God cares about what I drink with lunch!

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.

12 thoughts on “God cares about what I drink with lunch!

  1. Other theological statements, maybe?

    Every time a Christian goes into a restaurant and orders a half rack of pork ribs, is he making a statement like, “I believe that Christ died on the cross to fulfill the Mosaic law including the dietary restrictions”? That seems to be a big part of St. Paul’s message in his letters.

    Interestingly, I met a Christian this last spring who claimed to belong to a small group of Christians who observe Kosher. Are they (along with all the Jews who observe Kosher) making the theological statement that Christ’s atonement did not fulfill that part of the Mosaic law?

    My question — how much of our choices to follow the word of wisdom is about a theological statement of devotion to God, and how much is about statements of what we each believe God truly has commanded. Certainly it is possible that those LDS who insist on drinking a little coffee or tea are rebelling against God (theological statement: I believe God has commanded me to abstain from these but I am refusing to obey). It seems to me, however, that many of them are making a statement of what they believe God has commanded.

  2. I have come to believe that the Word of Wisdom is one of the most convincing proofs of the truth of the Gospel as revealed to Joseph Smith. It is an amazing revelation considering the time it was given. In the 1800s, alcohol was on virtually every table and smoking and chewing tobacco was the daily fix for many men and some women Then WOW came along and made it clear that these practices were not acceptable and that better nutrition was indicated as beneficial. Now we have an explosion of vaping (plenty of nicotine), chewing and smoking continues among some addicts, and excess caffeine is available in many new “energy” drinks and health products. Why would God be concerned with the use and misuse of these products? I think it is because we are here to prove ourselves worthy to return to His presence. The longer we are here the better it is for us, so anything we do to protect our health and well-being is in our favor. At age 91, I have outlived all of my ancestors, father and brother, mother etc. My surprising longevity (surprising to me and all my relatives and all of my non-LDS friends). I attribute to keeping the WOW as best I could for my 70 years of membership. I’m still learning.

  3. Thanks for this great post Dan. I hate WoW lessons at church because we end up hyper focused on vs. 5-11, which are the things that keep you out of the temple (important! But there’s more!) There is so much more in D&C 89. One of the blessings we have from keeping the Word of Wisdom is that the Destroying Angel will pass over us. Just like he passed over the ancient Israelites. That’s a might promise!

  4. I value the official statement of the Church because it helps us to make good decisions.

    I accept and respect the Church’s statement when it comes to vaping. I have never vaped (is this a verb?) and never will. However vaping does not equal consumption of nicotine (which clearly is a health hazard). People who vape can freely choose to only use nicotine free vaping liquids. Those liquids are not harmful and do not pose a greater thread to your health than eating too much or the wrong food, working too much, working out not much enough or many other “normal” behaviors.

    So yes, I will follow the Church’s guidelines. But it is misleading if we explain the call to abstain from vaping only with health issues. I do not consider coffee or tea a threat to my health. In fact many scientist tell us quite the opposite. The guidelines we receive in the WoW far ascends health issues. Following the WoW should set us apart to follow God … that – not surprisingly – is the literal translation and meaning of the word “saint” or “to be holy”.

  5. So, recently some guy announced, to a full table of LDS, after a temple trip, that Green Tea was totally allowed. I crunched my brow and let him know that may be true where He is from, and I teased the poor fellow… This wasn’t even a month ago, then this clarification that it IS the same as tea, just not fermented. I didn’t care either way very much, I smelled both, smelled nasty, so I assumed will taste nasty 😉 and that was enough for me! (my rule of thumb, smells bad, not good for me, it does work with essential oils). I never cared much to see “why”… My opinion is that coffee for makes people crankier and crash… example if I gave a man I was caregiving even a full glass, and he drank it all (which usually didn’t happen, cause one, I had no idea how to make coffee when I began caring for him, and another he had dementia and would forget it), he would have a severe anger fit, basically have a panic attack and yell over nothing- NO coffee- so chill…. but tea, even un-caffeinated turns out to have a lot of heavy metals! This messes you up so much, and it contains lead, so green tea, caffeine or not, all that lead… https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/lead/health.html
    “Heavy Metals: In a 2013 study from the Journal of Toxicology, researchers tested 30 teas and found that all had high amounts of lead—which can cause heart, kidney and reproductive problems. Around 73% of teas brewed for three minutes, and 83% percent of those brewed for 15 minutes, had potentially unsafe amounts, and 20 percent of teas brewed for 15 minutes contained unsafe aluminum levels. A 2015 study discovered that teas with added citric acid had elevated aluminum, cadmium and lead, and lemon tea bags produced levels 10 to 70 times higher.” https://www.womansday.com/health-fitness/wellness/a53159/dangers-of-tea/

  6. I remember hearing Rabbi Kushner at the BYU forum where he said the same thing you quoted. It stuck with me.

    I heard somewhere that the Word of Wisdom is in many ways a tester law. If you are willing to forego tobacco, alcohol, tea and coffee you will be much more likely to keep essential commandments like the Law of Chastity and Tithing.

