The following article was mostly written before America’s largest lottery prize (to date) was won, but its publishing does come after the event, although its content remains unchanged.
No one cares to ask anymore why we have gotten to where we are and if that is a good thing. In simple terms we all seem to confuse change with progress, and wrongly assume all progress is good, and thus we conclude that all change is good. According to this logic, if something was once wrong, illegal, or considered immoral, but today it is considered legal and moral, then the thing must really be a good thing because we have “progressed”. Case in point: the lottery.
For the many, many years that the over arching society thought gambling a vice, were they simply missing a fact that we now have come to discover in our day? The simple answer is yes: pragmatism, or simply the ends justify the means (and by this I am being facetious in calling pragmatism a “fact” or alluding to it having any moral upside); this article isn’t about pragmatism.
Many people have written on why the lottery is bad and have given all sorts of statistics, but I am not going to list them here. Rather I am going to only state one statistic that I think we all can agree on, and argue from there why the lottery is bad. Winning the lottery is a really, really, really long, long shot. The odds are so against you, that in doing any other activity, no one would probably do it with those odds, but make the “upside” potential millions or billions of dollars, and people literally lose their minds.
People have certainly lost their minds, but long before the lottery was invented. We lost our minds soon after God created us, when our forefather sinned against God in the Garden, and we have tried to disobey Him, and kill His memory ever since. But this is God’s world and we are His creation, and He has created the world and therefore us, to function a certain way. God expects us to work hard with our hands at fruitful, honest labor, to live within our means, and to earn enough there-by to have extra to share with those in need of help, 1 Thes. 4:11. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as our selves, and this includes how we view, and function inside our work, Mark 12:31. No-where in God’s economy is there any place for a “quick” buck, or a gambler’s ploy. Our wealth is to be earned by God blessing our labor, and our family’s labor (not to negate inheritances – after all God says a righteous man leaves an inheritance to his children and grand-children – prov. 13:22). God commands us to be content with our “lot” in life, and not to covet another’s wealth, 10 Commandments anyone. Of course contentment doesn’t negate working hard and there-by improving one’s lot, but upholds as primary one’s motivations for working, and how the work is performed (doesn’t sound like pragmatism to me). People seem to forget that God expects an accounting from us for every dollar spent, after all it isn’t actually our money, but God’s and He has given us stewardship of it for a time, and therefore He deserves and expects an accounting. Yet, God is wealthy enough that He doesn’t seem concerned with how much we earn, but how we use it and think about our possessions, thus one cannot argue that by winning the lottery one is pleasing God by increasing His money exponentially. In fact God commands us to trust Him for provision, and His method of providing is through blessing work, not through lotteries and other get rich quick schemes, Prov. 3:5,6. You might be tempted to think that God would want to use the lottery in your life to bless you, but that is like saying God would want to use a strip club as the place for you to sire children. Just because sinful man may come up with a scheme that can do something that God commands to be done a different way, doesn’t mean the ends justify the means; aka God isn’t going to bless it, lest you say we should sin so grace may abound: Rom 6:1.
Almost everyone has thought about, and dreamed about wining the lottery, and this proves my very point. Why are such dreams so powerful and attractive? Because they feed our sinful desires of lust, laziness, covetousness, and the idol of money. We think that winning money is better than earning it, showing how lazy we are, and how poorly we value work. Quickly our imagination runs wild with all the things we could do and buy with this money and how much happier we would be with all these things, showing our lust and covetousness, and our lack of contentment of what God provides for us (as if what He gives isn’t enough). Of course we also deep down feel that we would be safer with this money, more secure and protected from “bad” things happening to us, which demonstrates how money has taken the place of God in our lives as the thing we trust in. Maybe our money should say: “in money we trust”.
I could go on and on about how the lottery hurts the poor. How it actually hurts the economy and discourages fruitful labor. We could discuss how wasteful the lottery is with their earnings, and how little actually shows any benefit to society. In the end, many conclude it is just another tax, and namely a tax on the unwise. Clearly the lottery encourages many undesirable and sinful attitudes, and arguably bad behaviors.
Often we don’t consider further downsides to winning vast sums of money. Do you think people will actually respect you the same if you won your millions than if you earned them through honest hard work? God gives us according to our ability and faithfulness in the past, do you think it wise then, that you receive millions when you may or may not have even been faithful with only thousands? Have you considered how others will now treat you, if you don’t know who your true friends are now, how will you then? What about criminals who only target the rich, like kidnapers, have you considered the risk to your family and friends? And what about your soul, have you considered whether such instant wealth will actually draw you closer to God and make you more Christ like? Will you trust and love God more after you have all this money? Have you considered the great responsibility all this money is, and how, as a tool, it is meant to serve God’s purposes and benefit your neighbors? After all God says He requires much from those who have much, and you just significantly upped your “having” Luke 12:48. What will happen if, by winning the lottery, you seemingly have gained the whole world?
Happiness is not found in money or things, but in knowing and respecting God, understanding we deserve death, but in Christ we are given life and thus we are now fully owned by God, owing Him everything. Look to God for your provision and security, your happiness and contentment. Work hard, be faithful with what you are given, and do not desire what the worldly man desires: unearned wealth, and unappreciated material possessions, for in them he thinks he will find happiness, joy, and contentment, but will only reap misery and death. Life is found in God, let us choose life, and may God give to us what He wishes as He blesses our faithful and humble labor before Him.
P.S. I am fully aware of the grey area’s when it comes to games and entertainment. Of course some of what I brought up here will have broader implications beyond simply the lottery such as poker, casinos, fantasy teams, and track betting, and while this article isn’t meant to directly comment on those, it does in many ways. Playing the lottery and participating in some of these other “games of chance and betting,” while I think have many potential sin issues, are not equally sinful to all people, and I can conceive of someone playing the lottery (or the other games) in a much more innocent way that someone else. However, I still stand by my conviction that the lottery is over all evil, and should be discouraged by all, no matter how innocently a few may be able to participate in it; as to the other games, that is a discussion for another time.