Why Justice is Not Mercy’s Evil Twin


Let’s be honest: when compared with mercy, justice gets a bad rep.

We may say we like it, but what if the evidence says that we love mercy much more? When bearing testimony, we may wax eloquent on God’s benevolence. When we study the scriptures, perhaps we highlight the verses that focus on compassion, but when we read about hellfire and damnation, we either skim through it or get uncomfortable and start asking questions.

Here’s a question: Do we really know what justice is?

The LDS Guide to the Scriptures defines justice as “the unfailing consequence of blessings for righteous thoughts and acts, and punishment for unrepented sin.”

Notice that there are two key parts of justice:

  1. Blessings for righteous acts.

2. Punishment for sin.

Let’s take a deeper look at each of these components.

Blessings for Righteous Acts

gift, present, blessingSurprisingly, when we talk about justice, we sometimes forget this part.

For instance, did you know that this scripture is about justice?

“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

-Doctrine and Covenants 130:20-21

So when you keep the Law of Tithing and you get that unexpected check in the mail, or you develop better techniques for conserving your finances, or your family grows closer together, that’s justice.

When you follow the Word of Wisdom and your body, spirit and mind are healthy, that’s justice.

If you follow the law, you get the blessing.

Sometimes the blessing is delayed, even until the next life. For instance, you may follow the Word of Wisdom and still get terminal cancer and find yourself lying on a hospital bed. But you also know that in the next life, you truly will “run and not be weary, and walk and not faint.” Justice will be served.

There’s a difference, however, between a sense of justice and a sense of entitlement. Entitlement implies ingratitude. Those who truly understand justice recognize that blessings come from God. When they are received, there is a feeling of appreciation for His devotion and constancy.

After all, we cannot receive any blessings unless justice is accompanied by mercy. The perfect balance of justice and mercy is only made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For none of us are perfect; “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And are we not all beggars? Do we not depend upon God for all we have? In a sense, we don’t deserve any of the blessings we get, but because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, the law of justice and mercy can wield their full power in our lives.

Punishment for Sin

arrest, punishment, handcuffsLet’s talk about vengeance for a minute.

The Guide to the Scriptures defines vengeance as “revenge or retaliation for an injury or offense.”

In a secular context, vengeance usually has a negative connotation. We often associate it with a person’s misguided attempt to take justice into their own hands as a way to feel better after a personal wrong.

Yet God tells us, “Vengeance is mine.” Can a perfect, loving God truly be vengeful?

The answer is yes.

In scriptural terms, vengeance is just another name for this second component of justice: punishment for sin. There are no misguided actions here; there is only complete understanding, fairness, and equality. Only God is able to fully and intimately comprehend our motivations and actions, and therefore only He can judge the perfect punishment.

Of course, there are moments in all of our lives when we will also have to take action for wrongs done to us and others. Whether as a judge in a courtroom, a victim of a wrong, a parent, a member of the Church, or just your average human being, we can’t escape making judgment calls. Elder Oaks, who also happens to have been a former judge, offers excellent guidelines on how to make good judgments as we navigate confusing and painful life events. But as Elder Oaks explains, only God can make the final call.

As is written in the Preach My Gospel Manual, “All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

The beauty of this principle lies not only in justice for victims but also in its love for sinners.

Have you ever been chastised, whether by God or a human being, but all you felt was love? That’s probably because you knew that the chastisement was based on reality and that it would ultimately help you progress.

When God chastens (i.e. punishes) us for our sins, it is always an act of love. God Himself said to Joseph Smith,

“Whom I love, I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation.”

-Doctrine and Covenants 95:1

So whether demonstrated as blessings for righteous acts or punishment for sin, the justice of God is the love of God. Now that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

Melanie is a content writer for MormonHub. She is an idealistic lover of wisdom, a soaker-upper of stories, and a lover of laughter. She has enjoyed writing since her childhood. She also delights in music, literature, religion, psychology, travel, hiking and nature.