3 theological issues in playing the lottery


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It seems the dollar figure on the Powerball Multi-State Lottery has reached a tipping point on more than just the highway billboards. Churches are beginning to discuss what might happen if a member or friend of the congregation were to experience a large payout. Questions about what the Bible has to say about such winnings have come into play during prayer meetings, in bible studies, and of course on Facebook posts. Believe it or not, these questions are by nature theological, so it is good to have a biblical foundation for the search for answers to such a remote hope.

Issue #1- A Rational Human Being’s participation in folly

In any game of chance like a raffle where there are limited winners, the simple rationality of mathematics makes participation a stupid choice. In a state or federal lottery, no matter what the dollar amount, there is only one guaranteed winner – a corrupt government. Therefore, most participants are losers in the game.

In a recent newspaper article, Dr. Lew Lefton, assistant dean and senior academic professional at Georgia Tech’s School of Mathematics, was quoted saying that a person has one chance in 292 million of winning the Powerball. This mathematical truth should not go unnoticed, and yet the promotional advertising is always about the few winners. Most lottery participants cannot afford their losses, and yet they foolishly throw their money away at a small chance of winning big.

Some argue that the proceeds may benefit some cause, but if that is truly the motivation, why not simply give generously to that cause?

This would be different if there was a proven track record of everyone winning over the long haul, as has been the case with well-informed, long-term stock market investments into businesses (not speculative investments that place hopes on miniscule chances of a good future). Some argue that the proceeds may benefit some cause, but if that is truly the motivation, why not simply give generously to that cause? The only real motivation is greed based on stupidity. So a human being’s participation in folly will always lead to ruin, both personally and nationally. See Proverbs 11:15; 12:12-13; 12:20; 15:27; 16:8; 19:1.

Issue #2 – A Christian’s participation in financial mismanagement

A Christian living under grace has yet another barrier to folly, in that 100% of his property and wealth belong to God. The difference between the Old Testament tithe and New Testament giving is that 10% of the Old Testament saint’s income belonged to God while 100% of the New Testament believer’s income should be dedicated to the Lord on stand-by for the local church’s use (see Acts 2:44). To take the Lord’s money and be foolish with a 99.99% chance of loss is in reality financial embezzlement and gross mismanagement of the Lord’s funds.

For a Christian to have the remotest chance of winning the lottery, he has to initially buy a lottery ticket with the Lord’s money. In all likelihood he is in reality just throwing the Lord’s money out the window. Therefore, in his participation he has stolen missions money and sinned. Perhaps this is no different from the Christian who wastes money in other ways like overspending or sensually indulging at the Lord’s expense, but James 5 talks very poignantly about this: James 5:1-6.

Issue #3 – A Church’s receipt of ill-gotten gain

Some may say, “But let a sinner give away part of his lottery winnings to a church. The Devil has had it long enough!” However, is there really any difference in a church receiving ill-gotten gain from theft from the stupid and poor through the lottery and in receiving proceeds from other sins like prostitution, extortion, bribery, or breaking and entering? One could say that the Devil had it long enough in those cases too. But for a church to gladly accept the wealth created from governmental brainwashing of the stupid at the expense of the greedy impoverished is nothing to boast.

Moreover, a church then could only give glory to chance instead of glory to Christ. We have been called to live under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and the Lord who owns the cattle on a thousand hills doesn’t need any favors from thieves. Proverbs 1:19 is clear that the real price of ill-gotten gain is life itself. What good does it do to pay off church debt with that which produces church death?

My heart goes out to two categories of people in this most current game of chance. There are those families who are most definitely in financial need, and what little they had to eat has now vanished to feed the greed of government and some other recipients. And there are Christian brothers and sisters struggling in faith with fellow church members about the theological gray area of gambling.

In the first category, my prayer is that the Lord would use Christians to provide physical and spiritual meat to relieve their poverty. In the second category, I pray that Christians would remember the admonition of Paul to avoid meat if it means offending a fellow believer.

discipleship, government, lottery, money, poor, stewardship