Word of Wisdom and a Sports Analogy

In a very realistic dream last night, I was with a missionary who was teaching a highly educated couple about the Word of Wisdom. They sincerely asked how God could be unhappy with them for drinking coffee. It’s a fair question, especially with scientific evidence that coffee might have a variety of positive health effects (jury is always out on the impact of any one food or drink: positive effects in one area might be outweighed by harms in others, and much remains to be understood). It reminded me of an investigator I had in Switzerland who loved the Church but loved her coffee just a wee bit more, and stuck with this rhetorical question: “Why would the Lord reject me over a cup of coffee?”

The answer, of course (IF the Word of Wisdom really was given by revelation), is why would we let our love for coffee come before the Lord? Why would we reject Him for such a trivial thing? It’s a matter of faith, of course, that depends on recognizing Joseph Smith as a prophet. Once we suspect that may be the case, it’s still fair or at least natural to ask about some of the details of the Word of Wisdom. Most of it is now understood to be very wise. But for all we know, the ban on coffee and tea in the LDS Word of Wisdom could be an arbitrary test of faith. Perhaps it could have been toast and jam, deep-fried fish. or ice cream and chocolate (heaven forbid!). An inconvenient and unpopular dietary restriction as a test of faith, perhaps?

In the dream, I tried to find a way to help the couple understand the role of the Word of Wisdom. There were two disconnected concepts that followed. One was the image of people with a chain hanging from their wrist. It looked like a symbol of slavery, as many may view our dietary restrictions. Then a group of people with the chains stood in a circle and started spinning around, the loose end of the chain extending outward. The chains now were weapons that kept enemies away from the group. Kind of weird, but I guess that’s a fair to look at the Word of Wisdom, especially the restrictions on alcohol, tobacco, and harmful drugs, and the emphasis on a healthy diet.

The other concept in the dream, or in a waking moment after it, was that of a coach training his team. There are all sorts of rules that a coach may impose on team members, from “give me 50 push-ups now!” to numerous details of daily diet and exercise. Some of what he asks may be arbitrary and not all that helpful, but the journey of obedience and discipline is a valuable one aimed at taking his team to a higher level of success. If the Lord is our coach, we don’t have to insist that He provide scientific evidence backing each aspect of His recommended dietary regimen. The discipline itself is part of the journey to excellence, not to mention obedience.

Someday we may understand the Word of Wisdom with more clarity. For now, though, it’s such a minor thing we’re asked to do–what a pity if we let that stand between us and the Lord.

Did either of these concepts help in teaching that couple? I’ll let you know after the next installment in my dream series, if the sequel gets played.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

17 thoughts on “Word of Wisdom and a Sports Analogy

  1. Isn't it so true that anything we love more than Christ is a rejection of Him? It's tough to trust Him with everything in our lives…

    I don't struggle as much with coffee as I do with relationships, but really, is there a difference? Even with family, Christ Himself we have to be prepared to love Him more than everything…wow…

    ""Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;"

    talk about tough love…

  2. One thing that really helped me see the Word of Wisdom differently was reading all of it. I know that sounds silly but in Sunday School we usually skip over the first few verses and get right to the "dos and don'ts". We miss the Lord's reasons for giving the Word of Wisdom.

    D&C 89:4 "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"

    Verse 4 has become very significant to me. When I see beer commercials or a coffe shop on every corner I think of the money-driven people behind them. Coffee used to be a single drink with breakfast. Now there are kids buying ultra-huge over-sweetened coffee drinks on a daily basis. I have lost count of the number of women who tell me they can't possibly be mothers without a steady supply of caffine and alcohol.

    In the 1800's it might have seemed strange but today it is, as you said, a weapon of defense against evil.

  3. While I couldn't tell you if the concepts will help in your next dream installment, I know they would have been helpful in last week's Elders Quorum lesson in my ward, particularly the concept of the coach. Thanks for the thoughts.

  4. When I think about the number of missionary opportunities that have arisen specifically from my adherence to the Word of Wisdom I think it could simply be a missionary tool.

    How often have you been asked about it, as opposed to any other principle and had a friendly conversation about your beliefs afterwards?

    I think the coach example appeals to me more.

    I'm not keen on the chain idea. I think the reality is the reverse.

    Imagine a small territory dominated by tribal groups. Many of the groups have a special drink which wakes them up fast in the morning and allows them to stay up late and focused when they need to.

    One tribe refuses to drink the drink. They are often beaten in minor raids and skirmishes which take place in the very early morning or late evening.

    Until the supply of the drink runs out. Then the other tribes find they can't get up without a cup of their drink, and they can't concentrate without it.

