Coming Home in a Pine Box

At various times and in various places I have heard it said that it would be better for a person to come home in a pine box than to come home unclean.

Marion G. Romney reported that his father said the following to him just as he was boarding the train to go on a mission: “My son, you are going a long way from home. Your mother and I, and your brothers and sisters, will be with you constantly in our thoughts and prayers; we shall rejoice with you in your successes, and we shall sorrow with you in your disappointments. When you are released and return, we shall be glad to greet you and welcome you back into the family circle. But remember this, my son: we would rather come to this station and take your body off the train in a casket than to have you come home unclean, having lost your virtue.”

This is one of those statements that can be inspiring or evil–depending on how one understands it.

One way to understand the statement

If, by the statement, we mean that sin is worse than death, then it is in defiance of everything Jesus said and did. He was the One who cherished the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee. He was the One who left the 99 to reclaim the one. He was and is the friend of publicans and sinners. He is the One who paid an infinite and eternal price so that He could reclaim all of us from our sins.

A different way of understanding the statement

If, by the statement, we mean that choosing a life of sin is more miserable than suffering death, then we are right. Wickedness never was happiness. It is always ugly and miserable. Satan glamorizes sin. But he is a liar from the beginning. Sin is always a downer. That is a timely and timeless message.

But let’s return to the first interpretation, the troubling one. If God believed that sinning was the ultimate awfulness, He would not have sent us to this place where sin is inevitable. The fact is that learning and growth are more important than cleanliness. So God sent us to a dirty place where all sin and come short of the glory of God. But He didn’t do it because He was indifferent to sin. He sent us here in order to facilitate our growth. And, knowing that we would become soiled by our mortality, He provided a Savior for us so that we can return to be with Him.

The ugliness of sin

None of this recommends a careless attitude toward sin. Most of us hate it, resist it, and cry out for mercy. We do all we can to avoid it. Harry Emerson Fosdick (1918) expressed the disciple’s attitude toward sin better than I can:

[Man] wallows in vice, wins by cruelty, violates love, is treacherous to trust.  His sins clothe the world in lamentation.  Yet in him is a protest…He hates his sin even while he commits it.  He repents, tries again, falls, rises, stumbles on–and in all his best hours cries out for saviorhood.  (The Meaning of Faith, pp.19-20).

In spite of our hatred of sin, only One in the long history of this world and its billions of inhabitants has been entirely successful in avoiding it. The rest of us have been tainted. We have only one way to be clean. We throw ourselves on the merits, mercy, and grace of Him who is mighty to save.

While Satan would like us to feel that our sins and mistakes make life worse than death, Jesus invites us learn from our experience and be made holy by His redemptiveness. Without hope in Christ “we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Can I ever be worthy?

A friend of mine shared a vital experience.A youth at the detention center really impressed me.  He helped the other kids with finding verses in the scriptures.  He volunteered to play the piano and was very familiar with the hymns.  Every indication was that he was a fine well-trained Latter-day Saint.  All the while, though, he was glum and downhearted and refused to participate in discussions.  Finally, I was able, after several tries, to persuade him to have a one-on-one visit. I felt prompted to tell him my story [of addiction and recovery].  He wept and wept and wept.  When he finally regained his composure he told me of his very similar story.  Only his was worse.  Worse, in that his adoptive parents, who had loved and trained and kept him from the time he was three years old, had rejected him for his sin and refused to allow him back into their home.  The poor young man was laboring under the impression that he’d never serve a mission, be married in the Temple or be worthy of anyone’s love ever again–things he had longed for all of his life.  I guess his parents would rather he came home in a pine box too.   I bore testimony to him that he could be clean and whole and utterly acceptable to the Lord and His church.  He went on his way rejoicing to a foster home [elsewhere in the state]. I pray his new family will help him along his way.  I’m confident he’ll make it now that he knows of the power of the Redeemer.

The bright hope of Jesus

The testimony of scripture and the chorus of brethren must not be swamped by a misunderstanding. The price in pain and hopelessness would be an insult to the Redeemer.

“Is it possible to reclaim a life that through reckless abandon has become so strewn with garbage that it appears that the person is unforgivable? Or what about the one who is making an honest effort but has fallen back into sin so many times that he feels that there is no possible way to break the seemingly endless pattern? Or what about the person who has changed his life but just can’t forgive himself? . . .”The Atonement of Jesus Christ is available to each of us. His Atonement is infinite. It applies to everyone, even you. It can clean, reclaim, and sanctify even you. That is what infinite means–total, complete, all, forever.” (Shayne M. Bowen, “The Atonement Can Clean, Reclaim, and Sanctify Our Lives,” Ensign, Nov. 2006, 33-3)

When we habitually understate the meaning of the Atonement, we take more serious risks than simply leaving one another without comforting reassurances—for some may simply drop out of the race, worn out and beaten down with the harsh and untrue belief that they are just not celestial material. (pp. 5-6 Bruce C. Hafen, 1989, The broken heart. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book)

There is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the Atonement of Christ. (Boyd K. Packer, “The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 19)

We must not succumb to the false doctrine that our ability to sin exceeds His ability to redeem. We must not tell ourselves that we have fallen so badly that He can’t pick us up—or doesn’t want to pick us up. And we must not communicate that hopeless message to any of His children.

