We drove back from Texas on Friday, March 30. As is my habit on long car trips, I listened to the radio quite a bit. The lead news story on every station from Dallas to Peoria was not the economy or the health care bill or the latest crisis in the middle east. The story capturing everyone’s imagination was the lottery and the record-breaking prize drawing that was to be held in just a few hours..
I’ve written before about what I believe are the spiritual dangers of gambling (e.g., here and here). Let me take a moment and share a few additional thoughts on the lottery. As I told my kids Saturday evening, the problem with the lottery goes beyond being a poor use of money. In other words, it’s not just wrong to lose the lottery—there are also problems with winning.
These thoughts are not novel or original with me, but let me share five reasons why I believe it’s wrong to win the lottery. And, of course, I understand that good folks disagree on this issue and I respect the right of believers to come to different conclusions.
1. When you win the lottery, you take advantage of the poor.
Even when you play the lottery, you are participating in a system that disproportionately affects the poor. According to some estimates, the poor spend up to 9% of their income on the lottery. Furthermore, the entire lottery system relies upon poor people, especially ethnic minorities, participating in it disproportionately (for examples, see here and here).
When you win the lottery, you are therefore enriching yourself off of the resources of the poor. James warns us of the danger of defrauding the poor for our own gain (5:1-6).
2. When you win the lottery, your financial gain is not the fruit of your own labor.
As I sat down with my kids to talk to them about the lottery, I opened up the book of Proverbs. It did not take long to find words of caution against the heart attitude behind the lottery. “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.” Proverbs 28:19-20.
The believer should avoid attempts to procure material resources in a way contrary to those advocated by God. Quick riches are not a healthy way to acquire financial gain.
3. When you win the lottery, you are tempted to not trust in God’s provision.
The prayer of Agur in Proverbs 30 is instructive: “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” (30:7-9).
There is a temptation the rich person faces to fail to rely upon God and depend upon his provision.
4. When you win the lottery, you are tempted to love the things of this world.
In our North American culture, we often fail to understand the real danger love of this world presents. "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world" (1 John 2:15-16).
The danger of wealth to your soul is very real. You cannot love both the world and God.
5. When you win the lottery, you may be given more money than you can handle.
The lottery bestows amounts of money that most believers are ill-equipped to deal with. We believe that having riches is a “blessing” but Jesus describes it differently. In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus warns: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God…. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:20b, 24).
I'll admit it. As we were driving and listening to the radio, I thought about what it would be like to be worth a half-billion dollars, overnight. But then we listened to the testimony of a man who had won the lottery. Far from bringing him joy, it had brought him misery. He wishes he had never won. However...he had purchased a ticket for the current lottery! Behold the deception of riches!
I've never talked with someone who had pursued God with their whole heart and then regretted it.
Pursue Him, the pearl of great price and the true treasure.