Lately as I have talked to other bloggers, a common theme among them has been the belief that the commandments are no longer in force. Some have cited Jesus' statement on the cross as evidence of this fact. "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." John 19:30. Others have quoted this scripture: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. " Matt. 5:17,18. While the thought of a God who requires nothing more of us than to believe seems wonderful on the face of it, what most people fail to understand is that this belief does not mesh with the idea of a God of justice.
Before I address the topics of justice and mercy, let me address the two scriptures above. First, in looking at John 19:30, it might be well for us to consider other similar scriptures in the Bible. If we go to John 17:4 we get a clearer understanding of what it is that the Savior was speaking of when He said, "It is finished". "I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do." What was the work that the Father gave Jesus to do? That "work" was to come and be the Savior of the World, to pay the price for us so that we could overcome sin and death. What was "finished" was this mission.
The second scripture, that speaks about the law being fulfilled is referring not to the end of the commandments, but to the fulfilling of the law of Moses. The law of Moses was a strict law of performances and ordinances that included animal sacrifice. It was symbolic of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and helped prepare the people for the sacrifice that He would make. Everything about the law of Moses was symbolic of the Savior. In explaining the symbolism of the law of Moses, Elder M. Russell Ballard said, "First, like Christ, the animal was chosen and anointed by the laying on of hands. (The Hebrew title Messiah and the Greek title Christ both mean "the Anointed One.") Second, the animal was to have its life's blood spilt. Third, it had to be without blemish—totally free from physical flaws, complete, whole, and perfect. Fourth, the sacrifice had to be clean and worthy. Fifth, the sacrifice had to be domesticated; that is, not wild but tame and of help to man (see Lev. 1:23, 10; Lev. 22:21). Sixth and seventh, for the original sacrifice practiced by Adam and the most common sacrifice in the law of Moses, the animal had to be a firstborn and a male (see Ex. 12:5; Lev. 1:3; Lev. 22:1825). Eighth, the sacrifice of grain had to be ground into flour and made into breadstuffs, which reminds us of our Lord's title the Bread of Life (see John 6:48). Ninth, the firstfruits that were offered remind us that Christ was the firstfruits of the Resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15:20). (See also Bible Dictionary, "Sacrifices"; Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. , 3:1248–49.) The Law of Sacrifice By Elder M. Russell Ballard Ensign » 1998 » October
Christ's atoning sacrifice fulfilled the law of Moses. Today, instead of offering animal sacrifice, we rely upon the atonement of Jesus Christ, and offer up a sacrifice of a "broken heart and a contrite spirit". Repentance on our part becomes our sacrifice to access the atonement of Jesus Christ, just as animal sacrifice was required of the people who practiced the law of Moses. Some feel it is an offense to God to say that we need to repent, but sacrifice was required by God of the people of the Old Testament, just as it is required of us today. Repentance is the sacrifice that we make today.
There are two aspects of God that are part of what make Him God. One is that He is a God of justice. Another is that He is a God of mercy. Inherent in the meaning of the word justice is the principle of lawfulness. There is no justice without a law. For God to be just, there must be a law. That law was given by God Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai. God's commandments are the "law" that we must keep. Justice requires that if we do not keep the law, that we suffer the consequences. At the same time, if we keep the law, we receive the blessings. This is justice.
However, God is also a God of mercy. The atonement of Jesus Christ allows us the opportunity to repent of wrongs that we do. When we repent, His atoning sacrifice fulfills the demands of the law of justice. It pays for what we did that is wrong. But mercy cannot replace justice. "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. 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. 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 42:13, 22, 25
But God is a God of mercy, so does provide mercy to us. "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." Alma 42:15 "But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice. For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved. " Alma 42:23, 24
It is not justice that people harm each other, abuse each other, even murder each other, and pay no price. It is not justice that an abuser, who has changed a child's life negatively forever, should not have to suffer consequences for his behavior, but be allowed to go to heaven simply because he believes. This is not justice. But if that same abuser truly repents, and offers up a sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit for what he has done, and changes his behavior, and then relies upon the mercy and grace of the atonement of Jesus Christ, then he can repent of the wrongs that he has done. In this way, the law of justice and the law of mercy both are put in to effect. The law is still in effect, it has not been nullified. If it were nullified, justice would be dead.
I thank God that the law of mercy has not been nullified either. Because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we all have the opportunity to repent of the things that we do that are wrong. God is truly a God of justice and mercy.