I think that it can sometimes be difficult to clearly explain the law of justice and the law of mercy, and how the atonement fits into this. It’s kind of deeper doctrine that can seem a little abstract. Anyway, I found this object lesson to be quite clever- a great way to help visualize these concepts and make the principles more concrete. This idea came to me while reading Alma 34:16 on my mission, and it just clicked, so I wanted to share.
Hopefully I’ll explain it in a way so it’s easily understood. If you have any questions or insights to add, please comment below!
What you’ll need:
What each object represents:
Pin = Sin (Law of Justice)
Tape = Atonement of Jesus Christ (Law of Mercy)
Balloon = Your eternal potential (Ability to become like & return to live with Heavenly Father)
*I’ll expand on this later in the post
Scriptures to prayerfully study:
Mosiah 15 & 16
Alma 34 (especially verses 8-17 & 30-34)
The Importance of the Atonement
I think whenever we teach about the atonement it’s important to emphasize the crucialness of the atonement, by somehow painting a picture of what things would be like without it. This is exactly what many prophets in the Book of Mormon did, such as King Benjamin, Abinadi, Alma, etc.
It’s important because, if we truly understand the needfulness of the atonement, it makes us more likely to exercise the faith and repentance necessary to make the atonement work in our lives. But if its importance doesn’t sink deeply enough into our hearts, we’re likely to take it for granted and not be as motivated to take the steps to apply the atonement to ourselves.
It is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.” (Alma 34:9)
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to use the terms Atonement and Mercy synonymously here (since the atonement is what brings about the law of mercy).
Balloon & Tape Object Lesson
Important Principles to Understand:
1. The Law of Justice
What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:25)
God abides by the law of justice. This is His law.
The law of justice is like the law of gravity or any other law of physics. When you walk off a diving board, there’s a natural consequence. When you put a pin through a balloon, it pops. You can’t avoid the consequence- it’s inevitable. Likewise, if we sin, there is a punishment: separation from God’s presence, because “no unclean thing can enter into the presence of God.” (1 Nephi 10:21)
Let’s suppose for a minute that there were no atonement. If you made a mistake, even once, in your life, you would be banished from Heavenly Father’s presence forever. You blew it- no second chances. That’s how the law of justice works.
(To demonstrate this, you might even want to have two balloons, so that you can pop one and use the other later).
2. The Law of Mercy
Thankfully, there is an atonement. We all have sinned, but because of the atonement, there is a second chance. The law of mercy can balance out the law of justice.
Put a piece of masking tape on the balloon and ask someone to stick the pin through the balloon where the tape is. (The balloon should not pop).
Explain that the tape represents the atonement and then discuss the following scriptures:
- Alma 34:15-16
This being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.”
“And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety”
(I love this! It fits so perfectly into the balloon analogy!)
- Mosiah 15:8-9
And thus God breaketh the bands of death, having gained the victory over death; giving the Son power to make intercession for the children of men—
Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.”
Explain that the tape is what protects the balloon from being “exposed to the whole demands of the law of justice,” just as Jesus Christ, through his atonement, stands between us and justice, if we will take advantage of his atonement.
3. We Must Do Our Part
It’s important to emphasize that–even though Christ atoned for our sins– if we don’t repent and take the steps required to access God’s mercy, it’s as if there were no atonement made.
Suggested scriptures to read/discuss:
- Mosiah 16:4-5
But remember that he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him. Therefore he is as though there was no redemption made, being an enemy to God”
- Alma 34:16
And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.”
- Alma 11:41
Therefore the wicked remain as though there had been no redemption made”
Explain that not repenting of our sins is like having the masking tape right in front of us, but not applying it to our balloon. It is then exposed to the whole law of justice because there is no safety net. The atonement takes absolutely no effect in our lives if we neglect to do our part.
You could end by bearing testimony and expressing gratitude for the atonement of Jesus Christ.
* * * *
One other thought I had to expand on this –
If you use a helium balloon it makes the analogy even more powerful. Because, if you let go the balloon will float heavenward, symbolic of our ability to return to God’s presence and reach our full potential! (Does that make sense?) You could even take this object lesson outside for more of a dramatic effect. Once the tape is applied, show that, despite our inevitable mistakes, the atonement makes it possible for us to still be able to return home.
Disclaimer: I’m not claiming that this is a perfect analogy. (I think any analogy can probably be extrapolated too far until it no longer makes sense). But I do think it does an excellent job of getting the message across of the basic concepts of the atonement, the laws of justice/mercy and how they work together for our good.