Doctrine: The Word of Wisdom is a law of health only as that health leads us to being in greater tune with the Holy Spirit. The health is not end goal of the law. As well, following this law is clearly about its capacity to mark us spiritually as the people of God and followers of Christ, to set us apart from the world, so that the “destroying angel” will pass us by.
I was asked to write a blog on The Lord’s Law of Health. But, this blog is not going to be about eating right. It’s not going to be about abstaining from alcohol, drugs, or addictive substances. It’s not going to be about the negatives about tea and coffee. It’s also not going to be about supplements, eating organic, or any personal or fad eating interpretations of the Word of Wisdom.
So, what’s it going to be about? Well, put on your seat belt and hang tight. I’m going to get right down to the doctrine behind the Word of Wisdom, and it has much less to do with health that you might suppose.
Does God want us to be healthy? Yes. He wants us to take care of the gift of our bodies which He has given us; which bodies, though gifted to us, are not actually ours. This is because Christ actually bought our physical bodies and spirits with His everlasting atonement (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
With His suffering in Gethsemane, Christ performed a grand and infinite vicarious ordinance and paid Justice for our sins and took upon Himself all of our pains, sicknesses, suffering, and misery; that He might know how to succor us (Alma 7:12). That act purchased our spirits IF we choose to accept it, to repent, and to follow Him and become like Him. Then, on the cross He gave His physical life and then three days later took it up again in the second, beautiful, grand vicarious ordinance of the resurrection. By so doing He purchased the physical bodies we had already been given as a gift; and made it so that we too, all of us—regardless of whether we repent and follow Him or not—might also be resurrected, our bodies healed, perfected, and restored to immortality.
So, God wants us to take care of the gift of our body that He has given us. He wants us to keep it clean. He wants us to honor it. But, if that were the sole purpose of the Word of Wisdom, or even the most important purpose, then the Word of Wisdom should have included a bunch of other things like: avoid trans-fat, don’t overeat, exercise regularly, don’t take one part of this commandment and get excessive, oh, and by the way, there may be exceptions to this rule as mortality will subject people’s genes and bodies to mutations and weaknesses that may not always jive with this standard list (like celiac disease). We have vegetarians (of all types) in the church and yet in the scriptures God clearly condones the eating of meat. So, we simply can’t limit an infinite and eternal being, like God, to giving a command that is merely finite and mortal. If we treat this law as finite and mortal we will miss the entire point of it.
Though basic health is a likely benefit, it is hardly the most important purpose of the Word of Wisdom. In fact, the Israelites were given a Word of Wisdom in the Old Testament. It contained all sorts of things that ours doesn’t today. They were not forbidden to drink wine like we are. They were discouraged from strong drinks (drinks made to be purposefully intoxicating), yet it wasn’t totally forbidden. However, they couldn’t eat pork and lots of other things that God allows us to eat today.
Now, people like to generalize and justify and say, “Well, the water quality wasn’t as good back then, so God had to let them drink wine,” or, “They didn’t have the same capability to keep things clean and so a lot of the meats they couldn’t eat likely would have caused problems, etc…” While it’s nice sometimes when we can find scientific realities that support our beliefs, it simply can’t sustain a testimony of this godly law.
In Doctrine and Covenants 89, which contains the major portion of our current Word of Wisdom, the Lord clearly states His first purpose for the Word of Wisdom. He says, “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you and forewarn you, by giving you this word of wisdom…” Note that God doesn’t say, “Because I’m worried about your health.” No, He clearly mentions its purpose relates to the evil designs of mankind that will exist regarding food and drink in the last days. This could range from anything to commercialized alcoholic drinks to eccentric diets, health fads, and to the misuse and perpetuation of drugs for non-medical uses. The current eating and drinking environment in our world today is clearly plagued by commercialism, crime, and conspiring people who live off our enjoyment of, dependence on, and/or addiction to unhealthy substances.
Now, I could go on about the evil designs and how they relate to the Word of Wisdom, but I’ve already deleted (several times actually) the paragraphs I keep writing about these designs. I need to pass over those because the real doctrine, the real beauty of this law is in the blessings—which in and of themselves teach us the most important reasons for God’s giving us this law and its most amazing and powerful underlying doctrines.
According to the scriptures (Doctrine and Covenants 89), the blessings for keeping the Word of Wisdom are as follows:
“And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments (notice that the Word of Wisdom must be kept in conjunction with other commandment keeping to bring about the desired blessings), 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 (Yes, this is all ONE unified blessing with related parts—note the punctuation).
And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass them by, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.”
Now, the first blessing has “health” as the first word and so that’s what everyone runs with. But, if you look at the scripture reference directly, the health is directly tied to the wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures, and the running and walking and not wearying and fainting. Thus, the health is not a stand-alone blessing. In fact, it isn’t. It is a blessing that facilitates another two blessings: wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures, and running and not wearying and walking and not fainting.
So, how does health facilitate hidden treasures of knowledge? When our bodies feel good and they are not impaired by a lack of health; when our bodies are not distracting us with the effects of processing unhealthy chemicals and substances, we are better able to receive personal revelation and inspiration from the Holy Spirit. We can assimilate secular knowledge better, we can better discern between right and wrong, we are less confused, and we are more in tune with ourselves. By default, we then have a greater chance of receiving promptings and inspiration from the Holy Spirit; which, I continue to remind people isn’t some sub-standard messenger. He’s a member of the godhead! Meaning, He’s a god!
A standard level of health and well-being = more open and able to receive communication from God.
So, the first purpose of the Word of Wisdom is to give us a better chance of communicating with God because of our health. Health itself isn’t the big blessing. Health merely facilitates the blessing.
