Alma 42 – Justice & Mercy all along


(For more on Alma 42, justice, mercy, or Amulek, please see my other posts with the “Amulek and Alma” tag)

Here are my verse-by-verse thoughts on Alma 42:

Context: This chapter opens with the third of three things that “worry” Corianton’s mind.

  1. Alma 40:1 – “I perceive that thy mind is worried concerning the resurrection of the dead.”
  2. Alma 41:1 – “I have somewhat to say concerning the restoration of which has been spoken… I perceive that thy mind has been worried also concerning this thing.”
  3. Alma 42:1 – “I perceive there is somewhat more that doth worry your mind, which ye cannot understand — which is concerning the justice of God in the punishment of the sinner.”

Comments on Alma 42:

v. 1 – I like that Alma says, “ye do try to suppose.” It sounds like Corianton is trying hard to come up with a new way of interpreting the scriptures. 🙂 This came up in our Saturday Study Group last Saturday. As we pointed out there as well, it’s almost like Alma is saying, “You’re working too hard! We do have a way out – repentance! You don’t need to begin to ‘try to suppose’ this or that.” Corianton, because he misunderstands the doctrine, beings to risk and wrest instead of just repenting.

v. 2 – “I will explain this thing unto thee.” The entire chapter will explain this justice of God. The reason to go to Adam and Eve is to set up justice from the very beginning.

v. 2/3 – The story begins with Adam and Eve already fallen and now being forced to leave the garden. There are angels with swords placed to guard the tree.

v. 4 – “And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.”

Here we come to the most interesting moment, an event on which we can hang the whole chapter. As they leave the Garden a guard is set to block them. This image of  cherubim with a flaming sword certainly calls to mind “justice.” But these cherubim are also what set up a time (and space, in v.5) to repent – which is the very image of “mercy.” Hence, right from the beginning, justice and mercy are found in the very same experience.

v. 5/6 – If they had partaken of the Tree of Life, two things would have happened:  they would have had no space for repentance (mercy) and they would not have died “the word of God would have been void,” (justice) “and the great plan of salvation would have been frustrated” (mercy and justice together).

v. 7 – “thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will.” – Lots to think about in this wording, but I think in this chapter we can see this being a theme of sorts: you are able to choose and get in the end you receive whatever you chose. This makes possible restoration in a just way.

v. 8 – “expedient” – MaryLu pointed out that rather than reading it as necessary, we could look at the possibility that it was not something to do right away – let’s not expedite this reclaiming from death, because we need time to repent. Interesting reading. The other reading of course is that we do actually need to pass through death, though some of the effects are overcome. But in order to get a resurrected body, our mortal body does pass through a death (even if some don’t taste of it).

v.9 – it is, however, “expedient that mankind should be reclaimed from this spiritual death.” We had a bit of a debate on this verse. My reading (against the group) is that since the soul could never die, or, can’t be cut off from the presence of God (or unfortunately, the Devil), it is proper/important/fitting that the soul is reclaimed from this spiritual death and brought back to the presence of the Lord. Every soul will be brought back to God’s presence. (That this is the soul’s natural state seems to be supported by v. 23.)

v. 11 – this “laying it aside” is important. By verse 13 (the first actual mention of “justice”), it is easy to start thinking that justice = no redemption. But Alma is careful to say the situation he is setting up is not the actual state – therefore, not the way justice or mercy works. Without the plan of redemption, we are still cut off from the presence of the Lord, i.e., spiritually dead. But there is a redemption, so this is not the case.

v.12 – no way to reclaim, without plan of redemption. We brought it upon ourselves.

v.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.” Note here that it is not according to mercy that we repent, but according to justice. Repentance does not rob justice; it is according to justice that we need to have it. Really, the best way to write it is: “Justice says that in order for there to be a plan of redemption, there needs to be repentance.” This also could be written that we need to repent, act, do, change, in order to receive redemption.

“in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state” – repentance is done in this space & time opened up between the angel and death.

“for except it were for these conditions, mercy could not take effect except it should destroy the work of justice.” So, it seems that if there were no repentance done in this life, and mercy took effect, it would destroy the whole point of justice.

v. 15 – “now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made.” Justice requires repentance, mercy requires atonement.

