“Would God really keep me out of heaven over just a tiny cup of coffee?” That’s a question an investigator once asked me on my mission (Zurich Switzerland, 1979-81). She was a sweet old woman near Winterthur who came to Church every Sunday but wouldn’t give up her coffee to live the Word of Wisdom so she could be baptized. She did a great job living the other standards of the Church, but this tiny little thing, the Word of Wisdom, was her stumbling block.
So would God keep someone away over a tiny cup of coffee? My reply was something like, “Actually, I hope you’ll ask the question another way: Will you let a tiny cup of coffee keep you away from God? He has asked that you give that up. Are you going to stay away from His blessings over such a little thing?”
It gave her pause. She nodded, smiled, but kept on sipping.
Look, if you don’t believe Joseph Smith was a prophet and don’t accept The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, then as far as I’m concerned you may go ahead and enjoy your coffee and tea, with moderation. We don’t really know why we Latter-day Saints are asked to give them up – no divine Material Data Safety Sheet (MSDS) has been faxed to Salt Lake City detailing any problems with the chemistry of these drinks. Some have guessed that it’s caffeine or the tannins or something else, but we don’t know and there doesn’t seem to be any strong correlation with coffee drinking and disastrous health problems (some studies hint at this, others suggest benefits – I don’t know yet). I suggest giving up alcohol and tobacco, but even then there is evidence that a little wine in moderation might even be helpful (but why not just use grape juice to get similar benefits without the problems and expense?).
The point is that the Word of Wisdom, as currently practiced, might be more about faith and obedience than it is about saving your esophagus from the ravages of hot drinks or your soul from the distraction of caffeine. It does bring health benefits – it’s a marvelous revelation, with some clearly documented correct principles (eat meat sparingly, for example, and get plenty of grains and fresh produce)- but it is now more than just a guide to good health. It is a touchstone of LDS faithfulness, an outward symbol of our commitment to the Gospel and willing to obey. For LDS people or those who wish to be LDS, we take the approach of gladly obeying the Lord in this simple request. If we are supposed to give up coffee, then let’s do it. Let’s show our willingness to obey even when we don’t fully understand the reasons and even when some sacrifice is required. But it’s a small sacrifice, really. Just a tiny cup of coffee – will you let it stand between you and the full blessings of the Gospel?
God is not looking for ways to keep anybody out. His burden is easy and His yoke is light. It is we who find excuses to walk away and shun His burden and yoke. Let us obey with faith and receive His help and blessings more fully in our lives.
The Word of Wisdom may seem like a trivial little thing, but it is not mocha-do about nothing. It’s about faith in God and obedience to His word.