I wrote this article Jan. 14, 2016 — shortly after that most recent historic Powerball lottery win was announced.
The hubbub is over. At least three someones bought winning tickets to the historic $1.6 billion Powerball lottery. Congratulations!
For those with the other 371 million tickets that were in play, can we stop to reflect on what just happened? Only in the afterglow of such an exciting time of fantastical imaginings about how those many pretty millions might be spent in leisure and in helping others can we get our rational brains to remember why we usually don’t – and really shouldn’t – play the lottery.
In the run-up over the past two weeks, lots of other experts weighed in on various reasons why we shouldn’t play the lottery. Many of these experts are from the Church, but somehow, most of the reasons have been secular: it’s a regressive tax on the poor; or the odds of winning are astronomically low; and history shows us that lottery winners are disproportionately unhappy – and destitute – within a few short years of winning, etc.
Clearly those are solid warrants to ditch the odds-playing, but there are a number of compelling God-honoring reasons to not roll the metaphorical dice on the lottery that maybe haven’t yet been unpacked:
1) There are better God-honoring returns on that investment. Odds are, you’re not going to win. Indeed, the losing ticket in your hand sort of bears that out. Those who didn’t win literally threw away $2 – or for some players, large multiples of $2.
Lots of players try to justify their gambling – and perhaps also seek to persuade God to let them win – with expressions of all the good they would do with their winnings: tithing, paying off their church’s debt, alleviating poverty and homelessness in their communities and the like. They would surely give out of their abundance, if they were only thusly blessed. But that’s man’s way of thinking, not in keeping with God’s economy (see the story of the widow’s mites, Mark 12:41-44).
With those odds, it will never work out the way you’d wish and hope and pray. Instead, what if the 1.55 billion lottery tickets sold since the run-up started in November was given to such causes? Imagine what an incredible return on investment $3 billion dollars would have for our Kingdom work (Luke 12:33)?
So you’re a casual player who just bought a single $2 ticket – it’s harmless fun, right? You might have spent that $2 on a coffee at Starbucks. But $2 would also fund a couple meals at the homeless shelter; would buy a live chicken for hundreds of eggs for a family in Africa; or would smuggle a Bible into North Korea. Go for the biggest return on every dollar.
2) God doesn’t want us to get rich quick. God tells us this in His Word, in a number of places:
- “A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.” – Proverbs 28:20
- “Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.” – Proverbs 13:11
- “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” – Hebrews 13:5 (all verses New International Version)
Indeed, our original sin means that instead, we’re to work hard to eke out our living, until the end of our days here (Genesis 3:17). Gaining quick riches is in direct opposition to God’s will for His people – which means playing lotteries or gambling is, too.
3) We’re poor stewards of God’s talents when we gamble. Meager or flush, the treasure in our wallets and in our bank accounts is His, not ours.
In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells how each of us has been put into stewardship with varying amounts of God’s treasure (Matthew 25:14-13). He advises that we’re to be good stewards of that treasure – to invest it wisely and to seek a strong return on it – and he warns of dire consequences to those who don’t obey this wisdom.
With the odds stacked so high against any return on gambling “investments,” playing the odds in the lottery is worst than burying our money in the ground. At least that man in the parable was able to return to his Master the principle amount. Lottery spendings are lost to the Kingdom forever.
With the ubiquity of lotteries in almost every state and gambling halls on riverfronts, Reservations and enclaves across America, gambling somehow seems to have been absolved by the culture as sin to Christ-followers and to all others in these United States. But God’s edicts; His will and His wishes for goodness and blessings for each of us – are eternal for each of His good and faithful servants.
The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.