He descended below all things so that He can lift us above all things. He bore every sin and indignity so that He can lift us out of them. He is not surprised to find that we, like children who were all washed and dressed for church, have wandered off and found the mud. Time and again, He washes us off and points us toward the sacred.
It is clear that we must cheerfully do all we are able to do as we go through our earthly experience–but it will not be enough. We all must turn to Christ for cleansing, healing, and sacralizing. Only He can make us what He is.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. (2 Nephi 31:20)

42 replies on “Coming Home in a Pine Box”

My first reaction to reading the story about “coming home in a pine box” was to remind President Romney’s dad to re-read Alma:39:11. Alma’s missionary son had become “unclean, lost his virture etc” while serving his mission. However, Alma didn’t come from the Zoramites in a “pine box” In fact, his father Alma gave him some of the greatest teachings we have on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I’m sure after a period of time (probation, or disfellowshipment) his son repented and went back out on his mission. Something I’m not sure they would let a missionary do today! (maybe I’m wrong)

Another pretty common one I’ve heard around the church is the young women leader who passes around the plate of cookies with one being half eaten. Nobody wants the one with a bite taken out of it. Then she goes on to say it is the same for the girl who loses her virtue, nobody wants her either.

I personally know a girl who sat in such a lesson, who had already lost her virtue. She didn’t darken the doorway of the church for the next twenty years. And then, only after someone laboriously and tenaciously loved her long enough and well enough to show her that she was still “a daughter of God, who loves her.”

How long and hard is the laborious road we must take to recover those who are driven away by the the Pharisee in us.

Beautiful article. Just last week I attended the temple wedding of a worthy young man who was welcomed back home by the most loving and forgiving of parents. After living two years as a prodigal son, he came to himself and turned to his parents. They’ve been my best example of believing that Christ’s atonement is a working, living reality.

Kristen and Candleman-

Excellent examples of the importance of talking of Christ, preaching of Him, and prophesying of His arrival in our lives. It is so much better to speak of redemption than to dwell on hopelessness.


I grew up on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska in the sixties. Life in a frontier environment taught me early on that life can be fleeting – within a year or two of my high school graduation 5 of my former class-mates were dead from various types of accidents. Two more friends were lost in Viet-Nam.

I first encountered the “I’d rather see them dead than sinful” attitude when I started attending Ricks in 1972. I remember struggling to relate that sentiment with what I was learning about the Atonement in my religion classes….and wondering if people were actually thinking about what they were saying. I eventually concluded that living in a safe environment – being so removed from the actual threat of losing that child made it easier to mouth those words without thinking about them.

I don’t think I ever was able to completely and coherently verbalize my feelings until I read your essay today though.


I wonder what point Pres. Romney was making when he told this story. The same one you have made?
I am thankful to have hope in the atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is wonderful to know that we can keep striving.
There is a very fine line in teaching about repentance and the atonement. As can be seen by the comments, it can be taken to one extreme in that a person feels if he sins, he is forever lost. On the other hand, I’ve seen where people take it lightly and just decide to do whatever they want and they’ll repent later and all will be well. The Holy Ghost is definitely needed to teach about the wonder of the atonement so that ALL will be edified and understand.

There is a passage in the Doctrinal NT Commentary (p. 512) by Bruce R. McConkie that has bothered me since I first read it years ago. I have to believe it goes against everything we teach about the atonement.

“We may suppose that the elder son, accustomed as he was to obeying the will of his father, then went to the feast, welcomed his wayward brother in a compassionate manner, and rejoiced along with the father because the spiritually dead was born again, because he was lost to the kingdom had been reclaimed. But we need not suppose that the two sons were thereafter equal in power, honor or dominion. The inheritance of one was already wasted. As President Joseph Fielding Smith has written, “There is rejoicing in heaven over every sinner who repents; but those who are faithful and transgress not any of the commandments, shall inherit ‘all that the father hath,’ while whose who might be sons, but through their ‘riotous living’ waste their inheritance, may come back through repentance to salvation to be servants, not to inherit exaltation as sons. ” (JFS, The Way to Perfection, pp.21-22)

Oh, this upsets me. He will always be a servant he will never be a son? Aren’t we all sinners? No one except Christ did not transgress “any of the commandments.” Why would a prophet and an apostle promote such doctrine?

