Feast upon the Word Blog

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An Introduction to the Word of Wisdom (Gospel Essentials Lesson 29)

Posted by BrianJ on November 5, 2007

These are the notes from a lesson I taught almost two years ago. I’ve been thinking of posting some of my old notes since we don’t have any Gospel Essentials material on this site (yet).

1 Cor. 3:16-17 – How are we the temple of God? What is a temple? What did the temple/tabernacle signify to Paul/children of Israel?

D&C 29:34-35, 40 – Why are there no temporal commandments? Does that mean that there are no temporal consequences? How do you reconcile your answers, if necessary?

An example: D&C 88:124. What is the commandment? (Don’t stay up late or sleep in.) What is the temporal consequence? (Being groggy or being alert.) What is the spiritual blessing? (Invigorated mind, open to inspiration.) Notice the pattern—commandment:temporal:spiritual.

More examples: Exodus 20:9 and D&C 10:4.

D&C 89 contains additional instructions regarding the care of our bodies. This was revealed in 1833, early in Church history. The Church was very new, had recently moved members to Kirtland, OH, and was rapidly attracting more members. As the preface states, this was a response to Joseph Smith’s inquiries to the Lord about the Saints’ use of tobacco.

89:2 – What is the difference between a commandment and a greeting from the Lord? What does it mean to say that it is the “will of God” but not a “commandment”? Why is God interested in our “temporal salvation”?

89:3 – We’re told that this was “adapted to the capacity of the weak”, but not in what way. Some will say that it is the “least restrictive as possible, so that the weak members can still live it.” While that’s possible, that’s not what the text says. It is possible that God wanted to reveal something less specific, but knew that the weak members would miss the point, so he included more detail and restriction for their benefit (i.e. a well-behaved dog is allowed to run in the yard, but an untrained animal is always kept on a leash). Without taking a stand, what could we learn from both of these interpretations?

89:4 – This is a warning against what? Can you think of examples?

89:7-17 – No alcohol, tobacco, or hot drinks (which is interpreted to mean “tea and coffee,” where “tea” refers to the leaf, not to the style of drink; i.e. warm water with cinnamon and lemon in it is not “tea.”) Herbs refers to plants, not just “herbs and spices.” I explicitly stated that we would not be discussing the particulars of the “eat meat sparingly” debate. This is a Gospel Essentials class, so I wanted the students to be introduced to the essentials—and since no modern prophet has chosen to make meat consumption an essential issue, I chose not to make it one either. All of this I mentioned to the class, explaining that there is disagreement between members about what this means; I don’t want new members to get blind-sided by a caffeine/meat doctrine ‘enthusiast’.

This was a good time to discuss more of the history of the Word of Wisdom, as it came to be called, or Lord’s Law of Health, which seems to becoming its more modern name. As mentioned previously, it was not given as a commandment. Some members chose to follow it (refrain from alcohol and tobacco), but many did not. It wasn’t until much later that the Word of Wisdom was widely observed among the Saints, and later still (~100 years) that adherence became a requirement for temple attendance. Interestingly, one aspect of living the Word of Wisdom that concerned Brigham Young was economic: the Saints were spending (in Young’s opinion) extravagant amounts of money importing tobacco, tea, etc. all the way to Utah. (For a Gospel Essentials class, I think this is enough general history.)

I wanted to close by thinking about the Word of Wisdom not as a health code, but as a principle with a promise that must be taken on faith.

Certainly modern medical research validates the physical benefits of obedience to the Word of Wisdom. The evidence is so great that many will be taught the right things for only half of the right reasons. With that limited understanding, could they then try a smoke, a drink, or a drug, rationalizing that “just one won’t hurt”? Could the prospect of only future physical rewards even be bait for foolish dares of defiance now? Or to phrase these questions another way, how many would be determined to obey the will of the Lord even if physical benefits were not assured? When God asked Abraham to offer Isaac in sacrifice, did they first seek scientific confirmation that their choice to obey was medically advisable? (Russell Nelson, Ensign, Nov 1988, p6, emphasis in original)

I think Elder Nelson brings up an important point: some members talk as though the Word of Wisdom is scientific. The problem with that, if you follow medical science, is that recent research shows that moderate amounts of alcohol is cardioprotective, heavy coffee drinkers are far less likely to get type II diabetes, and green tea is good for pretty much everything from Alzheimer’s to cancer*. The bottom line: we shouldn’t reduce the Word of Wisdom to prohibition of _______, or approach it from only a scientific standpoint.

