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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Word(s) of Wisdom: Going Beyond Health and Semantics

Several discussion groups out there among the LDS church have tabooed conversation about the Word of Wisdom because of how heated and contentious it gets.  I know this is a sensitive subject for many but in light of recent observations, I feel the need to address something regarding this revelation from God that perhaps many members of the church (let alone the world as a whole) don't think of or possibly don't understand.  For those who are not members of the church and have not heard about this yet, it's a code of health and respectful treatment of our bodies.  Short disclaimer, too: I'm not writing this to give a hint to or take a subtle cheap shot at anyone with whom I have had these discussions.  It's just something that is on my mind quite heavily.

Now, I know that there are certain things that are quite clearly spelled out in church doctrine (not just word of wisdom).  For example, Latter-day Saints choosing to drink any type of alcoholic beverage, coffee, non-herbal teas, consume tobacco in any way shape or form, use illegal or harmful drugs or abuse prescription drugs or get a tattoo cannot worthily retain a temple recommend until repentance is complete.  Some other things are not quite as explicitly spelled out.  For example, General Authorities of the church have encouraged members to be cautious of and/or avoid energy drinks, follow the Holy Ghost and personal inspiration as to what type of general diet to follow and more without any persistent and direct statements saying "don't ever do this" so as to avoid a law of Moses approach to the gospel.

We should not need every little tiny thing spelled out in painstaking detail.  That would leave little to no room for our God given gift of moral agency.  But there is so much more to living in wisdom than making a list of do's and don'ts, not that that's always a bad thing.

I've been a part of conversations where questions are was posed about consuming coffee flavored things, such as ice cream, shakes and so forth and cooking with rum extract without actually drinking any coffee or rum, and other things are not explicitly forbidden for Latter-day Saints, but, is always posed as a serious question by honest inquirers.

The first crucial thing I want to address is well prefaced by a story from the Aaronic Priesthood Manual: "...a man was interviewing new drivers for his transportation company. The route was very dangerous and went along several steep cliffs through a mountain pass. The interviewer asked each man how close he could safely drive near the edge of the cliff. The first man responded, “I could drive within six inches of the edge.” The second man responded, “I could drive within two inches of the edge.” The third man responded, “I would stay as far away from the edge of the cliff as I possibly could.”  You can probably guess who was hired.

The point is that rather than see how close we can get to drinking coffee (or any other aspect of the subject at hand) without actually drinking it, staying as far away from sin as possible is always the best option.  Does this mean I can never go to Tim Horton's and get hot chocolate there again? No, because for me, it's not even a temptation.  I hate the smell of coffee.  For others this is not always the case and they should be more careful if the smell makes them want it or something that is like it.  Bottom line with this point, please just stay as far away from the edge as possible.

The second point I want to discuss is why we should be avoiding those things in the first place.  I've heard so many arguments about the benefits vs. downfalls of so many things we consume it would be outlandish of me to try to list them all, but I know that arguments about caffeine, sugar, what constitutes an unhealthy energy drink, how many piercings are acceptable have been a few points of contention over the years.  This is all utter nonsense to me.  Why are we arguing about semantics?  This is the very reason the Lord taught a higher law that clearly condemns every single, little, minute, obnoxious detail and reason for every commandment being handed to us on a silver platter.

What ever happened to "I have faith that our modern prophet is lead by God so I'll just do it, period"?

What ever happened to "I don't need to know why coffee, alcohol, etc. etc. are so bad to avoid them when God says to"?

What ever happened to "I simply love the Lord so I'll take the safest route without second guessing, back pedaling or doing research to see what the 'professionals' say"?

These questions, and my whole point with this entry, goes far beyond health, beyond coffee, tea, alcohol, tattoos, dress standards, what is appropriate to do on the Sabbath, the language of prayer, what movies, T.V., and music is appropriate, and all that stuff.  It all boils down to two questions we should be asking about which we should be downright uncomfortably honest with ourselves.

Would the Lord do it? and Would Jesus offer this to me Himself?

Now I know none of us are expected to be like God right now or even during mortality, but that should not be a reason to make excuses, however insignificant or small they may seem to us, to justify something that, deep down, we know is wrong.

I can say with confidence that I am absolutely sure Christ would not partake of or offer us coffee flavored anything or cook with rum extract.  I am certain that He wouldn't drink - heck - probably anything that's not water or 100% pure fruit juice, be comfortable with his wife in public wearing almost any of the bathing suits that are popular today... do you see where I'm going with this?

I'm not saying we have to go all stir crazy and become like the Mennonites or anything like that (though I give kudos to Mennonites for sticking to their standards).  Becoming like Christ is a life long pursuit, a step by step process that requires one small step at a time with, huge spiritual leaps scattered along the way.

What I am saying is that if you have to ask "is this wrong? is it too close to the edge of spiritual danger?"  If even a shadow of that thought crosses your mind, the safest route is to always err on the side of caution.  Just because something won't keep you out of the temple if you were to tell your bishop doesn't mean its always okay in the Lord's eyes.

The world is more wicked than it's ever been.  The devil is more sly, more deceptive, more smooth in his sweet talk, more effective in his methods than he ever has been.  He has control of more souls than he ever has before and is better at getting you to make small mistakes than you think he is.  I think of Harry Potter and his occlumency lessons when Harry asks if he can rest for a moment and Snape responds "The dark lord isn't resting!!"  The same applies here.  If you think that there is room to slip up a little when somewhere in your mind or heart the Holy Ghost is saying "are you sure that's a good idea?", get ready for a harsh wake up call when Jesus comes again.

I'll start wrapping this whole thing up with a promise of happiness.  It comes from Mosiah 4:11-12: "And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.  And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true."

To me, in a nutshell, what this is saying is that the more we acknowledge how little we know or even can know compared to God, the more we stop caring too much about the whys and let God show us those why's on His time, the more we desire to stay as far as possible from the edge of sin, the more likely we are to "always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God."

I know I'm not anywhere near where I want to be in this respect, but I'm not going to knowingly make excuses to do something that 'could be' questionable even if it won't keep me out of the temple. Those little things that aren't "spelled out" as bad that we think are not a big deal? They're going to become a big deal the longer we take to get them out of our lives.  I know this from personal experience.  Our hearts and minds need to be we willingly and lovingly focused on putting them off for bigger, more divine and rich blessings from our Savior.

As Elder David A. Bednar said: "Discernment is so much more than recognizing right from wrong.  It helps us distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant, the important from the unimportant and the necessary from that which is merely nice."

If you want to really make it to the ultimate goal of salvation and exaltation, the little things that "aren't really that bad", even from a Latter-day Saint perspective, but which are unnecessary or edge even the smallest amount away from the iron rod, have got to go.  Whether or not your bishop or other priesthood leadership refuse you a temple recommend for it, if it could possibly taunt you to loosen your grip on the rod or look like it could or even just serve as a distraction that doesn't push you in either direction, it will only end up being a hindrance to you; and trust me, it's better to prepare and prevent than to repair and repent.

And it's not as hard as we think!  All it takes is exertion of faith.

(Part 2 of this can be read here)