The message of the parable is that the reward of the faithful is in no way diminished by the blessings bestowed on the returning prodical. Whatever the Lord decides to be appropriate for the prodigal will be just and right. As Jesus said to Peter regarding John -“What is that to thee?”

I think the operative word in the last sentence of the quote from Pres McConkie is “MAY”. Read it again carefully – you can take it more than one way. If the Lord decides that the subsequent devotion and conduct of the prodigal warrants exaltation then I dont think Pres McConkie will protest! “Surely the judge of all the earth will do right.”

Hope this helps !!

“may come back through repentance to salvation to be servants, not to inherit exaltation as sons” I think the statement is clear. Even if the prodigal accomplishes “repentance to salvation”, which is all any of us can do. He will only be a servant and not a son.

In this symbolic parable from Jesus there is no equivocation. The prodigal repented. It was to encourage us all that we can come back from wherever we are. So what he was “compelled to be humble” (Alma 32) by his running out of money and eating with the pigs. God will take us any way we will come. C.S. Lewis describes the moment when he came to himself:
“ You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him who I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is the most shining and obvious thing: the Divine humility, which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape? The words…compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation. (Surprised By Joy p.228)

This statement should have been clarified by McConkie if he meant other than what it says knowing that many would misunderstand and be discouraged.

My suspicion is that this statement by Elder McConkie applies to those who never wholeheartedly embrace Jesus. It does not apply to those who fully come to themselves and throw themselves on His merits, mercy, and grace. You are SO right that we are all sinners. And, in the end, the celestials are MADE perfect by Jesus, according to D&C 76:69.

I am afraid that we have not trusted the people to be true to the love of God. So we take the scary message that applies to the unwilling and we suggest that it applies to all sinners. Yet we are all sinners! The conscientious are burdened and discouraged by a message intended for the recalcitrant.

While there are those deliberate and consistent sinners who may need the “hell” scared out of them, we amateur sinners need encouragement,invitation, and hope. And, fortunately, that is the central message of the scriptures.


“‘those who are faithful and transgress not any of the commandments, shall inherit ‘all that the father hath,’”…
Who is that, who do any of us know who doesn’t transgress any of the commandments?

Unless….unless the commandments referred to in “the law” have been fulfilled and the commandments here referred to are the requirement to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Repentance, Baptism by immersion for the REMISSION OF SINS, and receipt of the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Even those are commandments we can barely keep and must renew on a weekly basis, the others, well, we don’t really, honestly do so well do we?

I’m not suggesting we stop trying to keep the commandments in the law. But I am suggesting that if we keep the commandments referred to as the Gospel, the keeping of the other performances and commandments become the resulting blessing.

Charmain, Interesting sentiments. Clearly, the Atonement of Him Who did no sin, is infinite and eternal. On the other hand, as former YM’s leader and now as a Bishop, it is difficult to counsel with those youth who are truly trying to live a chaste life. Those who are trying to be in the “center of the Gospel” struggle as some of their peers are blatently involved in very serious moral transgression. Then when convenient, go to their bishop, go through the appropriate process, and receive forgiveness. It can be difficult to motivate and encourage to be good as some choose to go wayward, knowing that after a season of “fun and sin” they can have a temple marriage, etc. I read a quote years ago, (by whom I can’t remember) stating that forgiveness will come, but the spiritual progress missed during the time of sin, can never be reclaimed. Tough to help those keep on track who have always tried, and strayed as we all do, but only minimally. When some around seem to “enjoy” the things of the world and later the spirit.

This is a fascinating question. What about those who dabble in sin? You ask, Gary, about their enjoying sin and later repenting. I think there is a myth hiding in the human logic chain somewhere. Is sin ever as enjoyable as goodness? Maybe we should teach the joy of goodness. Maybe some young people envy those who seem to be having more fun in their lives of sin. This is where Satan’s marketing department has won a great triumph. Sin is never satisfying. It may be energizing but it never brings love, joy, and peace–those inimitable gifts from heaven. We should show and teach the blessings of godliness.

I recommend that we preach the joy of goodness steadily. I also recommend that we invite dabblers in sin into the accountability (with parents, bishops, et al.) that Alma talks about: Can you imagine yourself being brought before God . . . (Alma 5). Such a face-to-face may have the same effect it had on Alma the Younger.