89:18-21 – The last four verses follow the pattern of commandment:temporal:spiritual established at the beginning of the lesson.

It would be great to talk about those promises, but since Sunday School is only ~35 minutes long, you have to make cuts somewhere. I chose to “short-change” the final verses—not because they are least important, but because I think they need the context of the preceding verses. (To lessen the negative of this catch-22, I incorporated some of the “hidden treasures of knowledge” concepts into later lessons. If my class hadn’t had so many really-new members, I could have divided the material differently.)

As you make comments, please keep in mind that this is a lesson for new members and investigators. My intent was to introduce the Word of Wisdom in a way that would allow new members to appreciate it on a spiritual level, but also to prepare them to think about: the in-church debate, personal application decisions, etc.


* You can make the “scientific research is just the evils and designs of conspiring men” argument, but I’ll tell you now: I don’t buy it. Anyway, that doesn’t change Elder Nelson’s or my point.

32 Responses to “An Introduction to the Word of Wisdom (Gospel Essentials Lesson 29)”

  1. NathanG said

    Quick comment on the health benefits and scientific research. My first impression as I learned about alcohol and cardioprotection in medical school was the amount of justification the lecturers then applied to their own drinking. It was almost a celebration that they could drink more.

    With all of these benefits, nothing is so strong a benefit that we routinely make recommendations that people begin drinking alcohol or tea or even smoking (which can help people with some bowel diseases). I do appreciate that science is bringing this information to light because it challenges the way we think about the Word of Wisdom and allows us to mature in our understanding.

    Lastly, the major medical problem of the day is that of obesity. This should be elminated by following the word of wisdom, but we tend to talk about the don’ts and forget the do’s, possibly because the don’ts are discussed in association with the temple. Perhaps in this instance, the scientific research will not validate what we are doing (as we have often used scientific research), but push us to finally accept the entire word of wisdom. That would be ironic.

  2. Cherylem said

    Okay. I’d like to ask a question. Or make a comment. As a convert of almost 30 years (29 years to be exact) I continue to think that the prohibition against tea and coffee is . . . stupid. Really. I do not understand why we should think that God cares one way or the other, nor do I believe that He does care. I cannot see why a cup of coffee would keep one from the temple. I cannot gain a testimony of this principle, though I do follow it.

  3. brianj said

    Nathan: In an age when “everything that tastes good is bad for you,” I’m not surprised that many would celebrate the good news about alcohol. As for addressing obesity, a lot hinges on one’s interpretation (or application) of the word “prudence.”

    Cheryl: I’m afraid I can’t help you. Having been raised a Mormon, I never had to give up any of these things, so I don’t exactly have a testimony of the “coffee principle.” I do have a testimony of the alcohol and tobacco prohibitions, since those were vices I was tempted with by friends and quickly refused—due to the WoW being ingrained in my reflexive answers—and I know that that spared me a lot of grief. Maybe this is why God doesn’t want us to drink coffee. (to be clear: that’s a joke)

  4. Cherylem said

    And one of the things I am MOST PROUD of is the fact that ANYONE I invite to a church function or to my home will not be tempted (i.e., offered) a drink or a cigarette. In our age of terrible addictions and greed based on the suffering of others, this is a great benefit: we all stand with those who must abstain, who are in recovery, who need a social network where those things are not available and are not a part of every day life. I am PROUD that I can model for my children and grandchildren good times that don’t include substance abuse or even friendly drinking. So I love this.

    But the coffee and tea, while not a big enough issue to really argue about, still feels like an unnecessary prohibition. When my own kids have used coffee and tea (and some of them have) I am hard put to call them sinners. Instead I explain the consequences within the church, and then emphasize the greater evils of drinking/smoking/other drugs.

    For what it’s worth only . . . but if I were in a gospel essentials class as an investigator, I would surely bring this up.