    You get the idea. I guess I'm trying to say that I've always felt that the chain is on the other foot, if you know what I mean…

  5. Haha. Actually last night, my dreams featured a Mormon doctor who walked around drinking many cups of coffee a day. He ignored it when people questioned him and said he didn't think it was a big deal.

    As for your explanation and analogy, I think it's good enough. It's something that I'm sure many just need reminding of that – I know I'll be remembering these words if ever I really want a cup of tea and I've already made the conversion to LDS, heh.

    I guess it's up to individuals to decide, regardless of what they read or are told, if they feel these things will stand between them and the Lord. That's what makes it harder – we think the little things don't matter in comparison the the explicitly wrong things we know we shouldn't do. Again, I think this is a good explanation about the coffee/tea deal.

  6. "32Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.

    33But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

    34Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

    35For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

    36And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

    37He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

    Honestly, I was very confused about these statement.

    But now, it seems clear to me that the Lord was talking about the missionary work.

    When we serve Him, we are required to leave everything behind, follow Him, build His kingdom. If we put anything before Him, we can not do His work.And if we love anything or anyone more than the Lord, we will have a big change to be led away from the Lord.

    Just a thought.

  7. Good point Faith. We really can't be serving the Lord unless we leave everything behind. And aren't we all called to serve serve the Lord…

    "“in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him [the Lord thy God]” (D&C 59:5)"

  8. @ Amy: Good to see someone so openly relating good old American capitalism to the "evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men." Bravo!

    Of course, it's not just coffee consumption that proliferates as a result of "money-driven people" (also known as entrepreneurs). There are also all those tanks and bombs and missiles that "money-driven people" have sold to folks like Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Gaddafi and Mullah Omar of the Taliban. If only the prophet had given humankind more words of wisdom about that sort of thing….

    Personally, I'd rather see more people drinking coffee and fewer people enriching themselves by selling lethal weapons to my country's future enemies.

    @ GDMNW: I think you're right in the sense that religious dietary restrictions are best understood as "tribal." The utility of requiring that people forego a certain kind of pleasure (whether it's coffee for LDS, pork for Jews and Muslims, or whatever) is that it emphasizes the group's distinctiveness and helps bind its members together as a tribe. That's the utility. The strengthening of group identity is itself the benefit; any other kind of utility (such as a health benefit) is strictly incidental.

  9. It is a great bragging point for perfect Mormons to criticize others for WOW violations.

    Go into a group of people who are not well aware of the LDS church and, and you will find people know us for the WOW and having a choir.

    What do you want people to know about the Church?

  10. I like this post and the analogy.

    To go along with your point of the Lord being our coach. I think we don't take the Word of Wisdom seriously enough. I have the feeling that Mormons tend to be all proud of themselves for not drinking coffee, tea, alcohol, etc. but then turn around and eat like a hog drinking sodas, fast foods, and other things that evil designing men are behind and that have just as much or more potential in harming our commitment to the Lord.
    If we want to truly obey the Word of Wisdom, we need to (as Amy said in her comment) read the whole thing and not just focus on the dont's but the do's as well.

  11. Not calling you fat, but I think it is the height of irony (hypocrisy?) when an overweight person (or one chugging unhealthy soda) lectures about the WoW.

    Perhaps your dream can be interpreted in other ways.

  12. dbd raises an important point, namely that it is possible to obey the "letter" of the WoW perfectly but still eat a terribly unhealthy diet. If the spirit as opposed to the letter of the WoW is to keep ourselves healthy, or even, as GDMNW suggests, to avoid potentially dangerous dependencies, then it's possible to violate the letter of WoW while still adhering largely to its spirit. In this sense I would be very slow to criticize our caffeinated brothers and sisters.

  13. "I have the feeling that Mormons tend to be all proud of themselves for not drinking coffee, tea, alcohol, etc."

    I haven't noticed much pride in that. I think there's a lot more of "wishing I could" and "glad I can't."

  14. P.S. My guess is that most start in the wishing camp and end up in the glad one. That's what I did. I don't know whether wishing and pride go well together but I'm pretty sure gratitude and pride are opposites.

  15. I think the WOW has been hijacked by the culture of mormonism. Wasn't it the Lord speaking when he said, "not given by way of commandment or by constraint? Who overrode the Lord and made it a commandment? Was the Lord wrong when he said that it wasn't a commandment? I know several GAs who drink diet caffeinated soda. Thomas S Monson is one of them. Yet we keep people out for drinking Tea.

  16. Good point! And wasn't it Christ who said it isn't what enters a man but what flows out of him that defiled him?

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