I read this article in Meridian and my knee-jerk reaction was “SHAME on Pres. Romney for laying such a damning statement on his son!” Where was his Christlike compassion for his child? Why would ANY parent say he’d rather see his child dead than to sin? I understand the reasoning about wallowing in the filth of Satan’s lies, but I read it as there is no recovery from Sin while on your, especially if you are on a Mission. If this were true then there would be no reason for any of us to accept the Atonement, the great healing power of the Savior is what repentence is all about. There are so many aspects of the Atonement and this is one of the greatest aspects, to find forgiveness, to be born again in Christ, to desire to do His will, to change our lives from sin to the purity and simplicity and the safety of the Gospel. Sometimes it takes a great sin for us to appreciate the worth of our soul in the sight of God and to understand who we really are.

When Corianton messed up his mission with misbehavior, his wise father preached the atonement of Jesus Christ to him.


I caught this piece in Meridian Magazine. It may be the first good piece I’ve read there in a coon’s age. Let’s hope it gets to the right people and that they listen up. Nice job.

RB Scott
Boston, MA.

It’s not that I disagree with Wallace Goddard – its just that I think there is one important point he has not properly covered.

Of course the Saviour can redeem and save us. He truly has descended below all things and there is no sin so vile that it is not covered by the atonement. But Alma & Amulek taught that He came to save us from our sins, not in our sins. To be saved from our sins we need to recognize Him for who He is and then rely on what He has done for us as we strive to change our ways. Unless and until we do this, He cant help us. Alma had to repent “nigh unto death”

Some people seem steadfastly determined to deny even the possibility that He is our only hope – what they may have to go through before the penny finally drops dosnt even bear thinking about. That is why we need to treat all people with love concern and respect and “stand as an example of believers”. The spiritually blind and hard hearted and those that cause us huge grief could well have been our dearest friends at one time.

Alex Barclay
Chorley England Stake

Brother Barclay,

I wholeheartedly agree! There is only one name under heaven whereby men can be saved! Only one!

As LDS, we understand that everyone will have a full-fledged opportunity to receive Him. There is no reason to water down the doctrine that there is only one way.

Thank you for writing and sharing your insights.

Wally Goddard

I have always wondered how people could “fall into sin” as though it’s like a pool on the side of the road that we walk along and with one misstep we become engulfed in it, like falling into the deep end of a swimming pool.

One quote from the article brings this to mind, “Or what about the one who is making an honest effort but has fallen back into sin so many times that he feels that there is no possible way to break the seemingly endless pattern?”…it’s as though this person has vertigo whenever sin is involved and can’t help it, but seems to slip off the path that they’re on; only to get engulfed again.

When will we learn that whenever we break a commandment or law it is a CHOICE THAT WE MAKE and not something or a condition that is inflicted upon us or that comes to us and engulfs us without our knowledge or ability to resist. That is why Dr. Wally’s article is written as not to offend and to soft-sell accountability; that it, in and of itself, is offensive.

Let’s just rewrite the statement to show the accountability that all of us face; the way it needs to be stated. I would write it this way,”Or what about the one who (chooses to transgress God’s laws and commandments) so many times that he feels that there is no possible way to break the seemingly endless pattern?

There, now it is clearly stated and reflects the true accountability that each of us are under with regard to the choices that we make. There is no “poor me” attitude here where we ‘fall into sin’. We choose sin! and we choose it time and time again. Therefore we choose evil over good many times and have very little repentance in us if we keep choosing the same path….there is no such thing as falling into sin so many times, but only chosing to sin many times.

The key to repentance is turning from sin and doing it no more and coming unto Christ to let the atonement work in our lives. We then eschew sin and constantly do the works of Christ to invite the Holy Ghost to be with us at all times.

I have always thought of the parable of the prodigal son as being so much more than just showing acknowledgement of wrong doing and returning to the father. In the parable, the son who had lived the riotous life had simply returned; in fact, his poor circumstance of eating garbage had prompted him to return, or to start his repentance. He was treated the same as our Father would treat all who come unto him to start the process of repentance, he was clothed and accepted in his fathers house, just like we would and should be all welcomed into the meetings of the church just the same as the faithful who had never strayed. But, shall he be immediately be given all that the faithful have worked towards? Should the one who comes home for a day is fed and given raiment and says that they’re sorry be given full access to all eternal and saving ordinances upon their first day of acknowledging their sin without working for it? If so then the temple or House of the Lord should have a revolving door on it, and entrance be given to anyone who presents a social security card. I would think that not one person could say, “yes, let the transgressor who acknowledges his transgression receive all the blessings of the faithful.” Repentance doesn’t work that way.

We know this, that when he returned home, he’d only acknowledged his poor circumstance and had a desire to repent and possibly had started the process, but had not in the least become fully forgiven. We might also presume that had he not ran out of money, he’d still be out with the sinners enjoying himself.

