corianton, and Ammon and his brethren, yea, and by all those who had been ordained by the holy order of God,