It’s important to understand this clear doctrine because the moment we think health is our main goal we become eccentric and make health fads and the version of health that works for us more important than the true purpose, which is to facilitate personal revelation from the Holy Spirit. If we preach health we must first focus on its goal and never swap the order of importance.
Now the first blessing continues to include: walking and not fainting and running and not wearying. As we consider these things it’s critical to remember God never gives us anything that is strictly temporal, or physical, or only for this mortal life (Doctrine and Covenants 29:34-35). All His commands and blessings have both temporal and spiritual purpose and meaning. I mean, all the people that live by the Word of Wisdom are not perfectly healthy. They aren’t exempt from diseases like cancer and diabetes. My mother can’t walk that well, nor has she run since she was a child. So, if keeping this law doesn’t make us able to walk and run physically, what does God mean?
Well, if we think it through, then one logical path we can take is this: 1) general good health and the lack of addictions and fad foods and dieting can help us better receive 2) personal revelation from God for our lives; which revelation can give us the 3) spiritual strength to endure to the end in keeping God’s commands, in walking in His footsteps, in running around serving others, and in living valiantly through mortal trials and struggles. So, IF we are healthy we have the insight to be what God wants us to be and to do what He would have us do. That, my friends, is a beautiful, enduring, and joyful gift.
Now, to my favorite part. The second blessing is so full of symbolism and deep, religious meaning. We are promised that we will be passed by as the children of Israel, by the destroying angel. What did the Israelites do to be passed over by the destroying angel? They marked their doors with the blood of a lamb; a lamb which represented Christ. Christ was the Passover lamb. And to be “passed over” they had to mark their homes.
So, let’s do a comparison here. By keeping God’s Word of Wisdom we are spiritually marking ourselves as true followers of Christ. Certainly Mormons have been known to be healthier as a whole and to live longer generally, then the average public. And that’s great. But, the real treasure of the Word of Wisdom is that it makes us different from the rest of the world in ways no one will ever see with physical eyes. It is a spiritual mark. And, it marks us as a “peculiar treasure,” as Christians, as the people of God (Exodus 19:5; Psalms 135:4). It is one of the ways God has commanded us to mark ourselves in these modern times.
Keeping the Word of Wisdom = we are marked spiritually as God’s people and will be passed over by the destroying angel
If you take the time to see the Word of Wisdom this way, then preaching about eccentric health fads loses importance in a drastic way. Are any of those fads profitable to us? Well, yes, sometimes, and no, sometimes. Each of us is different, has different health issues, struggles, and genetics. But if there is a health fad or tool that is helpful, we should use them to turn our focus to receiving personal revelation and understanding the critical purpose of being spiritually marked.
Should we help others improve their health? Certainly! But we should encourage them to improve their health for the right reasons and in the ways that work best for them. We can testify of the methods that help us, but we should not make those methods a gospel unto themselves, or more important than their purpose. We should say, “Hey, taking enzymes helps me feel better. It helps me be more healthy and to feel less distracted when I’m serving God and seeking His will.” Then we should preach not that those enzymes are how everyone should keep the Word of Wisdom, but that each of us should seek those ways which best help us to feel good so that we can receive the magnificent blessings that are available to us as we honor the gift of our bodies.
I have an amazing sister who uses PLEXUS products. She loves them. I love that she talks about them and encourages others to try them. She shares her personal experiences about how they have blessed her life. But, she doesn’t suggest that they are the only way. She encourages people to try them to see if they will help them to achieve this feeling of well-being that she has discovered.
Now, I sometimes think that as her sister that I should try the products, but the truth is I feel great already. I exercise and eat pretty healthy. I almost never eat out unless it’s somewhere incredibly delicious and worth the money. I prefer to eat breads with only whole grain (on the grounds of taste and texture as well as healthy). I drink tons of water and chew ice…which probably isn’t good for my teeth, but I’m very hydrated. I avoid some processed foods, but certainly not all. I try to be well-rounded and balanced in all that I eat, enjoying treats often. I even overeat, especially on holidays and when someone cooks a darn good dinner. I simply don’t get caught up in any one fad or supplement because in understanding the end blessings that I want; I don’t ever need get overly converted to “the way” in which I achieve them. I stick to basics—God’s basics.
Some supplements and health fads have many aspects of truth to them. So, if you’re into those and they work well for you, I say, “Go for it!” But my plea is only to not forget the “why” of your goal of health. Don’t become so converted to the “the way” you are becoming healthy, that you let it distract you (or others) from the “why” you are becoming healthy.
Getting healthy is about being strong and being able to serve and bless those around us. It’s about having the ability to serve the Lord. The Word of Wisdom IS about feeling good about ourselves in a healthy, appropriate, way so that we aren’t distracted by low self-esteem or unnatural self-consciousness. Because low self-esteem and unnatural or unhealthy self-consciousness can directly affect our ability to serve God and receive personal revelation. They can distract and preoccupy us.
To get healthy and feel good has direct spiritual blessings and those blessings have deep and beautiful doctrine beneath them. That is the purpose of the Word of Wisdom. That is why the health aspect is important.
So, get healthy to increase your capacity for personal revelation. Get healthy and follow the Lord’s Law of Health to put a spiritual mark on yourself that is as powerful as the Lamb’s blood that marked the doors of the children of Israel in Egypt. That spiritual mark has significant meaning and the Lord wants it there for a reason. I don’t know how the destroying angel will pass us by now and in the future, but I think I’m certainly not willing to risk not having the spiritual mark. I want the blood of the Lamb of God marking my life and preserving me spiritually as it preserved the Israelites physically so long ago.