Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Delight in Fatness: A New Miracle Diet

What did you have for lunch today?  When was the last time you exercised?  What time do you usually go to sleep?  In recent years there seems to be a growing public concern about nutrition, exercise and wellness.  There are enough new diet books to fill entire libraries, new gyms (from Gold's Gym to CrossFit) crop up like dandelions, and a plethora of new products inundate supermarket shelves and the aisles of health food stores, all of which promise longer life and thinner waistlines.  Meanwhile, movie and media moguls advertise the latest lifestyle trends, counseling us on our eating habits, how to exercise, and what it means to be healthy.    Even the First Lady makes concerted efforts to ensure that Americans don't become too fat. Why is this?

There is not just one correct answer to this question, but there are at least two easily recognizable extremes to consider.  On the one hand, a person may ignore diet, exercise and sleep, completely neglecting physical well-being.  On the other hand, a person may become obsessed with health, fitness and physical appearance until such concerns rule every thought and action.  Somewhere in the golden mean, a person may preserve and improve health in order to accomplish goals, or to live a more meaningful, purposeful life. 

Achieving this balance has never been easy, particularly in a world where extreme forces aim continually at either destroying the physical body or glorifying it.  We are often tugged in both directions without pausing to consider who human beings really are, why we inhabit this planet we call earth, or what happens after we die.

When we do pause, we would do well to remember that over 2,000 years ago a baby was born in Bethlehem who would have the most profound influence upon all who have lived and who would yet live upon the earth.  In one way or another, this influence would be felt by all, both spiritually and physically.  But, one might ask, what does the Son of God have to do with diet, exercise or wellness?


Even in developed countries that flow with sodas, alcoholic beverages, and myriad brands of bottled water, we are thirstier than ever.  In places that almost burst at the seams with processed food, fast food, and restaurants, we are hungrier than ever (Amos 8:11).  In a world where gym memberships are sometimes held more sacred than membership in a church, we are, spiritually speaking, flabbier than ever (Mosiah 1:13).

Early in His ministry, Jesus Christ left Judea to travel to Galilee, passing through Samaria where he was wearied with his journey.  As he rested on Jacob's well, and while his disciples had gone to buy meat, a woman approached the well to draw water.  Like Abraham's servant many years before, the Lord asked the woman for a drink of water.  The woman was surprised and asked why a Jew would request a drink of water from a Samaritan.  Jesus replied, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." (John 4:10)  Even more surprised, the woman wondered how he could supply such a drink or if he were greater than their father Jacob who gave the well.  Jesus replied,

"Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: / But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:13-14)

The Samaritan woman was shocked to discover that the Lord knew everything about her life, and as the disciples returned, she went back to the city to tell the story.  Jesus' disciples asked Him to eat, whereupon He told them, "I have meat to eat that ye know not of... My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work." (John 4:32-34)  Later on, after miraculously feeding five thousand followers from a basket containing only five loaves and two small fishes, the Lord taught the way to salvation: "And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." (John 6:35)

This was a revolutionary new diet that many Jews, and even the disciples, found hard to swallow.  Following these events, many scribes and pharisees accused Jesus' disciples of transgressing the tradition of the elders by eating bread without washing their hands, to which accusation the Lord replied, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." (Matt. 15:11)

When tempted, Jesus rebuked the devil by saying, "It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God." (Luke 4:4)  After His resurrection He gave a similar warning to His disciples,

"And I now give unto you a commandment to beware concerning yourselves, to give diligent heed to the words of eternal life. / For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God. / For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ." (D&C 84:43-45)  As the Lord also taught His disciples, "The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment." (Luke 12:23)
Of course this didn't mean that Jesus was opposed to good nutrition and moderate exercise.  Quite the contrary.  After His resurrection, Jesus ate broiled fish and some honeycomb (Luke 24:42-43).  He even prepared a meal of bread and fish for His disciples (John 21:9).  He also fasted (Matt. 4:2).  He spent a lot of time walking and enjoying the great outdoors. (Acts 10:38)  And even though outward appearance was not so important to Him (1 Sam. 16:7, Isaiah 11:3), He still advocated modesty, proper dress and hygiene (1 Tim. 2:9, D&C 42:40, Alma 1:27, Isaiah 3)  Jesus fed his sheep both physically and spiritually, providing food for the famished, water for the parched, and the Holy Ghost for those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness. (Matt. 5:48, 3 Ne. 12:6)

Some time after the Lord's ascension into heaven, one of the apostles revealed what conditions would be like in the latter days, including the conditions pertaining to physical health, "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; / Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; / Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth... For bodily exercise profiteth little (from the Greek meaning "for a little while"): but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." (1 Tim. 4:1-8

In the first half of the 19th century, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation commonly known as the Word of Wisdom, in which the Lord outlined His law of health and promised specific blessings for obedience to this law: "And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; / And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; / And shall run and not be weary, and shall 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. Amen." (D&C 89:18-21)  This simple declaration of a law of health, given nearly 200 years ago, was so far ahead of its time that even today science struggles to keep pace with it... and when it does, it is only to vindicate the revelation.  

This revelation was given in response to the Prophet Joseph Smith's inquiry concerning the use of tobacco by some members of the congregation.  As Joseph's successor Brigham Young later explained: "When they assembled together in this room after breakfast, the first they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken. Often when the Prophet [Joseph Smith] entered the room to give the school instructions he would find himself in a cloud of tobacco smoke. This, and the complaints of his wife at having to clean so filthy a floor, made the Prophet think upon the matter, and he inquired of the Lord relating to the conduct of the Elders in using tobacco, and the revelation known as the Word of Wisdom was the result of his inquiry." (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 12, p. 158.)

In response to his inquiry, Joseph Smith received even more than he had asked for.  More than merely proscribing the use of tobacco during meetings, the Word of Wisdom set forth "the order and the will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days."  (D&C 89:2)  It was given as a revelation "for a principle with promise" and a warning.  Long before doctors promoted smoking cigarettes or celebrities promoted alcohol, long before pharmaceutical companies began advertising campaigns, and long before refined sugars, carbohydrates and processed foods came to dominate diets, the warning was given: "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

This warning is as timely now as it was then.  If blessings such as health in the navel, marrow to the bones, wisdom, great treasures of knowledge, hidden treasures, stamina, and protection from the angel of death sound appealing, it would be well worth the effort to heed this waring.  By doing so, a person is better enabled to glorify God in the body (1 Cor. 6:20) rather than glorify the body itself, or destroy it.  Instead of eating to live or living to eat, we will never hunger and never thirst, feasting "upon that which perisheth not" (2 Ne. 9:51) and letting the soul "delight itself in fatness." (Isaiah 55:2) In a world that bombards us with new diets and messages about losing weight, how refreshing it is that the Lord invites us to feast and enjoy fatness.

Not long before his martyrdom, Joseph Smith taught that the salvation of the body depends upon the salvation of the spirit: "All things whatsoever God in his infinite wisdom has seen fit and proper to reveal to us, while we are dwelling in mortality, in regard to our mortal bodies, are revealed to us in the abstract, and independent of affinity of this mortal tabernacle, but are revealed to our spirits precisely as though we had no bodies at all; and those revelations which will save our spirits will save our bodies."  We can exercise faith in Christ as well as our exercising our muscles.  We can nourish our spirits in addition to feeding our bodies.

In the process, we can be inspired by understanding that, "... man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy" (D&C 93:33).  Such an understanding will infuse purpose into life and the hereafter.  After all, "men are, that they might have joy" (2 Ne. 2:25), not just a sleek physique and finely chiseled abdominal muscles.

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