Last October, President Russell M. Nelson challenged us to consider how our lives would be different if our “knowledge gained from the Book of Mormon were suddenly taken away.”1 I have pondered on his question, as I am sure many of you have. One thought has come again and again—without the Book of Mormon and its clarity about the doctrine of Christ and His atoning sacrifice, where would I turn for peace?
The doctrine of Christ—which consists of the saving principles and ordinances of faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end—is taught numerous times in all the scriptures of the Restoration but with particular power in the Book of Mormon.2 The doctrine begins with faith in Christ, and every one of its elements depends upon trust in His atoning sacrifice.
As President Nelson has taught, “The Book of Mormon provides the fullest and most authoritative understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to be found anywhere.”3 The more we understand about the Savior’s supernal gift, the more we will come to know, in our minds and in our hearts,4 the reality of President Nelson’s assurance that “the truths of the Book of Mormon have the power to heal, comfort, restore, succor, strengthen, console, and cheer our souls.”5
A vital and peace-giving contribution of the Book of Mormon to our understanding of the Savior’s Atonement is its teaching that Christ’s merciful sacrifice fulfills all the demands of justice. As Alma explained, “God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.”6 The Father’s plan of mercy7—what the scriptures also call the plan of happiness8 or the plan of salvation9—could not be accomplished unless all the demands of justice were satisfied.
But what exactly are the “demands of justice”? Consider Alma’s own experience. Remember that as a young man, Alma went about seeking “to destroy the church.”10 In fact, Alma told his son Helaman that he was “tormented with the pains of hell” because he had effectively “murdered many of [God’s] children” by leading “them away unto destruction.”11
Alma explained to Helaman that peace finally came to him when his “mind caught hold” on his father’s teaching “concerning the coming of … Jesus Christ … to atone for the sins of the world.”12 A penitent Alma pleaded for Christ’s mercy13 and then felt joy and relief when he realized that Christ had atoned for his sins and paid all that justice required. Again, what would justice have required of Alma? As Alma himself later taught, “No unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God.”14 Thus, part of Alma’s relief must have been that unless mercy interceded, justice would have prevented him from returning to live with Heavenly Father.15
But was Alma’s joy focused solely on himself—on his avoiding punishment and his being able to return to the Father? We know that Alma also agonized about those whom he had led away from the truth.16 But Alma himself could not heal and restore all those he had led away. He could not himself ensure that they would be given a fair opportunity to learn the doctrine of Christ and to be blessed by living its joyful principles. He could not bring back those who may have died still blinded by his false teaching.
As President Boyd K. Packer once taught: “The thought that rescued Alma … is this: Restoring what you cannot restore, healing the wound you cannot heal, fixing that which you broke and you cannot fix is the very purpose of the atonement of Christ.”17 The joyous truth on which Alma’s mind “caught hold” was not just that he himself could be made clean but also that those whom he had harmed could be healed and made whole.
Years before Alma was rescued by this reassuring doctrine, King Benjamin had taught about the breadth of healing offered by the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. King Benjamin declared that “glad tidings of great joy” were given him “by an angel from God.”18 Among those glad tidings was the truth that Christ would suffer and die for our sins and mistakes to ensure that “a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.”19
What exactly does a “righteous judgment” require? In the next verse, King Benjamin explained that to ensure a righteous judgment, the Savior’s blood atoned “for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam” and for those “who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.”20 A righteous judgment also required, he taught, that “the blood of Christ atoneth for” the sins of little children.21
These scriptures teach a glorious doctrine: the Savior’s atoning sacrifice heals, as a free gift, those who sin in ignorance—those to whom, as Jacob put it, “there is no law given.”22 Accountability for sin depends on the light we have been given and hinges on our ability to exercise our agency.23 We know this healing and comforting truth only because of the Book of Mormon and other Restoration scripture.24
Of course, where there is a law given, where we are not ignorant of the will of God, we are accountable. As King Benjamin emphasized: “Wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.”25
This too is glad tidings of the doctrine of Christ. Not only does the Savior heal and restore those who sin in ignorance, but also, for those who sin against the light, the Savior offers healing on the condition of repentance and faith in Him.26
Alma must have “caught hold” of both these truths. Would Alma truly have felt what he describes as “exquisite … joy”27 if he thought that Christ saved him but left forever harmed those he had led away from the truth? Surely not. For Alma to feel complete peace, those he harmed also needed the opportunity to be made whole.
But how exactly would they—or those we may harm—be made whole? Although we do not fully understand the sacred mechanics by which the Savior’s atoning sacrifice heals and restores, we do know that to ensure a righteous judgment, the Savior will clear away the underbrush of ignorance and the painful thorns of hurt caused by others.28 By this He ensures that all God’s children will be given the opportunity, with unobscured vision, to choose to follow Him and accept the great plan of happiness.29
It is these truths that would have brought Alma peace. And it is these truths that should bring us great peace as well. As natural men and women, we all bump, or sometimes crash, into each other and cause harm. As any parent can testify, the pain associated with our mistakes is not simply the fear of our own punishment but the fear that we may have limited our children’s joy or in some way hindered them from seeing and understanding the truth. The glorious promise of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice is that as far as our mistakes as parents are concerned, He holds our children blameless and promises healing for them.30 And even when they have sinned against the light—as we all do—His arm of mercy is outstretched,31 and He will redeem them if they will but look to Him and live.32
Although the Savior has power to mend what we cannot fix, He commands us to do all we can to make restitution as part of our repentance.33 Our sins and mistakes displace not only our relationship with God but also our relationships with others. Sometimes our efforts to heal and restore may be as simple as an apology, but other times restitution may require years of humble effort.34 Yet, for many of our sins and mistakes, we simply are not able to fully heal those we have hurt. The magnificent, peace-giving promise of the Book of Mormon and the restored gospel is that the Savior will mend all that we have broken.35 And He will also mend us if we turn to Him in faith and repent of the harm we have caused.36 He offers both of these gifts because He loves all of us with perfect love37 and because He is committed to ensuring a righteous judgment that honors both justice and mercy. I testify this is true in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.