Only The Penitent Shall Pass? Balancing Justice vs. Mercy

In a nail-biting scene from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, our hero faces a series of deathly trials for a chance to find the legendary Holy Grail (goblet from Christ’s last supper). The pressure is on and the clock is ticking now as Indy’s father lies dying – with the only hope for survival to drink from that Cup of Eternal Life his son seeks. The cryptic clue for passing the first test reads “Only The Penitent Man Shall Pass.”

In a dramatic last-ditch moment, Indy suddenly realizes what would symbolize being truly “Penitent“, allowing him to escape certain death. Here’s a clip from the scene:

pen·i·tent  ˈpenətnt/
  1. adjective: feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong; repentant.
  2. noun: a person who repents their sins or wrongdoings and (in the Christian Church) seeks forgiveness from God.

Penitent begins with a feeling and leads to an action. A “Penitent Man (or Woman)” feels sorrow for sin, and seeks forgiveness from God. It is taking advantage of the beautiful Gift of Repentance which can set the scales of Justice and Mercy back into perfect balance.


“For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.” – Alma 42:24

I never noticed until today that in this scripture justice is referred to in the masculine, and mercy as feminine. Did you? Perhaps it’s meant as subtle symbolism of ‘stern‘ versus ‘gentle‘.

Here are some great quotes to ponder about how Penitence, Justice and Mercy work together in our life:


President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, put it this way:


“Justice can seem to be so very demanding. But we must learn that when we put everything as right as we can put it right, it is Justice who invokes the Atonement, orders the adversary off our property, and posts the notice that his agents will make no more collections from us. Our debt will have been paid in full by the only perfect pure person who ever lived.”

Boyd K. Packer, The Things of the Soul (1996), pg. 56

You have to admit, that’s a really cool quote! Take a minute to read it again. I can’t help myself imagining Jesus yelling to a bunch of satanic debt collectors “This is my [child’s] lawn – Get off!”




Our Savior Jesus Christ has done, and continues to do so much for us! It is only because of His willing mediation and selfless sacrifice that we can live forever, return to the presence of our Father in Heaven, and gain our Eternal Glory. His Atonement has provided the power for the debt of Justice to be paid.

He taught us that we have a responsibility in this process: To serve Him with all of our hearts and to keep all of His commandments. When we fall short of those requirements – which we all will – then we are given the offer to undergo a life-saving “trial” by becoming penitent; humbly kneeling before Him, sincerely pleading for His forgiveness. We pass the test, allowing Justice to “lock & load”, “evict the creditors” and return the scale back in balance with Mercy.

The Cup of Eternal Life is within our grasp.

What a gift! – MoSop


  1. I once heard a man say, that even if you were the only person in the history of the world who sinned, Jesus would have still come and died just to make salvation possible for you. When you think about what it cost Him just to cover your sin, how could you not repent. As soon as I do something I shouldn’t, I know it. Not because He condemns me, but because my conscience convicts me. We should all stay in a state of repentance. It would be great if we didn’t need to, but I know I do. Your blog is a wonderful example of this. No one is free from sinning, but thanks to Jesus, we can be free of sin.



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