"And now, Alma was their high priest, he being the founder of their church. And it came to pass that none received authority to preach or to teach except it were by him from God. Therefore he consecrated all their priests and all their teachers; and none were consecrated except they were just men. Therefore they did watch over their people, and did nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness" (Mosiah 23:16-18).
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have often heard the analogy that just like our bodies need nourishment to sustain life, so likewise our spirits need nourishment to remain healthy and strong. Obviously, the kind of food our spirits need is not the same as what our physical bodies need, but what exactly is "spiritual food"?
Alma admonished the priests and the teachers of his day to nourish the people with things pertaining to righteousness. But what does that mean? We've been continually admonished to "feast" upon the word of God. But what does that really mean and how does that nourish us? We've been told that prayer is spiritual food along with keeping the commandments, magnifying our callings, and doing good to others. But how do these things give nourishment to our spirits?
The dictionary defines the word "nourish" as: "To provide with sustenance necessary for life and growth; to foster the development of." If this is true, then how does spiritual food sustain our spirit and help it grow and develop?
When most people hear the term "spiritual food" they generally think of it as being more of a figure of speech rather than taking it literally as meaning the strengthening of our spirit in the same way that food strengthens our physical bodies. In other words, we often think of spiritual food as being more of a mental attitude rather than a physical substance. It's a term meant to indicate the process by which we can become spiritually stronger in resisting temptation. But is that the correct understanding of this term? And if it is, how does feasting upon spiritual food actually make us spiritually stronger?
Perhaps it might be useful if we first understand the process by which food nourishes our physical bodies.
When we eat food, it goes into our stomachs, where it is "digested" or broken down into a liquid. This is necessary so that it can then be absorbed into our blood stream. From there, the food is carried to every cell in our body which then absorbs the nutrients it needs to perform their functions. It is these nutrients that each cell uses to repair and duplicate itself, without which they would die, much like a stove fire dies when there is no more fuel left to burn or a car stops functioning when it runs out of gas. Therefore, food is needed to keep the cells healthy and functioning properly.
As the cells work together, they make up the organs of the body, such as the heart, liver, kidneys, eyes, ears, brain etc. If the cells of each of these organs don't get the nourishment they need, then the organs themselves begin to function less effectively. If this condition continues long enough, then the organs will cease functioning all together.
There are many ways that nourishment can be prevented from reaching the cells. The first is by not eating the right kinds of food. Although we might eat large quantities of food, we may still not get the right quantity of certain vitamins. For example, if we don't eat enough foods containing vitamin C, we can develop a disease called scurvy. If we eat more carbohydrates than our bodies need, the excess is converted to fat and stored in the body. If too much fat builds up around certain organs, it puts extra stress on them and they have a harder time functioning as they should. If we eat too much of the wrong kinds of cholesterol, it begins to collect on the inside of our arteries and constricts the flow of blood.
This leads to a second reason why cells don't get the nourishment they need. If the blood, which carries the food, can't get to the cells, the cells will literally starve to death, even if we are eating all the right kinds of food. Another way the cells can be starved is if they can't absorb the food even when the blood supply brings it to them. This is essentially what happens in Type II diabetes. When our bodies become sick or are attacked by infectious disease, the body's immune system automatically takes the nourishment needed by the cells and diverts it to fighting off the illness, thereby robbing the cells of food.
More than that, it is through the process of each cell burning the food it receives that produces our body heat, which is essential for health. This burning process is also what gives us energy. That's why, when we don't eat, we feel sluggish or tired. If we eat the wrong kinds of foods, we can over work certain organs, such as the liver or kidneys, which can cause them to wear out or work improperly. When the pancreas fails to function properly, this leads to type I diabetes. So we see that food is essential to keeping our bodies healthy and strong for a wide variety of reasons.
Also, medical doctors tell us that the average person needs six to eight hours of sleep a day to maintain good health. If we go too long without sleep, regardless of how much food we eat, our bodies will be drained of strength and health. That means we were created with the need to spend nearly one-third of our life here in mortality sleeping! Exactly why we were created this way the scriptures don't say.
But spirits don't need to eat food in order to stay healthy. Spirits don't become sick or develop physical illnesses such as colds, flu, or other such ailments. Spirits don't get tired or need sleep. Then what do spirits need in order to stay spiritually healthy and strong, and exactly how does this spiritual food go about nourishing us?
To understand the answer to this question we need to understand what kind of Being God is.
The scriptures tell us that "God is love" (1 John 4:8). They also tell us that "God is light" (1 John 1:5) as well as being a spirit (John 4:24). They further tell us that God is full of truth (D&C 84:102) and is the source of all truth (D&C 93:26). We also believe that God is all knowing and is all righteous. Through modern revelation we learn that "the glory of God is intelligence, which is light and truth" (D&C 93:36) and that "whatsoever is truth is light, [and] whatsoever is light is spirit" (D&C 84:45). We are further told that "whatsoever is light is good (i.e. righteous)" (Alma 32:35).
From this we learn that all of these adjectives – love, light, spirit, truth, and righteousness – are actually synonyms for one another. In other words, they all mean the same thing! Love is light, which is spirit, which is truth, which is righteousness. Where there is love there is also light, spirit, truth, and righteousness. They all go together. They are all one and the same thing.
God is literally a being of light because He is a being of love, truth, and righteousness. If He weren't full of love or truth or righteousness then He couldn't be full of light. This is the scriptural definition of what a spirit is as well as a description of what kind of being God is. (For a more in-depth look at this subject read my article "The Light of Christ" )
Since we are spirit offspring of God, we too are literally beings of light. That means, when we were created spiritually, we were born as creatures of love, truth, and righteousness. That is our basic make up and temperament. That's why the scriptures refer to us as "children of light" (Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessolonians 5:5) and God as being "the father of lights" (James 1:17).
