By: Scott Stover
So much has been written about Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, commonly known as the “Word of Wisdom,” that one might well have to be either a prophet or a fool to risk writing any more, yet I actually hope to share a point of view that is just unique enough to help the reader be stronger, cleaner, and more committed to the values contained therein. I have no intention of offering any kind of historical rehash of how it came about, or how the early saints, including the Prophet Joseph himself, apparently took it rather lightly. There is no need for another account of how it gradually, over the space of 60 years, came to be enforced in 1921 as a requirement for entering the temple. Instead, I hope to offer a very personal, more spiritual testimony of this revelation as a light shining in the darkness. I will leave it to you to decide how important this testimony is to you.
My patriarchal blessing says, “Learn to live the word of wisdom in all its fullness, and in so doing you will, from time to time, enjoy the promptings of the Holy Ghost. He will prompt you in time of evil and danger that you might avoid it and be protected from harm or evil that could come to you, for Satan would desire you.” One might think this is a pretty standard thing to be said in such a blessing, until one considers that I was 45 years old at the time, and that I had a history of substance abuse which ceased abruptly at age 39, and that the patriarch had absolutely no way of knowing that. I had only 2 months prior quit drinking coffee – for 2 reasons:
1) I was planning to be baptized and…
2) My new wife curled her nose in disgust every time I kissed her in the morning
I doubt seriously that the patriarch could still smell coffee on my breath.
As I got used to doing without caffeine, I started to like the way I felt. I would still occasionally drink a Mountain Dew or something – we’re talking twice a year or so – but the “lift” it gave me became increasingly uncomfortable – like I was on edge. It seemed like it just disrupted whatever was happening to my body and spirit as the Holy Ghost performed its cleansing work. Then one night, Diana and I were eating dinner at about 8 p.m., having just arrived in Escalante, UT for our annual “Escalante Arts Festival” vacation and I said, “You put the display legs in the truck, didn’t you?” She said, of course, “I thought you did!” So, off we went – retracing the 5+ hour drive back to Salt Lake City. We got to bed around 2 a.m., only to rise at 6 or so for the drive back. I bought a liter bottle of Mountain Dew on the night trip, and another one the next morning. I was buzzed! We decided we were going to hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls, so I bought a 5 hour energy just in case. Now…stop laughing! This is where it gets interesting, and where I learned a lesson I have never reneged on.
As we were walking through this beautiful canyon, instead of feeling one with nature, I felt like I was bouncing off the walls. Now it was a narrow canyon, but the walls were still 50-100 feet apart, so I felt like I was vibrating at a pretty high frequency. Then I asked myself, “If I were asked to give a priesthood blessing right now, would I feel prepared?” First of all, why would this question come to me right then? Regardless, the answer was quite obviously, “No!” It was at that time that I decided caffeine could never be part of my life again.
Lest you think I’m picking on caffeine, let me share how, about 2 years ago, I looked at a handful of jelly beans and said, “Nope, I don’t think so,” at which point I began to largely swear off cookies, donuts, pies, cakes, candies (except dark chocolate), etc. Then about a year and a half ago, I decided to limit my meat intake, meaning any kind of meat except seafood, to once a week. I had just watched a video that talked about how, 100 years ago, our diets were plant-based with meat supplements, and we had much less cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc. I doubt the need to detail what the contrasting conditions of today were.
Why am I telling you all this? I’m sharing these things because I believe the Holy Ghost has been telling me to make these changes. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe it’s helping me to ward off some dreaded cancer that I would be blessed with if I continued eating the way I have all my life – the way most of us eat (i.e. – “if they don’t have bacon in Heaven, I don’t want to go”). Maybe He knows that if I don’t stay slim and trim (cough, cough) my wife will be tempted to leave me for a member of Il Divo, or a rich John Denver look-alike (John’s dead, or I could be in real trouble). Or maybe, just maybe, He’s trying to pound it into my thick skull that the Word of Wisdom was especially given for us in our day and that its main purpose is to protect our agency; that it’s not about dictating what we can’t do, but about sustaining what we can do. Maybe, just maybe, He’s hoping I will learn that it is given “Not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days…” (D&C 89:2). And maybe, just maybe, He’s hoping that I will recognize it as a cornerstone of my spiritual progress as I strive to become a Zion person, consecrating everything to the Lord; seeking, asking, and knocking in search of the greatest blessings we can receive in this life or in the life to come.
