We’re all familiar with Alma 42 and the notion that mercy can’t rob justice. I was reading this today at church and was struck by a context that often doesn’t get mentioned. In the ancient world relationships often determined actions. This meant special treatment for friends and especially relations. In Greek philosophy and plays you often see the key tension being between familial relationships and justice. The idea is that justice is what one should do if one wasn’t related. It’s the idea of being no respecter of persons. The very notion of justice in the middle east starting during this era is this more objective treatment.
Rereading Alma 42 in this way the conflict is between objective fairness & equality against family relationship duties that sidestep justice. Thus the Atonement is attempting to reconcile these two drives. What’s interesting is that the motivations in question aren’t those of the individual but of God. That is the question is what God should do.
The chapter really doesn’t explain how the Atonement does this. The key part of the argument is verse 15 which defines the Atonement by what it accomplishes – satisfying justice so that God can be merciful. Unlike many accounts, the emphasis appears to be on the resurrection as Atonement that brings people back to God to be judged. While not completely explicit, the idea appears to be the common restoration theme we read about in Alma. What is restored though is the completion of the person’s goals.
If you remember back a few months I talked about how truth functions in Alma 32. Truth is a property of things themselves rather than language about things. A thing is true if it reveals itself to be the thing it portrays itself as. That is if a thing is reliable as the thing it is. The restoration and resurrection functions in Alma as a way of completing the revelation of what a thing is. Thus God can be just because he is judging things in their completion. Penitence thus is how we manifest the type of thing we are so that God can be just in his judgement in terms of the totality of what we are.