    I don’t know that my health would be that much worse if I had an occasional drink of wine, sweet tea or a cappuccino, but it is a commandment and that is enough for me. I don’t really care much about what other adults consume. I personally believe that those people who were snarky about the First Presidency’s clarification are put off because they know that somewhere some people don’t embrace of every lifestyle choice they make. That bothers them because they are insecure.

  7. This is a commandment I can say I have always kept. As I think about it, it may be the only one. Yes, pretty sure it is. (I obey the meat part as I understand it, trying to eat less than the average American. What I mean is that I have never willfully disobeyed what I understood it to mean either intentionally or by neglect.)
    Now I don’t say that with pride or to justify myself. I know that I am not the source of my own salvation. But, I can recall instances where, though I wasn’t tempted to try, I was mindful of my commitment and my thoughts turned to God, such as–
    After my mission to Japan I went back for a summer and stayed with a Japanese college student who had been staying at my parent’s home. His father obtained employment for me for the summer. A “restaurant”, or izakaya, technically a pub, as opposed to a restaurant. I served a lot of drinks with the food, and people did get drunk. I recall a moment, looking at my fingers, wet from an overflowing drink poured from a tap. I had no desire to taste, but there, I thought of my promises. I was asked by patrons if I had ever even licked my fingers. No.
    Those memories give me hope that I can develop the same attitude about other things that have challenged me.
    I am grateful for the Word of Wisdom.

  8. Very good thoughts, Daniel. I agree that the dietary restrictions are a sign that a loving God cares about us, and that our choice to comply is a sign of our love back to Him.

    The health benefits are a bonus and are accessible to all, regardless of what other sacred covenants we may or may not have made.

    I believe most Church members are aware of the 2007 UCLA study (Enstrom and Breslow) conducted in southern California over a 25 year period that documented an extra 10 years of longevity for men, and 5 years for women who adhere to the main tenets of the Word of Wisdom (no tobacco, alcohol, coffee or tea, along with the monthly fast).

    Similar benefits have been documented in other denominations of frequent church attenders who are more likely to abstain from smoking, have good health practices, and to stay married.

    A 2013 report of the residents of Loma Linda, California – a community with a large concentration of Seventh-Day Adventists – described similar results. The faith discourages tobacco and alcohol use, as well as the consumption of caffeine, rich foods, and certain spices. Many are also vegetarians. The longevity benefits, while reported as just slightly less than the UCLA study for members of the Church, are likely within the margin of statistical error.

    Our Heavenly Father indeed does love His children. When He revealed to Joseph Smith in the Doctrine and Covenants section 130 that there “is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven … upon which all blessings are predicated, and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated”, He never gave any other stipulations. The blessings are available to everyone.


  9. I think this post was super helpful because I was struggling with some concepts about the gospel earlier today and this post provided a framework to consider these questions. God knows we’re in a culture and he creates subcultures which follow his will as they understand it. It matters the reason people ‘defy’ the rules of their subculture but one reason I don’t think is legitimate is ‘those are just the rules of a subculture, God doesn’t want me to belong to any subculture’.

  10. Joel Winter:

    You touch on something that blogger “G” at jrganymede.com once posted about. (Sorry can’t find the post easily for a link.)

    The WoW is something small and easy to practice being “perfect” with in preparation for, or in similitude of, bigger things that we have to be perfect about in the kingdoms of glory.

    A careless word, and we break the commandment against taking the Lord’s name in vain. A careless thought and we commit adultery in our heart or covet something not ours. A careless choice of words, or a verbal shortcut, and we bear false witness. The WoW seems easy in comparison.

    Like the Bible stories of looking at the brass serpent, or Naaman being asked to wash seven times in the river, the WoW is a modern equivalent of the Lord attaching big promises/good consequences to something that is outwardly, from a mortal/temporal perspective, rather inconsequential on its own.

    It’s the attachment, or connection, that the Lord puts on the act of obedience that gives it significance and import. Obedience, then, is not us making a big deal of the mere outward act, but obedience acknowledges the Lord’s ability to deliver His promises. Obedience then is the act of faith that activates the promise.

Comments are closed.