  5. robf said

    For me, I think there are better arguments against coffee or tea drinking than just personal health benefits. For instance, there are ecological and social justice issues involved with coffee production and trade. Apparently, one of the big issues for Brigham Young about coffee and tea use among the saints were economic–Saints in Utah shouldn’t be giving up their hard earned (and it was very hard earned back then) cash for coffee and tea, the profits of which would then leave Deseret. Perhaps we don’t pay as much attention to the social, economic, and other entanglements that our food habits enmesh us in. But if you really are what you eat, then maybe the LORD doesn’t want us to be environmentally destructive or tied to the production and commerce in goods that degrade, debase, or enslave others. That’s why I personally find palm oil to be against what I feel as the spirit of the WoW. Of course, there may be other of our favorite commodities that we might find problematic if we knew more about their production, and the “conspiring men” hoping to get us to traffic in them.

    Of course, we wouldn’t probably spend any time on this in a Gospel Essentials class, and I’ve gotten in trouble before for bringing up sociopolitical ramifications of our foods in a Gospel Doctrine class, so not sure where we can or should be able to discuss these aspects of the WoW. If this is a threadjack, I’ll back off now. Wouldn’t want this to just be my own personal gospel hobby.

  6. Joe Spencer said

    Very interesting discussion.

    I think Bushman’s treatment of the Word of Wisdom in Rough Stone Rolling is actually the most helpful I’ve come across: he contextualizes the revelation by setting it in relation to the building of the temple and the general themes of temperance and clarity of mind in section 88. Were I to be teaching an investigator class, I would certainly go in this direction: the Word of Wisdom is about the temple and how we come before God, not about health (as the last verses of the revelation make abundantly clear).

    Really, I think it is time for a very close textual study of the Word of Wisdom. What of the connections between the first part of Proverbs? What of the fact that “mild drinks” (beer, by the way, would have been classified as a “mild drink,” if I’m not mistaken—the WoW never mentions alcohol; only strong drinks) are okay? And how should this meat business be interpreted, anyway? How is the WoW connected with the broader Old-Testament-alization of Mormonism that was underway beginning in 1831? Etc., etc., etc.

    A wiki project?

  7. robf said

    Joe, I’m totally with you on the D&C 88 clarity thing. And I wonder, since our latter-day lifestyle is so far removed from the production of our food, if there isn’t something about the WoW that is supposed to help us pull back the veil of forgetfulness that we have put up to separate us from the implications of what we eat. I think the reason that the scriptural feasting metaphor is so poignant is that real eating and feasting is supposed to be such a rich experience that connects us to each other and everything involved in the production of the food/feast. Now that most of our food comes out of a jug, jar, can, or carton we do not experience our food as we once did. Except for thanksgiving dinner, most of us don’t eat more than casual meals very often. Can our instant-out-of-a-can culture even appreciate food anymore? If we don’t know what it means to feast, how can we feast upon the word?

    Sorry, but food and scriptures combine to make a topic impossible for me to resist!

  8. Jim F. said

    Cheryl, as a convert myself (it will be 46 years next February), I understand your comment: the prohibition on coffee and tea is stupid, i.e., without rational grounds (sorry for the unintentional pun). However, I understand that prohibition as a sign of the covenants I have made. I cannot refuse a cup of coffee without reminding myself of who I am and, seldom, without making a public statement of that fact. So I see the prohibitions as like temple garments.

    However, I think that the environmental issues are not insignificant, whether justifications for the Word or Wisdom or not. Rob’s links are good. See also this recent piece in the HY Times: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article2778177.ece

  9. brianj said

    robf and JimF: regarding the environmental impact of coffee: note that I linked to the “panda” site in comment #3, and I did it as a joke. Now I have to clarify (since rob made the same link!). I’m not at all knowledgeable on these issues, but the reason that I don’t think the WoW is about socio-econo-environmental oppression and coffee, is that coffee is only one of many (most?) foods that would fit that description. Plenty of ecologists have made convincing arguments that corn (for example) is an environmental disaster for the U.S. It just all seems like way too big of an issue to be able to say, “Coffee is ‘bad’ but strawberries, oranges, rice, and chicken are ‘good’.”

    Now, to argue the other side: maybe this is what the “fruits in their seasons” thing is about. Locally grown produce at least has a lower environmental impact (usually), and probably incurs less social injustice as well. Perhaps our seasonal kitchen fruit baskets should be the subject of recommend interviews?

  10. Jim F. said

    brianj: I apologize for helping create a threadjack. However, having apologized, I’m going to go ahead and say a couple of more things on that threadjack.

