I had the opportunity to read about the Savior’s teaching in Luke on wealth recently. In Luke 12 we read:
Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, beat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? (Luke 12:15-20)
It seems as though Jesus is inviting us to rethink wealth, what it should be used for, warning us of idolatry. I read an excellent book on this subject by S. Michael Wilcox entitled “What the Scriptures Teach About Prosperity” and wanted to share this small portion:
Let us now turn to the Old Testament to see what insight it has to offer. It is the first and oldest book of scripture. Surely if the problem and proper use of wealth were a critical factor in our mortal testing period, we should find it addressed in the writings of the ancient prophets, just as we discovered it in the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles.
One of the very first commandments given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Dominion means “to care for” and it is implied that it is done in a loving, responsible way. Part of our test, then, is to see how we will interact with the rest of creation. How far will we push the natural world in our desire for both the necessities and comforts of life and for profit? This issue has always been around, but more recently it has become a world concern. Here, as in all things, balance may be difficult to maintain. Yet, there are, as we might anticipate, a few scriptural admonitions we can keep in mind when making what we now call environmental decisions which may or may not demand monetary sacrifices.
The command to multiply the earth was followed immediately by the command to have dominion. They are inseparable and will demand tough choices. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord speaks of both injunctions in section 49. “It is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation; and that it might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made” (D&C 49:16–17). The purpose of this planet is to provide a home for man. With this in mind the Lord tells us “that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance” (D&C 49:19).
In the next verses the Lord offers two balancing perspectives to the natural, ecological reserves of the world.
First, he does not wish for gross inequalities. “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin” (D&C 49:20). For a few individuals or nations to enjoy a luxurious expenditure of the earth’s resources, while others lack the basic necessities, places the entire planet in an offensive position in the eyes of God—in a state of sin, as he says. These are strong words. It may be necessary in maintaining proper dominion for some of us to decrease our expenditures of the earth’s wealth, whether that is in food consumption, energy use, housing, transportation, or other areas.
Second, the Lord does not wish us to waste the bounty he has provided. “And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need” (D&C 49:21). Though the counsel is directed to the taking of animal life, its application to broader areas is not difficult to defend. The footnote to this verse takes us to the Joseph Smith Translation, which indicates that the taking of all life will demand an accounting before the Lord. “The blood of every beast will I require at your hands” (JST Genesis 9:11). Apparently, if we do not need to take life and do, we have wasted it, regardless of how we dispose of the resource. The Lord tells us to use what we need, for he has given resources to us freely and in abundance. This has been the standard since the beginning. Even in the Garden of Eden he said, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat” (Genesis 2:16). But take no more than you truly need, especially not at the expense of others or of the environment. That is waste. This is why the world lies in condemnation. This is why there is so much sin and misery.
I recall a very painful moment I witnessed while directing a tour in China. Each day we were provided with three meals. Usually the lunch and dinner meal contained eight or nine different dishes that were placed on a lazy Susan for all to share. I can’t remember a time the group at the table ate everything. This was due both to the amount of food and also its newness or taste. One evening we had left a great deal of food on the table. It was cleared, placed in the garbage, and thrown away. That night I looked out the window of our hotel. I could see the hotel dumpster below my room, and there was a family picking through the discarded remains of our dinner. I am aware of poverty and have witnessed its dehumanizing effects, but there was something in this scene that was uniquely disturbing. I had been troubled by the amount of wasted food at each meal, but this scene put a personal, human dimension on it that left a raw sore in my heart, and I understood at a different level what the Lord’s concerns were in Doctrine and Covenants 49. I am not sure we can totally solve such inequalities, but just the awareness of them is a beginning and an invitation to exercise better dominion and to avoid waste as best we can.
The Lord gives further guidance in Doctrine and Covenants 59 regarding dominion decisions for nations, businesses, and individuals. Notice again how balance is displayed in the scriptures. “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, 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, or for vineyards” (D&C 59:16–17). If forests need to be harvested for houses, we may do so. If animals need be killed for food or clothing, it is permissible. If habitats need to be plowed under for orchards or gardens, we may do so.
Having said this, the Lord then adds several truths to curb an uninhibited grasping for the bounty the earth offers. We are to realize that not all aspects of creation are here for man’s physical comforts or economic profit. There are aesthetic reasons which deal with the soul and heart of man that must take equal consideration in dominion decisions. “Yea, all things which come of the earth . . . are made for the benefit and the 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 to enliven the soul” (D&C 59:18–19). Not everything has a practical, fiscal value. Some things are here to please the eye, gladden the heart, and enliven the soul. Notice how each of these phrases—“please the eye,” “gladden the heart,” “strengthen the body,” and “enliven the soul”—moves the impact of the natural world deeper into the human psyche. Some creations of the earth are here primarily for their beauty and the effect that loveliness has on mankind. We simply cannot see all things through the lens of how much money something can make for us, or how many jobs it can generate, or how much we need the resource.
That man should use the earth for both aesthetic and practical purposes is obvious. God is pleased with our industry as well as with our appreciation of his creative masterpiece. We read in Doctrine and Covenants 59:20 that “it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.” Knowing the capacity of man to shun moderation in his intemperate excesses, the Lord concludes his counsel in this passage with a warning. Judgment is required, extortion is to be avoided. Extortion comes from a word meaning to squeeze, to wring, or to obtain something under duress. There is a limit to what man is to wrest from the earth. Combining these verses in section 59 with those of section 49, we can conclude that the best way of using judgment and avoiding excess is to realize that one society should not have more than another. As individuals, we are not to take more than we need of the earth’s riches to live in luxury while others live in poverty. Whatever level of life the earth can sustain universally is the desired standard. Because I think this so critically necessary and obvious, I repeat: Whatever level of life the earth can sustain universally is the desired standard. As a race, we will then have fulfilled the Lord’s command to have dominion over the earth. Thus the decree to have dominion can be a brake on the creeping average, or on our desire to pull down our barns and build greater as described in the Savior’s parable, or on our craving more and more dainties. (S. Michael Wilcox, What the Scriptures Teach About Prosperity).