That is why the father could tell his faithful son, all that you’ve been given is still yours. Because, until the prodigal had helped once again to build the fathers lands, or kingdom, then he would not receive of another inheritance. Thus, he was as a servant who had no claim on the landlords estate until he could work to build it and the landlord, through his grace, give him another inheritance that he once again had earned.

My opinions and fifty cents will get you a soda pop out of a vending machine, but don’t ever think that we fall into sin. We choose sin because of our agency; we choose to relish in it through same agency and we choose to repent because of that same agency.

I completely agree that the use of our agency is key. While I don’t think we can entirely avoid sin, we can avoid much sin and can be good repenters.

The fall of Adam brought us all into sin. We are immersed in a world of sin. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” “Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter that they may know to prize the good” (Moses 6:55). So, in some sense, we have all fallen into sin.

Your point is still valid. Sin does not normally blindside us. We make many choices that make us vulnerable. We should fill ourselves with godliness and beg for the heavenly mercy to be led away from temptation.

It is worth noting that the Father of the prodigal gave him a robe, a ring, and a fatted calf while the older son remained outside and stewed. You might enjoy reading the discussion of this in Farrell’s new book: The Holy Secret.


I misquoted Dr. Wally. I thought that was his writing about falling into sin but he was evidently quoting another article and I did’t have it on my screen when I quoted it. I apologize to him for attributing a quote to him that was not his doing and railing on him about it.


He was in fact quoting a general authority from a general conference address, a message that changed my life. Those of us who suffer from the effects of others’ sins, as in child physical, sexual or emotional abuse, may grow up at a serious disadvantage and yes, we “fall into sin.” Sometimes sin is thrown at us and it feels as if we have no escape. I sat through many law of chastity lectures and analogies as a young woman feeling dirty and unworthy because someone had taken from me what I did not willingly give and there was no differentiation made. It was not made clear that the sin was not mine. I hope that has changed in those lessons these days. The fact that the perpetrator was an active member of the church made it that much more confusing. As a result of feeling hopeless I grew up with a “what’s the point of trying” attitude and fell into a lot of things. Elder Bowen’s talk was a healing balm for my soul, as well as Elder Scott’s message from the same conference. Dr. Wally’s article has brought back some very sweet memories for me and I so appreciate the perspective that he brings. I just happened upon this blog today and I will be adding it to my favorites. I’m not signing my name for obvious reasons but I did feel like I needed to make the comment. It is not helpful to make blanket statements like “It is a choice we make” because that’s not always entirely true, and it is devastating for those of us who have experienced that kind of judgment all our lives and are struggling to find healing. I’m not condemning you for your opinion, just asking that you see that it’s not as black and white as you might think. I know that the Savior knows exactly what I was responsible for and what I was not responsible for. I thank the Lord every day that He has made it clear to me that everything can be healed and forgiven. Now that I know this for myself, I never want anyone to feel as I was made to feel.

Wow. You touched my heart with your honesty and your pain. Thank you for sharing your story.

With you I testify that hope is fundamental. And hope is made possible by the infinite and eternal atonement.

Blessings to you.

It is important that we do not minimize the impact of making poor choices in our lives that lead to sin.

But I am grateful to Wally for pointing out two key truths. First, that we cannot and should not limit the availability and application of the Atonement. And second, that if we do understate the meaning and availability of the Atonement, we may cause some to give up in hopelessness due to the untrue belief that they cannot recover.

We need to be careful with the generalization that we cannot “fall into” sin, that we always make a deliberate choice to sin. There are some who want to make good choices but are afflicted with habits that are extremely difficult to break. Some people may have a heart to do good but lack the “tool kit” of understanding or emotional resouces that others have been gifted with and so they make mistakes since they are still learning. And most of us have blind spots. We intend to be good saints but we don’t see our own weaknesses or we underestimate them.

In all of those cases the path towards goodness will not be linear. There will be mistakes along the way. Sometimes over and over again. So I don’t think that every time someone makes a mistake or is disobedient it means their prior repentance was meaningless or that they are deliberately and hard-heartedly choosing evil. Only the Lord knows our hearts. Sometimes people are doing the best they are able to do at that time even though their best may not be very good and they fall short. That’s why we have the repentance process and the Atonement—so that we can continue to come crawling back to the Savior asking for yet another chance and for His help in doing better. Fortunately my experience is that He gives it, over and over again.

The point that Wally so eloquently makes is that all of us have sinned. All of us need to be able to turn to the Savior to become clean again. The Atonement enabled Him to accomplish that. And if we give a message to anyone, including ourselves, that He is not able to do His work and we have somehow gone beyond His ability or desire to reclaim us, then we are not aligned with the most fundamental principle of the Gospel.