    It would be anachronistic to argue that the Word of Wisdom is about socio-econo-environmental oppression. However, I think that coffee is a much worse offender in that regard than are strawberries, though perhaps on a par of some kind with corn. As a footnote, I think that is generally less helpful to decide which foods or practices are good and which are bad. Instead, we ought to decide what it takes for us, as individuals, families, and communities, to live responsibly. The answers may differ from person to person, famly or community to family or community, place to place, and time to time. It may be right for me to eat considerably less meat than someone living in different circumstances. It may be wrong for me to depend so completely on food transported from hither and yon but right for someone living on Chicago’s South Side. (And I mean “may be” to mean “may be.” I’m not trying to disguise an “is.”)

  11. s james said

    brianj, a great post.

    To refer to Cherylem’s point #4, that these substances are ‘addictive’ raises the agency argument, ie substances that are compelling, that are habit forming, that seek their own, that create dependence, or lead to ‘obsession’, have the potential to take away our agency, to diminish our capacity to act, to interfere with our capacities to choose, decide or judge.

    New members can be taught that the gift of agency is fundamental to our Heavenly Father’s purposes and their eternal progression, that anything which would lessen this, in the normal course of everyday life, like consuming substances that are addictive, is in opposition to this.

  12. robf said

    Jim F., I agree that a socio-economic-environmental twist to the WoW is anachronistic to how we’ve traditionally interpreted the WoW. But don’t count out the mysterious “evils and designs, which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men” as a primary reason why we have the WoW. How much do we really understand what all that might entail? I think there is a lot of room to see the WoW as much more intricately wrapped up in other Zion-building and soul expanding doctrines of the restoration, rather than as a curious 19th Century code of health to be lived out of obedience.

    Something that Joe said on one of his recent podcasts has really hit me–obedience isn’t enough. Our obedience is only good in so far as we do it “in the name of Christ” or as Christ would. Makes me wonder WWJE (“what would Jesus eat”) in today’s political economy. Agreed, if he lived on the South Side of Chicago he might make many different choices than someone living in Utah Valley, but what would he eat if he lived where I live? Would he eat factory-raised animals if he could find something produced with less animal suffering? Would he eat strawberries fumigated with fungicides and shipped thousands of miles on billion-year-old fossil fuels? Jesus had a much more limited number of food choices when he was here on earth–what would he make of our supermarket shopping?

    I don’t know what he’d eat, but wonder as someone who has taken upon me the name of Christ, if the whole WWJE questions has to be given a better answer than “whatever I’m in the mood for that’s on sale at Smiths”.

    Is WWJE a question to pose in a WoW Gospel Essentials class? A seminary class? Family home evening?

  13. Jim F said

    robf: I think you’re absolutely right that it is a mistake to think of the WofW as merely a curious 19-century health code to be lived out of obedience. However, I also think that obeying it as a sign of my covenants is not the same as obeying it out of obedience.

    I also think we ought to ask much more often questions like “What would Jesus eat? or wear? or drive? or . . . ?” Those questions may not belong in Gospel Essentials class, but surely they belong in Family Home Evening and probably they belong in at least some of our church classes.

    We too seldom ask about the practical implications of having made our covenants–beyond repeating the obvious, such as “Don’t steal” and “Don’t commit adultery.” Both of those are much bigger problems than they ought to be (especially if we broaden “Don’t steal” to “Don’t defraud”), so I’m not in the least against repeating them forcefully. But I don’t think it suffices to repeat them.

  14. Robert C. said

    (Also somewhat off-topic, my wife recently discovered Living Fresh on the Home Discovery Channel which is a show that gives practical tips for living in a health- and environmentally-conscious way. Esp. in light of the Word of Wisdom, I’m glad to see shows like this being successful. (Although, in probably the only two episodes I’ve seen, I couldn’t help noticing that her hair color changed, which strikes me as somewhat counter to the spirit of the show….))

  15. brianj said

    (All: I’m not too worried about the threadjacks. I’m actually pleased by how this discussion has gone thus far. I take the threadjacks like I would a comment in class—if it’s a sincere concern, how can it really be a threadjack?)

    (Robert: fyi, one can use juice from berries to color hair.)