My feelings about this are so deep, I hardly even know where to begin – but I will. Please humor me as I humbly offer this series of thoughts and observations concerning this revelation:
To My Friends, With Love
As I read the first 2 verses of section 89, I get the impression of a loving Heavenly Father talking to his “friends” (D&C 84:77) and sharing with them secrets about their bodies and spirits – about how they are made, and how to keep them in great condition. Think if you bought a new car from your brother (as if that would ever be a good idea) and he’s telling you everything you need to do to get 200,000+ miles out of it. It seems like the Lord is saying, “You know, you can do what you want, but if it were my car, here’s what I would do.” But then the Lord says, “showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days.” In other words, “You’re going to see some rough roads ahead; desert treks, winter driving, lots of stop and go traffic, and you’re going to have to take especially good care of this baby if you’re to be able to do the things I expect of you….” The Lord is warning us of what’s in store, and encouraging us to prepare ourselves, both physically and spiritually. All that said, and even though verse 2 says, “To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint...,” verse 18, in preface to “the promise” says, “And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments.” So, all in all, this appears to be a commandment lovingly given, which is quite consistent with all other commandments given by the Lord.
Consecration of the Body
If I am to consecrate everything to the Lord, does that not include my body? If I fail to extend its life and strength as long as I can, am I not cheating God out of the service I might perform, or of the lessons I might be taught, and thus out of the Glory of seeing His child become more like Him? The Word of Wisdom is an instruction manual for honoring our stewardship over our bodies.
Our Sacred Agency
It’s pretty clear how prohibitions of things such as coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco can protect our agency from the “evils and designs of conspiring men in the last days,” but have you ever considered how dependent you are on health care? What if the government were the only source of healthcare (oh, yeah – that’s already happening). What if you were told that you couldn’t receive medical care without getting a chip placed in your arm? Or – what if you spend all your money on health care, will you have enough money or will you have the health to vibrantly serve the Lord in your later years? Our health overall is central to our being able to maintain our sacred agency, and we will contribute little to the building up of the Kingdom of God if we are sick and weak.
Adapted to the Weak and the Weakest
The phrase “adapted to the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints” suggests to me that there may be those who can partake of alcohol healthfully, but there are also those who cannot. If we are to build a Zion society, the Lord would have us all adapt our habits to the weakest among us, so as to not make it more difficult for those of us who do not so easily resist temptation or addiction. This phenomenon concerning the weak and weakest of the saints actually shows up in numerous places in today’s church. Most saints are aware that the lines between doctrine, policy, and culture have grown increasingly fuzzy over the last few decades. I think this is the result of trying to adapt the church to an increasingly wide variety of people, cultures, religious backgrounds and understandings. The church is trying to provide spiritual nourishment for as many people as it can, which frequently necessitates policies, curriculum, etc. that are adapted to the “…weak and weakest of the saints…,” which is the spiritual equivalent of insuring that there are “no poor among us.”
The Flesh of Beasts
As I mentioned earlier in this post, our diets have changed dramatically over the last 100 years. Instead of meat being a supplement in our diet, it is the staple, and plant-based foods are more of the supplement. We generally struggle to make sure we eat enough fruits and vegetables, but we never hear of someone (other than young, prime athletes) being encouraged to eat more meat and pasta. The depth of the media’s influence on our diet became glaringly obvious to me as I started to try to eat less meat. Restaurant choices are dramatically limited. Advertisements for juicy, succulent burgers seem to be on every billboard I drive by. It’s perhaps particularly interesting that I had never noticed this before. Or did I? We are accosted constantly with tempting invitations to indulge in eating the flesh of animals, whether it be burgers, steaks, KFC, BBQ, or whatever. In contrast, verses 12 and 13 say:
Yea, the flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;
And it is PLEASING unto me that they should NOT be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine. (Emphasis added)
Then, in verses 14-15, the Lord emphasizes this by telling us:
All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;
And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger. (emphasis added)
The Lord tells us twice that the flesh of beasts is for use of man only in times of famine, winter, etc. – only when there’s no other food. Now, it’s easy to say that our society makes it hard to obey this counsel, but then that’s part of the point. Society says we don’t need to obey the law of chastity, either. Here, the Lord is telling us basically that it is pleasing unto Him that we eat an overwhelmingly vegetarian diet, eating meat only when necessary to maintain our health in the absence of these other preferred foods. If we want to allow modern cultural trends to enter into the discussion, maybe we should realize that it’s no longer necessary to eat meat even in winter and times of famine, because even then we have ready access to a cornucopia of plant-based foods that provide all the nutrients we could possibly need.