I am offended by the tenor of the article and offended by a vast majority of the comments I read here.

Consider this, if “The fact is that learning and growth are more important than cleanliness.” is true, then there are certain occurrances in the scriptures that do not make sense. For example, why then did the three Hebrews resist Nebuchanezzar when he demanded they bow down and worship his idol or face death? If it is better to learn and grow than to be clean, they should have relented and worshipped and repented later? And what of Daniel who refused to obey the King’s edict about not praying to God? Daniel knew what the consequence would be and chose to obey rather than sin. Should he have relented and sinned and repented later? If that is the thrust of this article, then the author and his supporters are completely out of touch with what the scriptures teach.

Now, as to the young man in the prison setting who had been “rejected” by his adoptive family. There is much that may be missing here. I certainly hope that the author is aware that if your child is using illegal drugs and he is caught in your house with them you can also be arrested and prosecuted. That is a provision in most criminal codes everywhere in the US. If my son were using drugs and I knew about it, I would have no choice but to expel him in order to prevent my own arrest even though doing so would be incredibly painful.

Futher, I share my own experience which I think bears on the comment made by Brother Romney’s father which comment all of you seem to be riducling. My eldest son was called to serve in Brazil on a full-time mission. While there, he committed fornication and was ex-communicated and sent home. Having buried my youngest brother when he was only 14 and from helping my brothers bury children, I can tell you that the extreme sorrow I felt for my son who had transgressed so seriously was greater than the sorrow I felt at the deaths of my brother and my neices and nephews. Further, if given the choice between being obedient and dying versus committing fornication and living, I would have preferred my son chose death. At least then I would have known that he was clean and in Father’s presence instead of cut off, cast out, severed from the Kingdom of God.

Brother Garner,

I agree wholeheartedly. Sin entails deep grief. It is always tragic. We would rather die young than die disgraced.

Unfortunately sin is also necessary. As Adam said: “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God” (Moses 5:10). Every one of us will sin. I think the remedy is to be sure that we teach our children:
1. The goodness of God
2. The power of repentance

We sure hope that our children’s sins will be few and minor. But, when Corianton soiled his mission, his father (a great repenter himself) taught him about the atonement. That seems like a good course to me.

Blessings to you and your son,

Dear Dr. Goddard,
I appreciate and agree with the principles brought out in “Coming Home in a Pine Box”. However, in all these years I’ve never thought of it in the way you described. It simply seemed to me that there would be more joy in dying while in the service of the Lord than returning with a reset and the task of restitution, a part of repentance. Not that either sorrowful situation is desired or anticipated.

Assuming I am truly serving the Lord and the people I’m called to teach, and die for any reason, (murder, sickness, accident, resisting sin, etc.), this would be better than turning from the Lord, betraying the people I serve or whatever causes a dishonorable return. It has never been implied that dying because of sin is better than living to repent, nor that a dishonorable return would not be greeted with sympathy, encouragement, help and love. Otherwise there is a big need for repentance at home also. I just don’t see how to view the statement in the way you describe.

You have done a very nice job of describing what I suspect is the intent of the author of the original statement. Thank you for that.

Still, I fear that some understand it to mean that it is better to just not come home if we sin. We will not be welcome. I agree with you that that interpretation is almost uncertainly not the intended one. But the statement can still cause real harm if it is understood/misunderstood as slamming the door closed on repentance.


Craig: I agree that we all choose sin. It interests me though, to ponder why, the dog returns to his vomit or the sow to her wallowing in the mire.

I have been a sincere, committed dog, who was determined to never again return to my vomit. Still, I did, again and again. Then I discovered I was an addict. I had chosen to allow myself to be wrapped in the chains of hell. I had gradually and most certainly chosen to give me freedom away according to the captivity of the devil.

Recovering from addiction has taught me two very important things:
1. I needed the Savior to burst my chains for me. In the Atonement He did that very thing. He permitted Himself to be wrapped in my chains and then by the strength of his love and character, He burst them for me.

2. I needed to learn that my outward, addictive behavior was symptomatic of the deeper more insidious sickness of pride. The decisions which led to my misbehavior were usually made at times and places far removed from those moments of weakness when I used. At the instant of the outward sin, the choice, though I wasn’t aware, had long since been made. Thus, it seems like falling, when in reality, you’re oh so right, it was the result of a choice.

I’ve enjoyed reading this insightful discussion and hope that it will continue.