  16. NathanG said

    Cherylem and Jim F,
    Your comment about the prohibition of coffee and tea being stupid has made me think about a question I have been thinking about the last several days. Is there something inherently different between a law and a commandment? Are the two terms completely interchangeable? loosely interchangeable? Are laws inherently right and wrong and commandments situationally right and wrong (God being the definer of the situation)? Is drinking coffee inherently wrong or right? I don’t know. However, it is something I have covenanted to do (as Jim talked about). As far as the temple goes, I think God cares much less about whether or not we drink coffee (commandment) than whether or not we can be true to covenants we have made (law of obedience).

  17. K Cryder said

    I like your class notes on word of wisdom. I thought it was a great intro/beginner class. I liked that you brought up a few thought provoking questions that were relevant to the understanding of that class level. it’s really important that we keep our thoughts, questions etc to the level of the learner isn’t it?

    I think that you should be commended for obeying and teaching the word of wisdom to your children –especially in light of the fact that you don’t have a testimony of it, Or, as you said, “cannot gain a testimony of it.” CAN you not get a testimony of it, as in, the Lord won’t give it to you? Or, WILL you not get a testimony of it, as in, You think it’s stupid so you won’t try. It just seems to me an important issue to have a testimony of. Before I served a mission, I knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I’ve always just known it. I didn’t really learn it, particularly, as my family was “broken up” and inactive while I was a kid. But, the point is, even though I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet, I still needed to pray about it and get a confirmation of it because I felt I needed to be able to bear testimony that I prayed about it and received an answer just like I would be asking all my investigators to do.

    I don’t think God would give us “stupid” rules for no reason. Do you? We know the reasons that have been given us. The rest is speculation. Even in the light of all our modern medical knowledge, we may not have even come close to understanding why the leaders of the church specified tea and coffee as the hot drinks referred to by the lord.

    There are just many things in the gospel that we are not able to understand. It’s up to us to have faith and trust in the lord that all these laws commandments, rules counsel, etc etc are for our benefit whether we understand it or not. Don’t get me wrong, I preceive that you do have faith, hence your obedience. My point is that we can still gain a testimony of a commandment even if we don’t thoroughly understand all the whys and wherefores of it.

    Ps. I don’t buy (no pun) into the whole socio-economic argument.

  18. cherylem said

    #17 KCryder,
    Just to clarify, I was only speaking to coffee/tea. . . not the entire section in the D&C. See my comments #4 for the other part of the prohibition associated with the Word of Wisdom.

  19. Justin said

    Being a convert from the South…I tried for a long time to justify “iced tea” in my mind since it wasn’t a “hot” drink. However as superficially “stupid” a commandment may seem…I know that no directive given by Heavenly Father is flawed. For whatever reason, He knows that drugs, alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee should not be put into our bodies.
    Besides…I don’t think a commandment can be “picked-and-choosed”. For example, either all of the WofW prohibitions are stupid, or they all are inspired. I know [spiritually and scientifically] that alcohol, drugs, and tobacco are bad for the human body. I don’t think Heavenly Father would just throw on tea and coffee among those other 3 if they weren’t somehow just as bad.

  20. brianj said

    NathanG, 16: I like what you ask, “Is there a difference between a law and a commandment?” I would like to expand that to, “Are there differences between laws, commandments, and suggestions (from God)?” (see my note on 89:2 in the original post)

  21. Robert C. said

    I think this question about law vs. commandment is very interesting, esp. in light of earlier discussion about testimony. I think we often misinterpret the Spirit to be testifying about metaphysical, intellectual truths (i.e., “laws”), when in reality I think the Spirit “only” confirms things that are more specific. I guess I’ve witnessed many instances where people fee they’ve “gained a testimony” about something that seems very odd and contradictory to the teachings of the scriptures and prophets to me, and yet when I ask about their experience more specifically, it seems to me they indeed felt the Spirit confirming that a particular action or choice they were facing was good, but then they generalized this into a belief about a metaphysical law or doctrine. This, I think, is a dangerous practice.

    Similarly, I wonder if it’s not dangerous to think about gaining a testimony about a specific part of the Word of Wisdom in this way. I would say I’ve felt the Spirit confirming that my decision not to drink coffee and tea is a good one that is in harmony with God’s will for me. If I start assuming that means that everyone will or should have the same experience in the same way seems a bit presumptuous. After all, I’ve had a similar experience with my decision to limit the number of donuts I’ve eaten. In a certain sense, I view these two experiences differently, since I think of my decision regarding coffee as more religious (i.e., Church counsel) than my decision regarding donuts, but for me there’s no definitive line that, for example, makes my decision regarding donuts outside the realm of what is spiritual.

