I haven’t read the Book of Mormon nearly as many times as I should have throughout my life, but every time I do, I find a new theme to focus on. This past year as I was reading, it was that Our Heavenly Father is so merciful. We often think of justice belonging to Heavenly Father and Jesus making mercy possible, and that is true, but it is Heavenly Father’s perfect, merciful plan that allows us imperfect beings to return to Him through the sacrifice of His son.
Over and over in the Book of Mormon, Heavenly Father gives people second (and third and fourth…) chances to repent and come unto Him. How many times did Laman and Lemuel do the opposite of what they were taught to do, and yet angels came to warn them and they had other experiences to try to get them to change. When I read it, I just think, “Look what they’ve done. They don’t want to change. Why give them another chance?” Or “Heavenly Father knows King Noah isn’t going to believe Abinadi. Why send him there?” Of course, there are many reasons in each case, like that Alma believed him and that Abinadi had the chance to prove himself faithful and obedient. But I think it is also that Heavenly Father loves all of His children and wishes that we would all return to Him, which we can only do if we repent and believe the words of the prophets.
It has saddened me to hear people sometimes say that the gospel makes them depressed because no matter what they do, they can’t do all of the many things we are asked to do. The gospel is supposed to give us joy! If we truly understand Heavenly Father’s plan, we can know that Heavenly Father doesn’t expect us to be perfect in this life. Yes, it is a commandment to progress and even to be perfect, but not to be perfect here and now.
“I believe the Lord meant just what he said: that we should be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. That will not come all at once, but line upon line, and precept upon precept, example upon example, and even then not as long as we live in this mortal life, for we will have to go even beyond the grave before we reach that perfection and shall be like God.”
President Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 2:18–19.
I have thought (to my not very humble self) that the person (Laman, King Noah, whoever) doesn’t deserve another chance because of their actions. Guess what. They don’t and neither do I! I may not murder or lead people away from Jesus, but I do sin every day and I cannot take those sins away by myself. The Gospel Topics online definition at LDS.org helped me see what mercy really is.
“Mercy is the compassionate treatment of a person greater than what is deserved, and it is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Our Heavenly Father knows our weaknesses and sins. He shows mercy when He forgives us of our sins and helps us return to dwell in His presence.”
One video that I used in my Sunday school class, was “The Mediator” with Elder Packer. I especially love the part near the end where they show the creditor (Jesus) remove the shackles from the debtor and throw them to the ground. That is such a vivid picture for me of what He really does and how we are trapped in sin without Him.
“Unless there is a mediator, unless we have a friend, the full weight of justice untempered, unsympathetic, must, positively must fall on us. The full recompense for every transgression, however minor or however deep, will be exacted from us to the uttermost farthing.”
Boyd K. Packer, “The Mediator,” Ensign, May 1977, 54
By reading and studying the Book of Mormon, as well as the Bible(Jonah, the people of Ninevah, David...), I have learned that Heavenly Father is waiting anxiously to welcome us back. If we but knock, one small step, the door will be thrown open for us, with Jesus waiting with outstretched arms. That is not to say that repentance is easy, but if we just begin, He is there for us and we are never alone.
"By understanding the Atonement, you will see that God is not a jealous being who delights in persecuting those who misstep. He is an absolutely perfect, compassionate, understanding, patient, and forgiving Father. He is willing to entreat, counsel, strengthen, lift, and fortify. He so loves each of us that He was willing to have His perfect, sinless, absolutely obedient, totally righteous Son experience indescribable agony and pain and give Himself in sacrifice for all. Through that atonement we can live in a world where absolute justice reigns in its sphere so the world will have order. But that justice is tempered through mercy attainable by obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ."
Richard G. Scott, "Finding Forgiveness," Ensign, May 1995, p. 75