As Candleman pointed out, I think that many sins are tied to habits and addictions. Some sins are very apparent and easy to identify, but other sins, such as those related to our thoughts and feelings, although less apparent, are equally habitual, addictive, and insidious. By their very nature, we may not even realize that we inwardly and habitually have unkind and uncharitable thoughts and feelings toward others or that we judge, criticize, demean, etc. in our minds and in our hearts.

Even when we habitually doubt and fail to trust God, we are in a sense sinning. King Benjamin had it right when he said “I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them.” Hopefully we can be humble enough to recognize our sins- the ones that are evident as well as the less obvious ones.

The good news, as Wally as so aptly described, is that the way is prepared for all to escape the grasp of sin if we but have faith enough to follow the Savior.

This has been a most interesting discussion. As a convert, I am reminded of two great blessings that have come into my life since joining the LDS Church: First, how fortunate we are to have prophets who can help us understand the Lord’s will for our time. And second, how fortunate we are to have the Holy Ghost to help us on a spiritually personal level, even as we read the scriptures and ponder truth.

I think this discussion illustrates the mishaps we may face, in seeking through our somewhat limited and mortal understanding, to understand the eternal concepts of mercy and justice. If we truly trust our Heavenly Father and His plan, then we can trust that our Savior will judge us as ‘a righteous judge’ (Moses 6:57). We can also trust that the Holy Ghost will teach us, when we are ready, what we must do to repent and return to our Heavenly Father. All we have to do is to seek! But that is so much easier said than done, I understand. We all come to that seeking in different ways and at different times in our lives.

I believe that Wally was making the point that we must never make the mistake of thinking our Savior’s mercy or the power of His Atonement is limited if we truly desire to repent. Jesus does have the power to make us white as snow, though our sins be as scarlet.

For myself, I am very grateful for the lessons of mercy abundant in the sciptures. I am also grateful that the Savior has warned us against the dangers of judging according to our mortal understandings, as in ‘he who judges rashly shall be judged rashly’ (Mormon 8:19), or ‘men can not always judge’ (D&C 10:37) – (unless one has been set apart with priesthood keys for this purpose,such as bishops). We are freed from the burden of judging others. And even Bishops and such are given special gifts to help them in this awesome task. Perhaps parents are given similar gifts in knowing what they may say at times to their children? As a parent, in important conversations with my children, I can definitely tell when I am being led by the Spirit and when I am not. I have learned that if I am unsure, then I try to hold my tongue until I do know what to say.

On a personal level, we only need concentrate on what the Holy Ghost is telling us. I read somewhere that to repent means to turn to God (Wally, perhaps you can verify this for me?). I know that as I have turned to God, He has given me more light and knowledge as I was ready, and I was able to repent on deeper levels, and grow. How kind and merciful our Father is! How kind and merciful we should be towards each other. Warmly, Claudia

The Bible dictionary has a great definition for repentance: The Greek word of which this is the translation denotes a change of mind, i.e., a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world.

I love the idea of a fresh view!


The title of your article immediately caught my eye because as a mother of sons, I have never thought I would rather see them dead than return home early from a mission due to immorality. When President Benson repeated this story in a talk that appeared in the Ensign, I was sad. I had hoped that we had left behind such a barbaric idea. I polled my friends, all mothers, to see if they agreed with the prophet. Not one would have preferred to see her son (or daughter) come home in a coffin.

And speaking as a former mission mother, I know that it was difficult for the ones that had to be sent home early from their missions, and it sometimes was a very hard road back to full fellowship, but they are better and stronger today for having made a serious course correction. The choice isn’t death without sin or life with sin. No one gets through this life without sin. The choice comes in what you are going to do about it.

I do believe that Pres. Romney was trying to impress upon our minds the seriousness of the sins of immorality. But I also believe that there are many who have slipped and are convinced that they are lost. Your article helps us to realize that we are not.

There seems to be a factor that we are not considering here. I am not contesting anything that has been said. I just think that we may be considering this idea with an either/or mentality.

Of course no one wants a child to experience premature death. But consider the story of Joseph F. Smith, you’ll remember it. He was a young man on a mission as I recall and was approached by some gun toting hoodlums. They claimed they were out looking for Mormons and asked Joseph if he was one. Joseph replied, “Yessiree, true blue, through and through!” In this case, they holstered their pistols and treated him kindly. But, what if they hadn’t. What if they’d shot him. Sure, we’d have missed him, but is death as bad as we consider it to be? Would his life have been worth living? Would his premature arrival in the Spirit world have left him useless and sitting idly by? Would having had his life cut short because he stood up for what he believed in have reduced the reward Heavenly Father had in store for him? Are we making too big a deal of death?

Standing for what’s right has it’s risks sometimes and there is virtue in standing for what’s right regardless of the outcome.

Here again, one may be taken and another spared. And….another in a moment of weakness may sin. There is hope and glory available to all three, through the merits and mercy of our Redeemer.

