Then I had a third thought. How grateful I was that, in addition to just being just, God decided, because he is who he is, that he had to be a merciful God also. We don’t need to take the time to read all of Alma 42, but you ought to sometime. After Alma had established with Corianton that God had to be just, it was then determined that that same God would have to be merciful as well and that mercy would claim the penitent. Now, the reason that thought was different to me was that I’d just been where they had added i-a-r-y to that word. That thought gave me encouragement. Mercy could claim the penitent. I decided that if those men had to go to the penitentiary to take advantage of the gift of mercy, if somehow by going there they found the gospel of Jesus Christ or the scriptures or the Atonement or any of those things that might lead to the others, then their imprisonment was worth it. Let’s go to the penitentiary, or let’s go to the bishop, or let’s go to the Lord or to those that we’ve offended or to those that have offended us. Our own little penitentiaries, I suppose, are all around us. If that’s what it takes to make us truly penitent, to enable us to lay claim to the gift of mercy, then we have to do it. I know it isn’t easy to go back and to undo and to start again and to make a new beginning, but I believe with all my heart that it is easier and surely more satisfying to begin anew than to go on and try to believe that justice will not take its toll. As Richard L. Evans was fond of saying, “What’s the use of running if you’re on the wrong road?” A favorite British scholar said, using the same metaphor: I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A [mathematical] sum [incorrectly worked] can be put right; but only by going back till you find the error and then working it fresh from that point. [It will] never [be corrected] by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot “develop” into good, [worlds without end]. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound. So God is just, but mercy claimeth the penitent and the evil can be undone.
I have not, to my knowledge, in my ministry said anything more important. I intend to talk about the Lord, Jesus Christ, about what He really did—and why it matters now. One may ask, “Aside from the influence He has had on society, what effect can He have on me individually?” To answer that question I ask, have you ever been hard-pressed financially? Have you ever been confronted with an unexpected expense, a mortgage coming due, with really no idea how to pay it? Such an experience, however unpleasant, can be, in the eternal scheme of things, very, very useful. If you miss that lesson you may have to make it up before you are spiritually mature, like a course that was missed or a test that was failed. That may be what the Lord had in mind when He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” Those who have faced a foreclosure know that one looks helplessly around, hoping for someone, anyone, to come to the rescue. This lesson is so valuable because there is a spiritual account, with a balance kept and a settlement due, that no one of us will escape. To understand this spiritual debt we must speak of such intangibles as love, faith, mercy, justice. Although these virtues are both silent and invisible, surely I do not need to persuade you that they are real. We learn of them by processes that are often silent and invisible as well. . We become so accustomed to learning through our physical senses—by sight and sound and smell, by taste and touch—that some of us seem to learn in no other way. But there are spiritual things that are not registered that way at all. Some things we simply feel, not as we feel something we touch, but as we feel something we feel. There are things, spiritual things, that are registered in our minds and recorded in our memories as pure knowledge. A knowledge of “things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass.” As surely as we know about material things, we can come to know of spiritual things. Each of us, without exception, one day will settle that spiritual account. We will, that day, face a judgment for our doings in mortal life and face a foreclosure of sorts.
I do not know the details of what happened on this planet before that, but I do know these two were created under the divine hand of God, that for a time they lived alone in a paradisiacal setting where there was neither human death nor future family, and that through a sequence of choices they transgressed a commandment of God which required that they leave their garden setting but which allowed them to have children before facing physical death.3 To add further sorrow and complexity to their circumstance, their transgression had spiritual consequences as well, cutting them off from the presence of God forever. Because we were then born into that fallen world and because we too would transgress the laws of God, we also were sentenced to the same penalties that Adam and Eve faced. What a plight! The entire human race in free fall—every man, woman, and child in it physically tumbling toward permanent death, spiritually plunging toward eternal anguish. Is that what life was meant to be? Is this the grand finale of the human experience? Are we all just hanging in a cold canyon somewhere in an indifferent universe, each of us searching for a toehold, each of us seeking for something to grip—with nothing but the feeling of sand sliding under our fingers, nothing to save us, nothing to hold on to, much less anything to hold on to us? Is our only purpose in life an empty existential exercise—simply to leap as high as we can, hang on for our prescribed three score years and ten, then fail and fall, and keep falling forever? The answer to those questions is an unequivocal and eternal no! With prophets ancient and modern, I testify that “all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.” Thus, from the moment those first parents stepped out of the Garden of Eden, the God and Father of us all, anticipating Adam and Eve’s decision, dispatched the very angels of heaven to declare to them—and down through time to us—that this entire sequence was designed for our eternal happiness. It was part of His divine plan, which provided for a Savior, the very Son of God Himself—another “Adam,” the Apostle Paul would call Him—who would come in the meridian of time to atone for the first Adam’s transgression. That Atonement would achieve complete victory over physical death, unconditionally granting resurrection to every person who has been born or ever will be born into this world. Mercifully it would also provide forgiveness for the personal sins of all, from Adam to the end of the world, conditioned upon repentance and obedience to divine commandments.