I was with a bunch of stylish LDS women recently and the restaurant 'Bagels and Brew' was brought up as a nice place to eat. One of the women remarked, "Why do they call it Bagels and Brew? It's like," and her voice deepened as she imitated an imaginary customer, "'I'll have a beer with that bagel.' I don't get it." We all paused for just a second to reflect on her comment then had a good laugh as we realized the mistake. I still laugh for joy every time I think about it. It's wonderful to associate with women who are so far removed from the world that they can't even pull of a convincing bluff!
Many people outside the church, though, are puzzled or even bothered by our adherence to the very basic law of health that Latter-Day Saints live by, most of which is outlined in the Word of Wisdom, which was given by revelation to Joseph Smith (again in answer to a question) in 1833, and which, the Lord says, is adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints. D&C 89: 3
God wants us to learn to take care of the body that he gave us, it will be ours for the rest of eternity. It is not only for the blessing of better health, however, that he has given us some guidelines. We learn many other things from following the Word of Wisdom such as wisdom, obedience to God, self control, and the importance of taking care of ourselves. These are lessons that will bless our lives forever.
Some are worried that the laws that Latter-Day Saints live by are not all found in the Bible, after all Christ turned the water into wine. I believe that some of God's instructions are based on what he understands our needs to be in a given time and place. For example, God's people were once required to abstain from pork. The Lord introduced the Word of Wisdom, by stating, "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 unto you this word of wisdom by revelation." D&C 89: 4
Do's and Don'ts
Eat fruits, veggies, grains, herbs, eat meat sparingly, "all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving... with judgment, not to excess" D&C 89:11 59:20
Use Alcohol, Coffee, Tea, Tobbaco
Health, wisdom, knowledge, ability to "run and not be weary, and...walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them." D&C 89: 18-21
We are also counseled to cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated. D&C 88:124
I think this nearly 200 year old diet sounds quite modern. Long before science understood the physical benefits of such a lifestyle, God revealed to his saints a basic outline of how to care for our bodies. The gospel of Jesus Christ also includes other beliefs and practices that are conducive to good health, such as forgiveness, fasting, chastity, education, hard work, moderation and gratitude. Obedience to God's commandments always bring spiritual blessings, but there are real and often significant physical benefits as well.
These requirements in the Word of Wisdom are very basic and, for the most part, we choose how we will follow them. For example, in the spirit of avoiding harmful and addictive substances, a large percentage of Latter-day Saints avoid caffeinated beverages, though they are not prohibited. There are also those who avoid all infusions (herbal teas) in addition to Teas (Camellia sinensis). This is sometimes confusing to those who don't understand the basic principle of self-government in the church (that we are taught correct principles and are left to govern ourselves with relatively few restrictions). Latter-day Saints believe that we are responsible for the decisions we make in counsel with the Lord through prayer. Different people with different needs and tendencies may come to different conclusions. So, though tobacco and alcohol are clearly prohibited, there is no formula for what a "sparing" amount of meat is and no one tells you what time to go to bed. There is also plenty of room for scientific discoveries within the framework the Lord has provided us.
What happens to you when you drink a cup of coffee or wine? Probably not much more than a little chemical effect. You might become addicted--I know those whose lives have been controlled by coffee and we all know the terrible effects that alcohol can have, but most often little lasting harm is done. What would happen if I drank a little coffee or a sip of wine? I don't think that a little is likely to harm me physically, but I have made a promise to obey God and he has asked me to avoid these substances. For me then, breaking that covenant would be a sin. I would also lose some respect for myself; and my ability to avoid these things in the future would be weakened as well as my ability to make wise decisions about other things. Repentance is always available to cleanse us from sin and Christ helps us to overcome our weaknesses, but we cannot escape the natural consequences of our actions. (Though I can be forgiven for drinking, I still have the hangover.) It is better to avoid mistakes than to fix them.
Obedience to these principles results in greater freedom, not less. By abstaining from smoking, for example, I never risk becoming addicted to tobacco and yet I retain the ability to choose whether I want to take it. If I become addicted to tobacco, it is very hard to escape, even if I really want to--I lose the ability to choose. By refraining from dangerous substances and taking care of my health, I retain the power to make decisions and to choose the attending consequences, whether positive or negative.
I am very grateful that God has given us some guidance with regard to our health. I cannot express how blessed I feel to have been protected from so many of the dangers and diseases that are so common today, and for the peace of mind that I enjoy. God gives us commandments for our benefit, he wants us to be truly happy. I know that obedience to his counsels will bring us true and lasting happiness and peace.
Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made... D&C 59:18-20