I am thankful for the insights in Bro. Goddard’s articles. I have yet to read one that didn’t leave me a better person. This particular article had great meaning for me, for many reasons. The comments have turned to speaking of modern day missionaries, specifically those who may come home early, dishonorably. I’ve had opportunity to be associated with one such young man very closely. My daughter just married him in the temple! We had known him for many years, loved him, loved his spirit and testimony…both of which were strong when he departed for his mission. I don’t know what happened, don’t want to know…it’s none of my business. I only know that when he came home early, and it appeared he and my daughter were going to get serious about a future together, I was troubled. I was afraid his dishonorable service would relfect on the level of commitment he would have the rest of his life. I prayed and prayed for a softer heart. I still dearly loved this young man, but I just didn’t know that I wanted my daugher to marry him! A couple of weeks before they married I sat in Sacrament Meeting and heard him bear his testimony. The Spirit bore witness to me, as he spoke, that he was a truly repentant son of God, and that our Father in Heaven had forgiven him and loved him….as should I. I realized it was my pride keeping me from embracing this upcoming union, and that was as serious a sin as anything he could possibly have done on his mission! As the Spirit of God washed over me, I felt a new, and renewed love for this young man. I also felt a deeper understanding of the Atonement, and how it applies to ALL of us. Missionaries, and thier transgressions, are so much more visible than what most of us do on a daily basis. We do not have the right, or the responsibility, to pass our own judgement on their worthiness. I am so thankful for a loving Father who blesses me with opportunities to feel the Spirit and learn from my own mistakes.

Thank you for your articles. They mean so much to me.

The pine box statement has often given me concern. I first heard it in seminary. I took it to heart as a young man. It formed a lot of my thinking in those early years.

It was brough back to me years later when I was having a discussion with my son several years after he had turned down a mission call. It turned out that this statement which he had heard in seminary was a major part of his decision.

A while ago, I was sitting in a special adult ward meeting, where a Sister representing our stake, was giving a presentation on young unwed mothers. There was concern that 90% of LDS girls who became pregnant, went to sources of support and information other than LDS Social Services. I wondered at the time, if the pine box statement was part of the reason. Can’t we find other ways of expressing our concern and love to our young people than reciting the pine box.

A Father

We talk a lot in the Church of the need to be good examples. Then we all proceed to be “perfect” examples by trying, to varying degrees, to appear perfect. The net result, I think, is a church full of folks who actually believe that many of their companions along the straight and narrow are just that, perfect.

Would we not all be better served if we all were examples of folks who are redeemed? I’m not suggesting that we all get out there and publicly confess our sins. I am suggesting though, that we need to be clear about our imperfection and our need for and success in obtaining “perfection in Christ.”

Too many Saints just don’t understand the vital role of Christ and the absolute necessity of relying upon His merits and mercy. Exemplary Latter-day Saints will manifest that instead of the often dishonest and hypocritical images we present in an effort to be “good examples.”

I think J. Golden Kimball’s great contribution to the church was his example. He told ordinary, flawed, members of the church that he was just like them and was constantly in need of repentance and forgiveness. Here is one of my favorite quotes from that great disciple of Christ: “I may not have walked the straight and narrow path, but I crossed it as often as I could.”

Another great article by Brother Goddard. I love the spirit of hope and the invitation to believe in and to trust the atonement. (I also learned a new word: “sacralize”!)

The oft-quoted “pine box” advice is very discouraging and misleading. Ironically, this advice itself is sinful if it manifests an unwillingness to forgive. However —— and maybe I just have a problem with the article’s subtitle —— I wish the article had acknowledged (as have some of the above comments) that there is a sense in which sin IS worse than death: IF WE REMAIN UNREPENTANT.

• That is why, in his relating of the death of 1,005 repentant Anti-Nephi-Lehis, Mormon (or is it Alma) says that their death was outweighed by the repentance of more than 1,000 that was brought about by their sacrifice. (See Alma 24, especially verses 26-27.)

• That is why the Savior taught, “Be not afraid of them that kill the body … but … fear him, which … hath power to cast into hell.” (Luke 12:4-5)

Yes, there is always hope, and I never want to discount the power of the atonement, but there are things worse than physical death. I would suggest that both an unwillingness to repent, and an unwillingness to forgive are worse.


You make a good point. The spirit of perdition puts us in a condition worse than death. Also, our payment for unrepented sin is more severe than we can comprehend. However, I suspect that for all except the sons of perdition, death and hell are swallowed up. Even telestials will enjoy glory beyond our imagination. My conclusion is that only sons of perdition will suffer an enduring condition that is worse than death.


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