Plan of Salvation Balances Justice and Mercy
By Marianne Holman, Church News staff writer
- Both justice and mercy are integral by-products of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
- God is perfectly loving and long-suffering, but His word is clear in His expectations and requirements of His children.
- The plan of salvation provides for those who never had an opportunity to come unto Christ during their lifetime.
“The gospel of Jesus Christ—what scriptures call ‘the merciful plan of the great Creator’…—is the perfect balance between God’s justice and His mercy.” —Brent L. Top, BYU religion professor
The Savior’s mercy is the very essence of the message of Easter, said Brent L. Top during the Easter Conference held at BYU on March 29.
“It is easy, especially at Easter time, to celebrate God’s infinite goodness and His tender mercy,” Brother Top said. “Not often, however, do we hear declarations or observe celebrations of His perfect justice. Yet each is an integral by-product of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In fact, the gospel of Jesus Christ—what scriptures call ‘the merciful plan of the great Creator,’ ‘the plan of restoration,’ ‘the great plan of happiness,’ and the ‘plan of mercy’—is the perfect balance between God’s justice and His mercy.”
Brother Top, who is a professor in the religion department at BYU, asked the audience, “How can this be? How can the Lord be both merciful and just?“ He then asked, expressing the beliefs of some, “How can He save some individuals we, on earth, may feel don’t merit being saved, yet condemn those who lack the knowledge of Jesus and thus the opportunity to be saved?”
He went on to ask how the scriptures show that God’s word is clear in His expectations and requirements of His children.
“Does the Lord say one thing and then do something different—changing the rules in the middle of the game, or changing the score after the game?” he asked. “The answer seems to be a clear-cut no. A perfectly just God will change neither the rules of the game nor the final score, so to speak. To do so would not be just. But that fact of life—the eternal law of justice, in and of itself—also raises difficult questions and real-life dilemmas.”
Since there are exceptions or provisions for the many who have not had or will not have the opportunity to learn of the gospel while on the earth, there needs to be mercy, he taught.
“The Lord’s arms of saving mercy are outstretched to all peoples of the earth in all dispensations of time,” Brother Top said. “Neither the exclusivists nor the universalists are right. The plan of salvation, revealed in this dispensation through the Prophet Joseph Smith, with its unique provisions for those who never had an opportunity to come unto Christ, cuts a new path between the two.”
The justice of God requires that all be judged according to men in the flesh—meaning that the standard or law by which men can receive salvation is the same for all, he said. “There are no sliding scales, grades on the curve, bargain days, or backroom deals. That is justice. Yet humankind will be judged ‘according to the desire of their hearts’ and by whether they ‘live according to God in the spirit’—meaning that all will be given a full and fair opportunity, in this life or the next, to hear the gospel, understand its principles, feel the Spirit bear witness of its truth, and choose either to have faith in Christ and submit to His gospel or to reject it. That is mercy.”