Sometimes when people talk about Mormon rules, they make long lists that tell what (although usually not accurately), but neglect to explain why something is done. When you know the why, the what often makes a great deal more sense. Even Mormons sometimes get so busy keeping rules they forget to pay attention to why. When they remember the why, the rule is often so much easier to keep—and so much more pleasant. It’s always nicer to do something when you know there is a great reason for it.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf is a Mormon apostle. A few years ago, he gave a talk to Mormon women on some important principles he wanted them to remember. One was to remember why we do certain things.
“While understanding the “what” and the “how” of the gospel is necessary, the eternal fire and majesty of the gospel springs from the “why.” When we understand why our Heavenly Father has given us this pattern for living, when we remember why we committed to making it a foundational part of our lives, the gospel ceases to become a burden and, instead, becomes a joy and a delight. It becomes precious and sweet.”
(Read Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Forget Me Not, Relief Society Broadcast, 2009)
It is never enough to wander through life doing the right thing without having some idea of why we are doing it. We don’t know why God does everything He tells us, but we do generally understand there is a larger purpose behind the request. Let’s take a look at a few Mormon rules and understand the “why” behind each one.
Word of Wisdom: The Word of Wisdom is the Mormon health code. It prohibits alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea and encourages the use of whole grains, fruits, vegetables and herbs. Today, with our scientific knowledge of health, we understand the wisdom in the Word of Wisdom. It will help us to be healthier—and scientific studies on Mormons have demonstrated that Mormons are overall healthier than the average population. It’s easier to make those food choices when we know why.
Fast monthly: Mormons go without food once a month. For twenty-four hours, they do not eat or drink anything at all. This can seem like a huge sacrifice. However, at the end of the fast, they donate the money saved by not eating or drinking to a special fund to help those in need in their congregation. By going hungry for a day, they help someone else not be hungry at all. This is a supreme act of love. It increases our empathy for those who go without and it helps us to be more Christ-like. Just going hungry might be meaningless. Remembering that you are helping someone who is suffering gives it great power.
Obey the law of chastity: For a Mormon, this includes not having intimate relationships outside of marriage and treating our bodies with respect. Mormons dress modestly, although fashionably. There are many reasons for this. One is that our bodies are gifts from God given to us to help us carry out our mission. We need to treat them with respect and use them in ways that honor God, in whose image we are created. These rules also keep us healthier. They presume marriages and are part of the Mormon emphasis on strong families. The law is much easier to keep when we remember how many sacred reasons are behind the rule and the blessings that come from obedience.
Pay a full tithe: Mormons follow the Biblical injunction to return to the Lord a tenth of our increase. It warns us that to not do so is to rob God. For many outsiders, this is held up as a negative of the Church, despite the fact that it comes from God and the Bible. Mormons believe in being self-reliant and in paying for what we get. God gives us all we have and it is little to ask that we return ten percent of it. When children are taught tithing, they are given ten pennies and asked if they would give one back if they get to keep the other nine. They always find that to be a great deal. It is only when we grow up and become more material that we want to keep it all. Mormons know it costs money to run a church. God could miraculously provide land, a building, utilities, furniture, supplies, and care for the poor Himself, but it would not be good for us. Providing those things helps us to be more self-reliant and to feel a sense of belonging in our church community. It reminds us that all we have is God’s—and we need to be ready to use some of it for His purposes.
While it might seem that Mormons have many rules, they are not arbitrary rules. They have eternal, and sometimes even temporal purposes. All of God’s rules are designed to help us—so why would we complain about them?