22 February 2015

Why the Prohibitions in the Word of Wisdom?

Originally published on “A Prayer of Faith” 04 November 2006

For years, many Latter-day Saints have focused heavily on scientific findings to support the Word of Wisdom prohibitions on tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, and illegal drugs. Perhaps for many of us, the Word of Wisdom has come to represent 1) scientific truth about nutrition, and 2) obedience to a commandment of God.

Now there seem to be an increasing number of articles in the media reporting the results of health studies which can be interpreted as showing that green tea, black tea, wine, and even coffee may have significant health benefits. Marijuana has been advocated by many in the medical profession for certain kinds of pain relief. Although tobacco, the over-consumption of strong alcoholic drinks, and the use of certain drugs may always remain frowned upon by scientists, we may soon find that moderate amounts of wine, black and green tea, coffee, and even presently illegal drugs are routinely recommended by researchers and doctors to treat or prevent certain illnesses.

Is it possible we have the priorities reversed?

Maybe caffeine is not as bad as we thought; but maybe caffeine is not the real reason the Lord told us to abstain from “hot drinks,” which were defined as coffee and tea by the prophet Joseph. Maybe the possibility of addiction is not the only reason why the Brethren have extended the scope of the Word of Wisdom to cover illegal drugs.

Has the time come for us to rely less on the precepts of men, or our personal interpretations of those precepts, and trust more in what may actually be the primary reason God gave us section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants in this, the last dispensation—to allow our obedience to set us apart from the world as the people of the Lord?

Think about it: is there a prominent culture in the world today that does not have some form of alcohol, coffee, or tea closely interwoven in its social mores? And even in this age of general enlightenment about the ill effects of tobacco and illegal drugs, there are many countries and sub-cultures that still regard smoking or chewing tobacco as a kind of status symbol (“I am rich enough to buy cigarettes!”), and drug use as a kind of badge of membership.

How many times has your abstinence from one of the prohibited substances led to a religious discussion with those around you? Could it be that our observance of that inspired counsel is a significant way for us to raise an ensign to the nations, and attract the attention of those who are seeking spiritual truth?

Perhaps the Word of Wisdom for us today is similar to what the dietary laws of Moses were to ancient Israel: useful in promoting general good health, yes, but primarily a prominent, obvious, outward sign of obedience and allegiance to the one true God of this earth.

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