Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal.

Here’s the full context:

16 Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul.

17 Now, how could a man repent except he should sin? How could he sin if there was no law? How could there be a law save there was a punishment?

18 Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man.

19 Now, if there was no law given—if a man murdered he should die—would he be afraid he would die if he should murder?

20 And also, if there was no law given against sin men would not be afraid to sin.

21 And if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either, for they would have no claim upon the creature?

22 But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.

23 But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.

24 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.

That’s from Alma’s commandments to his son Corianton.

At a primitive level, Alma is saying that without punishment we wouldn’t have any motivation to repent. But he’s also saying something more fundamental.

Choices have to have consequences to be meaningful. If every choice leads to the same outcome, the choice doesn’t matter. For something to be a sin, there has to be a punishment (I’m using punishment broadly to mean any kind of unfavorable consequence). Otherwise the choice to sin wouldn’t matter. But the choice to repent should also matter. So a meaningful choice to forsake sins is only possible if forsaking your sins leads to some kind of good consequence or avoids a bad consequence. Repentance, in other words, can only exist if sin is otherwise punished.

The same might be said of forgiveness.

We are attuned to Satan’s attempts to strip of us our agency and exaltation through force. We understand that fascism is devilish. We are less attuned to his attempts to strip us of our agency and exaltation through unbounded affirmation and an unlimited therapeutic, nonjudgmental approach to life. Call it pink fascism. It is also devilish.

Christ suffered for our sins. But for our self-actualizing acts of self-expression? Those we are stuck with forever.

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