Last week, the Church put out a new statement about the Word of Wisdom which built off of a recent article in the New Era which described how certain modern beverages or smoking methods (such as vaping) nevertheless violate the Word of Wisdom.
In response, I have seen a surprising amount of hostility by those proclaiming that it is unchristian and just plain wrong for the Church to impose such burdensome restrictions on its members.
I grew up in a Jewish household and went to a Jewish day school. I had a lot of friends who kept kosher and I never really understood why they would avoid eating such delicious things as cheeseburgers and lobster. I saw the commandments they were keeping as restrictive shackles.
For a time in college I dated a semi-active member of the Church who nevertheless was very opposed to me consuming any alcohol. For her, I agreed not to drink. I was very resentful because I saw her wishes as restrictive shackles that stopped me from enjoying myself.
Since that time, I have come to see dietary commandments in a completely different light. My present perspective is perhaps best illustrated by the insightful observation of well-known American Rabbi Harold Kushner who wrote about his perspective on keeping kosher:
“Let’s go back to my hypothetical lunch with a friend. Watching me scan the menu, he may suspect me of thinking, “Oh, would I love to order the ham, but that mean old God won’t let me.” But in fact, what is probably going through my mind at the moment is “Isn’t it incredible! Nearly five billion people on this planet, and God cares what I have for lunch!” And God cares how I earn and spend my money, and whom I sleep with, and what sort of language I use. (These are not descriptions of God’s emotional state, about which we can have no information, but a way of conveying the critical ethical significance of the choices I make.) What better way is there to invest every one of my daily choices with divine significance?
There is nothing intrinsically wicked about eating pork or lobster, and there is nothing intrinsically moral about eating cheese or chicken instead. But what the Jewish way of life does by imposing rules on our eating, sleeping, and working habits is to take the most common and mundane activities and invest them with deeper meaning, turning every one of them into an occasion for obeying (or disobeying) God. If a gentile walks into a fast-food establishment and orders a cheeseburger, he is just having lunch. But if a Jew does the same thing, he is making a theological statement. He is declaring that he does not accept the rules of the Jewish dietary system as binding upon him. But heeded or violated, the rules lift the act of having lunch out of the ordinary and make it a religious matter. If you can do that to the process of eating, you have done something important.”
There is a lot to unpack here that applies beautifully to the word of wisdom.
First, we should be filled we gratitude that the God of heaven reached out once again to us in our dispensation to give us a law of health. I am reminded of God’s promise in D&C 59:3-4 that those who are faithful and come to Zion will “be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me.” Commandments are ultimately a sign of love and a blessing from a loving God rather than a curse and a burden.
Second, It is truly incredible that the same being that created the universe cares what I drink at a happy hour or what I consume when on a break. That knowledge fills me with such joy and appreciation for my Heavenly Father. He knows me personally and cares about what I ingest and how I spend my time.
Third, the word of wisdom has the impact of transforming our routine choices into sacred ones. When we choose not to drink a coffee or consume an alcoholic beverage, we are “making a theological statement” about our devotion to God and our willingness to submit to his will. Keeping the word of wisdom provides us with an internal and external opportunity to stand out, be different, teach about the Gospel and set a good example.
I am grateful to know that the God of heaven is mindful of me and that he cares about me and what I do with my life. The Word of Wisdom helps me to connect to God and to appreciate all of his tender mercies and blessings.