    Having said all that, I will add (mainly with you in mind, Cheryl, if you’re reading this) that my experience with not drinking coffee and tea seems much more related to my relationship with the Church as an institution, and with fellow members of the Church, than it does, say, with my relationship to God directly. That is, I would say my decision regarding donuts is more personal between me and God whereas my decision regarding coffee and tea is more communal.

  22. NathanG said

    I like your suggestion to compare the difference between law, commandments, and suggestions. I think doctrines and principles could be included in the discussion. Perhaps after I work through laws and commandments I can add that.

    Robert, I am struggling with defining laws as truths (I prefered calling truths “doctrines” like you used late in the first paragraph) (I’m not rejecting your use law outright, just struggling). When I started thinking about this initially I was thinking about things like the Law of Consecration or Law of Chastity. I think these “laws” require behaviors, attitudes, and actions, whereas “truths” may not in and of themselves. These laws seem to be applicable through all dispensations (and I include the law of consecration). For commandments I thought of the command for Lehi to leave Jerusalem, Nephi to slay Laban, for me to go on my mission to California, for the Saints in the last dispensation to follow the Word of Wisdom, or even the United Order. The distinction between law and commandment (if there even is one) breaks down (in my mind) when I think of things like the Law of Moses, Law of Tithing, or the Law found in D&C 42. These are specific actions and behaviors for specific situations (what I’m calling commandments).

    The Word of Wisdom (as both commandment and friendly advice) seems to be situational. The introduction seems to support this “In consequence of the evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” (89:4). That’s giving a specific reason that leaves a very vague explanation. What are the evils and designs? (I never noticed the word “and” in there). Some have already been suggested.

    Does it even matter if there is a difference between laws and commandments? I hope so. With the Word of Wisdom, maybe it helps to think that the wisdom of prohibiting coffee and tea is to protect us in a certain situation (those evils and designs), rather than thinking that the prohibition is what will make you good or bad or even healthy vs unhealthy. After remembering to keep and do these things, we can gain wisdom and knowledge. Perhaps that knowledge may be understanding what dangers we avoided by following God’s friendly advice.

  23. robf said

    OK, big can of worms for me here. Maybe I should just leave it be, rather than stir it up, but this discussion has bordered on finding justification for the WoW (or at least parts of the WoW). Since I only flirted with philosophy for a bit at BYU before drifting off to Anthropology, perhaps Jim can help me out here, but here’s my question:

    Where and how can or should we draw the line between finding fruits or our obedience and a post hoc attempt to justify our gospel living?

    Its pretty easy to see people making up all kinds of reasons to justify their decisions or claims, and to dismiss those claims as merely post hoc ergo propter hoc. Is this happening in our discussion of the WoW? I can see from having lived the WoW for all my life, that eating a lot of meat contributes to what are for many people unseemly factory farming, illegal labor, and harmful environmental impacts. That doesn’t mean that is why we were given the WoW, though given the possibility of inspiration and revelation, I can’t rule that out. I can see good that can come from living that part of the WoW–just like people see health benefits from living other parts of the WoW. But what does that mean? Are these real gospel fruits? Or mere justifications created by a mind anxious to find reasons to justify a favorite gospel hobby?

    Sorry if this is confusing or unclear. For sure not the type of conversation I’d expect to have in a Gospel Essentials WoW discussion, though the nature of seeking justificatory evidence for our gospel beliefs is something that perhaps we don’t discuss enough, perhaps leading to some eye rolling during testimony meetings (though its very possible I’m just speaking for myself here).

  24. brianj said

    robf: I like your question, but don’t know how to answer. But I will say it is exactly the sort of thing that could be brought up in a Gospel Essentials class, as long as it is brought up as a caution and not the topic of discussion.

  25. Robert C. said

    robf, I too think this is a fascinating question. My take is that faith that requires justification first, is not really faith but sign-seeking, as I think Alma tries to explain in Alma 32. But, that’s not to say that we aren’t given signs to nurture our faith along the way, it’s just we must first make a place or clearing for such signs to be made manifest and to be recognized as such.

