Justice Cannot Rob Mercy

“What, 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)

The concepts of justice and mercy are used a lot in conversation, especially among members of the Church. Often, I hear them mentioned within the phrase “mercy cannot rob justice,” usually to derogate someone at fault who doesn’t seem penitent enough. The phrase has turned into a weapon, wielded with the sentiments of “you made your bed, so lie in it” or “one strike, you’re out.” This, my conversation partner insists, is to ensure that the sword of justice can swing its consequences with what they believe the proper force and follow-through.

What about the shield of mercy? It is there to defend, but it seems to have no place in the world of consequences and natural order for which some members advocate.

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In our support of justice, do we suppose that justice can rob mercy?

Take, for example, the situation in which I most often hear this phrase used. A woman, having conceived out of wedlock, is left without support, without options, and without the finances to care for the coming child. The father refuses responsibility, and the woman has to face the difficult options ahead of her on her own.

There was a time when I, myself, would have responded to such a situation with, “Well, you shouldn’t have had sex outside of marriage. This is just a natural consequence of your adultery.”

No, it’s not. There are three key things that the study of justice and mercy can teach to the contrary:

“Natural Consequences”

First, a “natural consequence” is usually used in this context to mean a result that seems fitting from the perspective of karma. Too often, this phrase is meant to belittle. It’s a scoff that the person having sex really should have thought to anticipate what hindsight makes so clear. Surely, if they had as bright of faculties as you, they wouldn’t have done something that you know to be foolish.

In my experience, this phrase is chosen deliberately to absolve the speaker of any bigotry that stems from condescension and of any responsibility they would have had to help the victim of these consequences.

Why do I believe this? For one thing, the speaker only defines “natural consequences” in such a broad, unspecified way in cases like these. If a natural consequence is something that comes naturally as a result of someone’s actions, the natural consequence of sex is, potentially, pregnancy.

That’s it. That’s the only natural result.

Yes, another potential outcome is that she then loses support, but those who abandoned her did so because they chose to take a path that suited their desires, not so that their absence could punish her directly (as far as you know). The real “consequence” in this situation, the thing punishing her for being so foolish, is pregnancy.

Pregnancy is not a punishment. To say that it is a consequence of “foolishness” implies that God would create a new life for the purpose of the child being a burden to their parent(s). A child is not a burden. A precious soul should never be treated as such.

It is insensitive and cruel to say otherwise.

The consequence for breaking the Law of Chastity is the need for repentance and rectification of wrongs. The consequence is not the creation of life, nor is it that this person should be ostracized and refused compassion.

Available Forgiveness

Second, by condemning the woman for having sex, getting pregnant, and suffering at the hands of others’ lack of compassion, you effectively communicate that, because of her initial transgression, she is not worth the mercy Christ extends. In the hour when she most needs a hand to lift, she receives an A Christmas Story style kick into a downward spiral.

Most people I’ve spoken to who have left the Church cite judgment from members as one of the main reasons for leaving. How could God be in (or be found in) a culture that condemns in the name of Christ’s justice rather than lifts in the name of His mercy?

The concept that man-born judgment is, in any way, of God is a major threat to the souls of God’s children!

Consider another scripture from Alma:

“But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, 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)

A person can choose, by their own free will, to be claimed by the shield of mercy or the sword of justice. By repenting for transgressions against the law, they will be claimed by the shielding power of Christ’s mercy, and justice will have no power to execute punishment. It is only when the option of making things right is not taken that justice can cut through.

In this scenario, it would be between the woman, God, and her bishop to navigate repentance. It would be the responsibility of anyone else to provide her love and charity to help her out of her difficult situation. If they are not prepared to love her unconditionally, the best thing they can do for the welfare of her soul is to try not to scold her away from God and the love He can offer.

According to God’s law, the punishment for sin is not rejection; it is the need to repent and make things right.

Don’t let your penchant for justice rob God’s offer of mercy.

Condemnation‘s Harm

Comments like the one mentioned above will not help someone find the love of God; they reinforce the woman’s shame and turn her away from those who can help her. We are meant to be examples of Christ’s light and love. Condemnation is reserved for God, not someone who uses self-righteousness to reinforce their feelings of superiority.

No matter how good it may feel to condemn, your condemnation has no power. That power belongs to God. These words, however, can reinforce the mental, emotional, and social condemnation the woman feels.

Icy shards of isolation during a time of need don’t take long to grab hold. You may change her heart, after all: words can stick to a person and turn self worth into self loathing. Don’t be the one to salt the wound. You don’t have to treat it, but at least leave it be.

Don’t be the reason why she doesn’t want a relationship with her Heavenly Parents.

As followers of Christ, our responsibility is to love our neighbors. All of them. Love is conditionless, harmless, and selfless. You don’t have to agree with someone’s actions to love them. And, you certainly don’t have to tell them every time you disagree with their actions to show them love.

You just have to treat them with decency and kindness.

We are sinners, all of us; it’s not a matter of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” We all sin. We’re all sinners. Of course you love the sinner—that’s still everyone. Christ said love and forgive your neighbor, your enemy, your friend.

Everyone.

That doesn’t mean “love those who you think are deserving” or “forgive when you think justice has been served through their suffering,” that means that we should treat all of God’s children with respect, dignity, and charity.

“But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”

(1 Samuel 16:7)

For a man to look upon the heart of another, they’d have to cut open their neighbor’s chest.

Let’s leave this to the qualified surgeons, eh?

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