But our light doesn't shine as brightly as God's because we are not full of love, truth, and righteousness as He is. More than that, God not only knows all truth, but He righteously applies the knowledge of that truth. On the other hand, we do not know all things, nor do we know how to righteously apply what knowledge we do have. Since God wants us to become like Him, He spends His time teaching us how to do that. That is what our eternal progression is all about – learning to acquire more knowledge of the truth and gaining the skill to apply that knowledge in a righteous manner. As we are willing to receive more truth, love and righteousness, the "more [our] light grows brighter and brighter" (D&C 50:24).
But what happens when we learn truth and use it unrighteously as Satan has? What happens when we decrease the amount of truth or love that we have? Then our light grows dimmer instead of brighter. Because Satan is all evil, that is why he is known as the prince of darkness. The reason why he has been cast into outer darkness is because he cannot abide or tolerate a place of light (i.e, love, truth, and righteousness). Therefore, that is the only place he is capable of living in.
Thus, our spiritual health is determined by the about of light, love, truth, and righteousness we have within us. Anything we do that increases our light makes us spiritually healthier and stronger. Anything we do that diminishes our light makes us spiritually weaker and sicker.
All of the commandments God gives us are designed to increase our light. They are, if you will, like a recipe book for a healthy life. Just as with our physical bodies, we have to take these truths into our minds, "chew" on the for awhile and "digest" their meaning until they are able to become a part of every fiber of our being. If, because of an attitude of unwillingness on our part to accept truth when it is presented to us, then, like the physical body, this spiritual food doesn't nourish our spirit even though we may be taking it in.
However, just as our physical bodies can take in "junk food," so also we can feed our spirits "junk truth." These are things we do or say that may make us feel good and bring us a sense of gratification for a time, but they hinder our spiritual progress. For example, venting our anger at someone who has upset us may make us feel good at the moment but it's like overloading our system with refined sugar. If we indulge in it too much, in time our spiritual pancreas may stop producing the needed insulin that regulates our attitude and we can develop spiritual diabetes where we have uncontrollable fits of anger even when we don't want to.
But food isn't the only thing necessary for health. Just like our physical bodies need physical rest, so also our spirit bodies need to take a rest from the destructive forces that tear at our spiritual health. Our life in mortality is purposefully designed to be a time of testing our spiritual mettle. It's meant to teach us truths that can only be learned away from the perfect environment of love, light, truth and righteousness where we came from. As such, these lessons of mortality are hard on our spirits and they become weary from exposure to unrighteousness. Therefore, our spirits need to take a rest from the filth and worry of the physical world from time to time if they are to maintain their health and strength. When we fail to take these rests, it's as though we are working non-stop without getting any sleep. Pretty soon our spirits get worn out and have a hard time functioning as they should, no matter how much food we may feed them.
But in order for us to gain truth, we have to be taught what these truths are. Therefore, life in mortality is meant to teach us those truths, sometimes by schooling, as it were, and sometime through the experiences we have, whether they be pleasant or difficult. Since righteousness comes from correctly applying the principles of truths we've learned, mortality affords us the opportunity to develop our righteousness through constant practice in applying learned truths.
But God is more than just a being a light. He is our Father. For us to truly become like Him, we too must become eternal fathers. And that is what He is seeking to help us do. That is what the term "eternal life" means. And the reason why we can't become an eternal father or mother without first becoming full of love, truth, and righteousness is because those are the qualities needed to guide spirit children to their own exaltation.
The priesthood has been defined as the government of God, meaning it is the power by which God governs His kingdom. Modern revelation tells us, however, that the priesthood has no power without righteousness (D&C 121:36,37). Although it is true that the priesthood can be conferred upon someone, when that person behaves in an unrighteous manner, the priesthood he holds loses its power. To illustrate this point, we can liken the priesthood to a light bulb and electricity to righteousness. A person may possess a light bulb, but without the power of electricity, it doesn't have the ability to shine. If we apply a little bit of electric current to the light bulb it will glow just a little, but the more electricity we give it, the brighter the bulb becomes. Thus, to govern kingdoms of our own, we must not only know how to govern, but we must have the power to govern as well.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on the earth. As we serve in our callings we are being taught those eternal truths necessary to govern our own eternal kingdoms. But, more importantly, as we serve faithfully in the Church, we are developing our ability to use those truths in a righteous manner. As such, the true Church of Christ is like a university for godhood where we attend classes and receive on the job training to prepare us for our future destiny. Those who do not attend these classes – whether they be a member or non-member – are not learning the necessary truths to become exalted. As such, they are not becoming sufficiently healthy or spiritually strong enough to live the kind of life our Father lives.
There are many sincere people who have dedicated themselves to Christ who attend other churches. Although they are being taught some eternal truths, they are not receiving the full instruction that God has made available to us. In fact, most Christian churches confidently teach that we cannot become like God. Therefore they don't teach those truths which will help them become spiritually strong enough to do what God can do. As such, the truths they teach only help prepare them to become like the angles in heaven. Going to one these churches would be like going to UCLA college to become a medical doctor, but instead of enrolling in their School of Medicine, they only take Liberal Arts courses. Although they are still attending UCLA and are learning truths, they are not learning those truths needed to become a medical doctor.
To increase our spiritual health and strength requires us to increase the amount of love, truth, and righteousness we take in. Just as physical health depends on what we feed the body, so likewise our spiritual health depends on what we feed our spirit. Just as good food gives our body a vibrant glow of health, the kind of spiritual food we should be seeking is that which increases our light that literally gives our spirit a vibrant healthy glow. But that can only happen when we take in that which will continually enlarge our knowledge of eternal truths and then learn to use those truths in a righteous manner. This is the only way to nourish the spirit.
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