written about 15 years ago
Many years ago when I appeared for jury duty in our small town, I never expected to learn a lesson on the Atonement. It was just a small traffic court and our case was a woman who had received a ticket for speeding. Though the woman claimed she had stayed within the limit, she also expressed her opinion that the speed limits in town were too low. The policeman reported that he had clocked her going ten miles an hour over the speed limit, and that he had just had his radar gun calibrated the week before.
After listening to the evidence, the six of us on the jury were escorted to another room where we were to make a decision. We sat around a table, then, looking each other in the eye, five of us declared, “Guilty”, but one older woman didn’t agree. We told the police chief who was standing guard at the door. He touched the gun on his belt and informed us that we would not leave that room until we came to a unanimous decision, no matter how long it took. Sobered, we all returned to the table. We asked the older woman why she didn’t think this woman was guilty. She replied that she thought it would be mean to have the woman pay a fine. I felt a rising sense of panic. How long would I be here? I had a school program to attend that evening for one of my children, and it was now late afternoon. I looked at the police chief again and knew that he really would keep us in that room until we agreed.
With new determination and desperation, five of us began to explain why we believed this woman was guilty. We reviewed the evidence and how reliable the tracking device was. We reminded her that it had just been checked, but she once again stated that this seemed like a nice woman and she didn’t want her to have to pay a fine. A picture of me having dinner in that room and sleeping on the floor appeared in my mind.
Hours passed as we found ourselves explaining basic principles. We told how we had a duty to support our police officers when they were trying to do the job we were asking them to perform. This young officer would be in trouble if we didn’t support him. Our law in town would be meaningless if we didn’t uphold it. It was just to insist that the punishment for breaking the law be enforced. As responsible citizens, it was our duty to support our laws and law officers.
Finally, the woman agreed with us, and, at last, we could tell the police chief that our vote was unanimous. He silently escorted us back into the court room where the judge and woman who was being tried were waiting. We had to face her as the verdict was given. I looked at her with compassion filling my heart. She had expressed that she didn’t have much money, and I wanted to help her. I knew there must be justice, and I knew we had to uphold our laws, but I still wished I could pay her fine for her.
Suddenly, I realized that we had someone, our Savior, who has paid all our “fines” for us. That’s the moment the Atonement became something I could really understand. I saw that we need the security, order, and peace that justice brings. We need to be able to depend on Heavenly Father. Justice is a good and necessary thing, but without mercy we can’t grow and progress. We make so many mistakes, but are unable to make things right again on our own. In that court room I came to understand how essential the Atonement is, for mercy “can not rob justice”. The price for disobeying the law must be paid. I am so grateful that our Savior loved us enough to give us the opportunity to have all our “tickets” marked “paid in full”.