“God himself atoneth for the sins of the world … that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” – can you say justice and mercy are fighting if they flow from the same source?

v. 16 – “repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment … affixed opposite to the plan of happiness” – two consequences affixed

v. 17 – “how could a man repent except he should sin?”

“How could he sin if there was no law?”

“How could there be a law save there was a punishment?” – interesting order. Not, “how could there be a punishment if there was no law?” but rather how could there be a law except we have punishment? Maybe I’m being too careful here (1830 grammar surprises me sometimes), but I wonder if we could read it as saying that the law will not appear as a law unless there is a punishment. It is the very existence of a punishment that makes us realize there is a law. (I’m thinking of 2 year olds here – even if you tell them the rules, a “law” doesn’t really exist for them until they break it. Then when they are punished they start to figure out what happened.)

v. 21 – “and if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either?” okay, so we have to read this entire discussion of justice and mercy with the assumption that the law is already in place. There is a punishment and a happiness affixed.

v. 22 – “repentance granted” interesting phrase. Definitely a gift.

“which repentance mercy claimeth” – I assume it means, those who repent are claimed by mercy?

“otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment” – so here it sounds like justice’s job is to execute the law in every way. But the law itself makes space for repentance, then?

v. 23 – “mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement;” ok, mercy comes because of God’s atonement, which he himself makes so he is both just and merciful. k..

“and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead;” the resurrection is possible because of the atonement, which God makes..

“and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God;” the resurrection brings us back, which is what overcomes that death of spiritual separation mentioned in the beginning of the chapter..

“and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.” (Restored! Important word!) By all of this we are brought back to God, and then are judged in His presence.

So it is by restoring us, through the resurrection, which is through the atonement, that we are brought into a position where we are judged, and that judgment is through law and justice.

v. 24 – “For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own;” – both get “all”

“and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.” – justice judges us according to our works, with of course the understanding that repentance is real. Then it can grant us exactly what we wanted. Since repentance is a part of this plan, only the truly penitent are saved (ie only those who repent will be saved). Only those whose desires are for good will receive good. And that is perfectly just.

v. 25 – “What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit.” So, Corianton apparently did suppose this. He supposed that it was injustice to punish the sinner.  Did he suppose that mercy took care of all punishments? Did Corianton leave out repentance? What does it mean to say it was injust? That still supposes that justice exists. Did he suppose that mercy changed justice? So punishment was no longer justice’s job? No more judging?

v. 26 – “And thus cometh about the salvation and the redemption of men, and also their destruction and misery.” – neither salvation nor misery could come about with out law, punishment, justice, mercy, atonement, repentance.

It sounds to me like justice could not be justice unless there was a chance for repentance. If the angels were not put in place so we had a chance to receive law and repent (or not), then there would be no way for us to prove ourselves and chose one way or the other. It seems to me that justice exists where there is law, and law exists where there is a punishment, happiness, and a way to chose. That way to chose comes through repentance, which comes because of the resurrection, which comes through the atonement.

v. 27 – “Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.” – beautiful summary, though it seems like we needed the full chapter to really appreciate what Alma is saying here.

v. 28 – restoration again, perhaps with the emphasis on evil to lay out again Corianton’s decision he has in front of him.

v. 29 – don’t let the doctrine trouble you; the problem is not the scriptures or God, the problem is sin. Just repent – it’s that simple.

v. 30 – “I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more.” Denying the justice. That’s a helpful way to describe what Corianton is thinking.

“Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God;” – again, Corianton is trying to change the doctrine to fit his plan, rather than repenting so he fits God’s plan.

“but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility.” Justice, mercy, long suffering – these together bring us to humility.

v. 31 – and now back to the beginning: “ye are called of God to preach the word unto this people” – and he is still called, even though he has sinned and tried to deny the justice of God. As Alma just said, God is long-suffering, and isn’t going away – and the doctrine isn’t changing – so let this have full sway (do more lying, risking, supposing, wresting, etc.) and just humble yourself and repent.

And declare this word, he says, so others hear it, learn it, and repent too.  God still wants Corianton to teach, and there are many waiting to learn of repentance and the “great plan of mercy.”

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