I think that too often, it’s easy to reduce D&C Section 89 to the ‘strong drinks’, ‘hot drinks’, and tobacco. That’s why it’s good to revisit it regularly, and see what God has actually revealed about taking care of our bodies.
These instructions can be best understood within the larger context of (a) the purposes of mortal life, (b) how the Lord has commanded that the resources of the earth be used, and (c) the right way to regard life (of all kinds).
We know that gaining a physical body is an essential part of mortal life. It allows us to experience things we couldn’t otherwise, and in a way that is different to life as a spirit. How we respond to the desires of our bodies, and inviting the influence of the Holy Spirit to change those desires into holy ones, is an important part of our testing here. So the state of our physical bodies is vital to our mission, and anything God reveals about how to take care of them will help us succeed in it.
How does the Lord want us to use the creations of this earth? What we take into our bodies has repercussions far beyond how we feel physically; a lot of the time, many people probably don’t even consider them. It’s about more than just what we eat or drink, but is part of how we treat all of God’s creations (including our own bodies). Let’s see what the Lord has to say about it.
For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.
I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.
And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints….
For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.Doctrine and Covenants, 104:13-17
And verily, … it is required of the Lord, at the hand of every steward, to render an account of his stewardship, both in time and in eternity.Doctrine and Covenants, 72:3
And inasmuch as ye do these things with thanksgiving, with cheerful hearts and countenances, … Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth;
Yea, and the herb (plants), and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens…
Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart;
Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and enliven the soul.
And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgement, not to excess, neither by extortion.Doctrine and Covenants, 59:15-20
There are a lot of things in there which add to our understanding about the Lord’s way of treating His creations on the earth; how we are to receive them (as blessings), regard and use them (as stewards accountable to Him for what we do with them), and for what purpose they’re given (to strengthen our bodies and enliven our souls, uplift our hearts and create pleasantness amidst the struggles of this life). From this come two directives: to use these things in this way, and not to use them in any other way.
So now we can go to Section 89 and see it in this greater context. God prepared the earth with everything needed for the wellbeing of man (in body and mind). But men and women have turned some of those things into harmful substances, using them in a way different to their intended function – such as turning root vegetables, grains, and fruit into spirits (‘strong drinks’), and tobacco into a smoking product (instead of a healing poultice). There are some plants and other substances that exist, though, which are harmful naturally; this is both the result of a fallen world, and necessary for the true agency and testing of man.
So, what wise things did the Lord reveal about all of this in what we call the Word of Wisdom?
- Eat food in season (verses 11 and 13, and we also saw this in other sections)
- Plants have been created adapted to our bodies
- Eat wholesome things made from plants (i.e. not junk food or things made from chemicals)
- Use the products of the earth with prudence (balance and wisdom) and thanksgiving (gratitude).
– These two instructions are often missed in our world: we pray before eating, but are we really thankful as we do that, or is it a habit? Are we mostly praying that it will be good for us? I once read that Native Americans, perhaps of a particular group, knelt and gave thanks to the animal they were going to kill for giving its life to feed their family or tribe. I love that concept. It’s so honourable and humble. That’s true gratitude for your food. Do people, perhaps especially in richer countries, feel this way at all? Do you ever think of the animal who gave its life (literally and metaphorically, because the amount of meat eaten around the world means that many animals live in unpleasant conditions all or some of their lives) so you could have the meat you’re about to eat? Or those who worked to grow the grains and make the flour you’re using or eating? This brings a greater meaning to the instruction – a commandment from God, quite emphatic – to use the products of the earth with thanksgiving. I think doing this would reduce the amount of food we eat in our countries and the glibness with which we eat it – and throw it away. It would reduce the harm done to animals for the sake of eating meat, and lead to more willingness to change how crops are grown, with all their pesticides and massive scale. The prudence part is as important – hugely so in our world and personal lives. Do you really need to eat meat twice a day, or junk food weekly, or just keep buying things regardless of whether you need them? Do you need the latest superfood product from Bolivia, or is there one native to your region that’s less trendy but just as good? Balance and wisdom are sorely lacking in our food and product systems and personal choices.
- Meat is for our use (but not adapted to our nature or constitution, perhaps, as are plants/fruit, since these terms are only included for those? Something I noticed this time), but sparingly and with gratitude. God is pleased if it’s used in winter, cold, or famine only.
– I think people ignore this a lot of the time, because they’re so used to eating meat often – whenever they want to; it’s more about desire than need. They don’t want to consider another way, because it would require such a change to both mentality and habit. ‘We’ve worked hard; we deserve meat’. Do you? ‘It’s there, why shouldn’t we have it? God’s ordained everything for our use and benefit.’ But in wisdom and balance, and He will require an accounting of how you’ve used that stewardship. I’m not vegetarian, and don’t advocate for it. But I follow what has been revealed, and the scriptures I shared first clearly demonstrate that we need to be wise and grateful stewards. Life is holy and precious. Why should we kill animals – and so often cause them to suffer in life – and thereby continue the enmity between man and beast, only for our pleasure, not our real need? That’s the clear direction given here: sparingly. God is pleased if we use it only in winter, cold, or famine. I like to please God. I think He’s the most important one to please of all. I think I’ll listen to Him.
- Grains are the staff of life – the basis of our diet. But not to be used exclusively by us. It grows (grains grow naturally, too, obviously – that’s where the developed grains we use came from) in order to feed the wild animals (including birds), too.
– That makes me think about how so much space is now used for growing grain for human and farm animal use that it would be difficult for those wild animals to get what they need, given that less space is available where wild grain might have used to grow. God said there’s enough in the earth, and to spare, and we know that 1/3 of the food produced in the world is wasted, and that the greatest problem of nutrition in richer countries is over-nutrition, or obesity. If all were fairly distributed, there would actually be (just as God said) more than enough for everyone in the world to eat their fill, and small-scale farming might again take the place of industrial production. Again, there’s the missing and essential element of balance and wisdom.
- Wild animals (I suppose as opposed to farm-raised animals) should only be used for food during famine or excess hunger. This might be something less relevant to our world today, since wild animals aren’t generally hunted for food in most places anymore. It might be partly for the sake of those dedicated to hunting as a sport, though.
Does this list make you pause and reconsider your food habits? Or support your decisions? Does the context provided increase your understanding of the reasons for what’s revealed in this Section? I love seeing the big picture, and how the details fit into it. The more I learn of the larger picture for what it means to be stewards of the earth’s resources/gifts, the more I understand about the sanctity of life and how God regards it. The way He wants us to treat each other, and all the forms of life we share the earth with – and how getting it right will lead us to a higher way of life and becoming more like Him.