Mercy--as told by the Joseph Smith Translation
In a previous post I spoke of the corrections which Joseph Smith made to the parable of the ten virgins. These were a great blessing to my life because of the powerful way in which they corrected my perception of the Savior. Today, I wish to add a very similar experience which I had with a story from John 8.
Where confusion enters is that even though the Savior showed mercy to this woman in sparing her life, He did not instantly forgive her of her sins. Former President Spencer W. Kimball taught that lesson in The Miracle of Forgiveness when he wrote:
Note that the Lord did not forgive the woman of her serious sin. He commanded quietly, but forcefully. "Go, and sin no more." Even Christ cannot forgive one in sin. The woman had neither time nor opportunity to repent totally. When her preparation and repentance there complete she could hope for forgiveness, but not before then.
The story as recorded in John ends with the Savior's command to sin no more, but Joseph Smith added a very crucial verse to this story. His translation of verse 11 reads:
And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more. And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name.
John 8: 11 (emphasis added)
Because this story as recorded in John 8 doesn't express the woman's faith, it allows the self-righteous to question her repentance, and the exact nature of the Savior's wisdom and mercy. When they present that the Savior instantly made this woman clean of all sin and forgave her on the spot, they cheapen His mercy and His justice.
They misunderstand the weight of what this woman did, and how merciful it is for the Savior not to condemn her to death. Because she was remorseful for what she had done, the Savior was still able to save her from what she had done. Christ Himself has said:
39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
The self-righteous also misunderstand the nature of God's justice, and the need for sin to have a consequence. The punishment for adultery was for the accuser and the witnesses to stone the accused to death. If the accuser or the witnesses had taken part in the crime, then their piety would require them to admit that they also stand condemned with her. When the Savior says, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her," He is revealing to her accusers that He knows their conspiracy. Because one does not usually catch a woman in adultery without catching a man, he doubtlessly was one of her accusers, attempting to testify against her. Their piety, their desire for justice, was only a deception.
God will not be mocked in His justice, nor denied in showing anyone mercy who will truly receive Him. Justice and mercy are different words for the same love of our Savior, and in His heart there is no distinction between them. Mercy is Justice, and Justice is Mercy--which is the paradox I've come to love about Him most of all. As one who has needed that perfect love, I delight every time I see Him extend that love to someone else. From watching Him do so in my life and the life of others, I know the desire and objective of His heart.
A woman, who has committed sexual transgression--which in the eyes of God is second only to murder and denying the Holy Ghost--finds salvation in His sacrifice. Eyes bright with faith and relief, a heart that rejoices because there is a way back from what she has done. Her mistake, though real, is only temporary because a loving God will not leave her stranded in her sin.
As one who joined the Church as a convert, I struggled for many years to understand that because I repented when I was baptized, I was forgiven of my sins from my previous life. That ordinance was an outward sign I could always look to in remembrance of that repentance and forgiveness. In time, I would begin to realize that I didn't need to hold myself responsible for mistakes I'd made anymore. Doing so was making me into an inward pharisee towards myself. It was keeping me from the wholeness and faith to which repentance was supposed to lead me. My mistakes weren't mine to claim anymore, and justice wasn't mine to exact--even to express remorse for what I had done. The lessons and discipleship were mine to claim, but not the mistakes.
I know that Jesus Christ has that power. Through the sacrifice of His Atonement, sins become the remnants of our experience--cast off and forgotten. As we give ourselves to Him, to the ordinances which signify of the repentance we seek, the Holy Ghost kindles that fire brighter and brighter in our lives, to the total consumption of all our sin.
To undergo that process is to be baptized by fire, and to receive the perfect brightness of hope which is only received through Jesus Christ. It is to live the gospel of Jesus Christ--to understand and become one simple truth:
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
Doctrine and Covenants 50: 24
I bear that witness in the name of Jesus Christ who makes all things possible, even all forgiveness. Amen.