The core of the Word of Wisdom is spiritual. Even though it says, “…in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days…,” I perceive it to be much more spiritually than temporally motivated. After all, the Lord said in D&C 29:35, speaking of Adam:
Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him a commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are all spiritual; they are not natural or temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.
Incorporating the Word of Wisdom into our lives helps to distance us from “Babylon.” We are imbued daily with advertisements for sex, alcohol, pharmaceutical drugs, clothing, entertainment, etc. The result of all of this is to make us feel that if we don’t participate or consume like other “cool” people, we are somehow different. Obeying the Word of Wisdom actually serves as a wedge between us and Babylon, giving us practice at resisting the constant temptation that surrounds us.
There is nothing other than air that is more essential to the natural man than food and drink. By submitting our consumption of food and drink to the Lord’s will and counsel, we are symbolically surrendering the natural man to the spiritual. Much like tithing is symbolic and largely spiritual (the Lord doesn’t need our money – He has sufficient for His needs) obeying the Word of Wisdom is symbolic of overcoming the natural man. Because most of us fail to recognize it as such, I’m afraid we miss out on the spiritual strength and growth that obedience brings.
Let Me Go, Let Me Go
Every time I read something about the Word of Wisdom that’s not from a church affiliated or apologetic source, it’s about someone trying to justify why they don’t need to obey particular points. They make points similar to these:
“‘Mild drink’ means beer or wine, so it’s ok for me to drink beer or wine.”
“It doesn’t say anything about Coke or Pepsi or energy drinks, so that’s ok.”
“The revelation was originally sent as a greeting, ‘not by commandment or constraint,’ so why is it a requirement to enter the temple?”
Well, I don’t really care whether it is a commandment or a constraint, or if it is “restrictive.” I KNOW that beer and wine, even Coke or Pepsi, can be destructive if used in excess, and I don’t really need the scripture to tell me that. (I can clean my toilets with Coke and Pepsi; it dissolves nails! Do I really want to put that into my body?) I honestly don’t want to go the temple feeling caffeinated. As I said before, I just don’t feel the harmony with the spirit that I seek, and that I have grown quite accustomed to. In other words, I’m not looking for a way out or for something to object to. I have no objections, so I feel no need to critique it or pick it apart.
Let Me Go, Let Me Go – Plan B
I want to be with the Lord. I am drawn to Him like a magnet. I have begun to crave being in His presence – dare I say like a moth to the candle – but I’m held back. I’m held back, anchored to this earth, as least somewhat by my more worldly cravings. By obeying the Word of Wisdom in its fullness, I am loosening the bonds that bind me to this side of the veil and making it more possible to pierce it, more possible for the Lord to show Himself as He did to the Brother of Jared. Obeying the Word of Wisdom is an exercise of faith, the kind of faith that the Lord has rewarded in the past by visitation (Ether 3), by heavenly trust (Helaman 10: 4-5), and by miracles (Helaman 5), including the miracle of translation (3 Nephi 28).
The Word of Wisdom has become a great blessing to me – one that would never have been realized if, in my early days in the church, I had not felt obligated to obey it or if my stake patriarch had not been inspired to include that specific counsel in my blessing. Because the church makes it a “requirement,” I had the opportunity to learn for myself what a blessing it ultimately is. Today, I want to obey it! It lifts me and comforts me. It makes me feel clean, physically and spiritually; physically because my body is cleaner, spiritually because I’m distancing myself from Babylon and drawing closer to the Lord. I feel more in control of myself, so I am even more free. My options, ironically enough, are more open. I can still choose to drink alcohol or coffee, or to eat meat, but I have no need for it. I am more free to maintain a healthy diet as I choose. I am more free to do that which is clearly pleasing to God. I actually enjoy life more because I am more at peace with myself and am under less pressure to bow to the enticings of Babylon.
The Word of Wisdom is a gift from God, and it is an act of love for the church to emphasize it as it does. Whatever its history, whatever objections others might have, to me it is a blessing and a protection that elevates my life and helps me grow closer to God. For those reasons, it is a treasure – a “principle with promise” – the promise being quoted in the last verse:
And all saints who remember to keep and do these saying, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;
And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;
And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.
And I the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel and not slay them. Amen.
Let those hear who have ears to hear.
Originally posted on March 21, 2014 on The Gospel According to Scoot