  26. brianj said

    On the question of law/commandment/suggestion, let me ask a hypothetical. What is the difference between:

    1) God said, “You must wear pants; if you do not, then you will not be allowed outside to play.”
    2) God said, “You must wear pants; if you do not, then your legs will not be protected from scrapes when you play.”
    3) God said, “I think it would be a good idea to wear pants, but the choice is yours.”

  27. Joe Spencer said

    rob, very important question. It is precisely because I share your concerns here that I try as often as I do to suggest that we move to the wiki: there is far more here to study, and that study and our questions there will more likely overthrow any attempt at self-justification than anything else I can come up with.

  28. NathanG said

    #26 reminds me of another question you asked in the original post regarding “adapted to the capacity of the weak,” particularly with your second interpration of this phrase. If I combine both of your thoughts (which may not be what you intended) then our progression in the Word of Wisdom is interesting. I see your hypothetical questions as a progression in how God would like to teach us with 3 being better than 2, and 2 being better than 1. That is, God would like to just suggest we do something and we would do it. In fact, Jesus kind of did that when he stated the two great commandments that all the law and the prophets hang from. So the Word of Wisdom was given as a suggestion (with perhaps even more detail than God wanted to give because of the weakness of the saints). We subsequently, as a church chose to follow (portions of) more like #2 as well as #1 (If you don’t abstain from certain things, you can’t go to the temple).

    So, what would this mean about us as a church? What does it mean about me, personally? Have we become weaker because we (as the church) have made the Word of Wisdom more like #1? Are we really simple in our understanding of the word of wisdom? What if the church stopped using the prohibitions of the Word of Wisdom in relation to our temple recommends? Would I disregard God’s good suggestion because I no longer felt I had to follow it? That gets at a central question I’ve been asking myself recently: Why do I keep the commandments? Why do I obey God? Are the bad reasons to keep the commandments? Are there good reasons? better reasons? the best reasons? I think ultimately we need to come to obedience because of the two great commandments. Fortunately, God is patient and will bless us and abide with us until we experience a mighty change of heart and put our obedience in the name of Christ (as stated in #12).

    Brian, I don’t usually think of “adapted to the capacity of the weak” in that way, but it was fun and I’m glad I went there.

  29. Matthew said

    I’m coming to this party a bit late.

    Cheryl#2 I do feel like not drinking coffee and tea is an important social statement that I am different. Having grown up in Utah I was surprised to find when I went to school and worked with almost exclusively non-Mormons how much coffee especially is part of our social culture.

    People are more likely to know I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ because I don’t drink coffee than for any other reason. Not participating in the daily morning ritual with the other office workers sets one apart. (I think this goes along with my Dad’s comments in #8.)

    Robf (#23) wrote: Are these real gospel fruits? Or mere justifications created by a mind anxious to find reasons to justify a favorite gospel hobby?

    This is an interesting question. I don’t have a good answer. But the faithful shouldn’t feel bad about looking for the hand of God in all things. In that vein, I hope that me seeing how not drinking coffee has helped be stand apart from the community is a good thing. One to thank God for.

    That said, like you, I am bothered by some post hoc justifications. For example, I remember hearing people explain how rats if not given food in what is the equivalent of 1 day per month (for their life span) would live longer–or something like that. I don’t like this kind of thing first because I think it is based on shoddy science which leads people to a false faith. When the shoddiness is exposed the faith is exposed as being built on a false foundation. What bothers me more thous is that in the way of telling this story, I think we reinforce the idea that every dietary law given has to be blessed by a scientific proof of better health or it is like a mathematical proposition waiting for a proof.

  30. brianj said

    Matthew: I think you echo some of Elder Nelson’s sentiments about WoW and science.

    Oh, and the party never starts until you arrive.

  31. Jim F. said

    Cheryl, pure speculation, but here’s something I wrote a few years ago about aspects of the Word of Wisdom: “The Savior says: “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). Perhaps by ourselves not drinking of the fruit of the vine now, we remember the Savior’s promise that he will drink with us when he returns.”

  32. cherylem said

    Thanks – I’ve appreciated this whole conversation. I always appreciate the ability to speak honestly – though I would go back and modify my post in #2 to use a different word than the one I used. I actually do like the word of wisdom – especially those aspects I noted in #4. I think there is much to think about in this section, as so many of you have already said.

    Jim, I like your comment in #31. Very much.

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