Should Christians Buy a Powerball Ticket?


1 & 2 Peter, Biblical Meditations, Christian Life, Current Events, Matthew / Sunday, January 10th, 2016

The current Powerball estimate is over $1 billion and counting.  It’s no wonder a recent article in The Atlantic cited this staggering statistic:

“According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, lotteries took in $70.1 billion in sales in the 2014 fiscal year. That’s more than Americans in all 50 states spent on sports tickets, books, video games, movie tickets, and recorded music sales.”

The article concludes:

“In an age of rising income inequality, it’s pernicious that states rely on monetizing the desperate hope of its poorest residents.  State lotteries take from the poor to spare the rich, all while marching under the banner of voluntary entertainment.  Banning lotto games will not make our poorest communities suddenly rich.  But these neighborhoods have lost enough lotteries in life even before they touch a penny to the scratch-off ticket.”

Should Christians buy a Powerball (or any lottery) ticket?  What’s the harm in spending a few bucks if it means winning a few hundred million?  After all, we could give most of it away to charities and churches.  Besides, don’t we all spend money on personal entertainment that could otherwise be spent in more virtuous ways? What’s the difference in a $20 green free and a $3 scratch-off?  It’s all in good fun. At least the scratch off carries the slimmest hope of a return on investment.

Still, Christians should not buy Powerball (or any lottery) tickets for at least two reasons.

(1)  We are no match for greed.  We assume our heart and virtue will launder the money.  But the money always launders us.  In 2 Cor 9.5, Paul sent an advance team to Corinth so the church wouldn’t get used to having the “bountiful gift” they’d collected.  He knew the longer they had it the more they invited covetousness.

We might think we’d use most of our winnings for ministry and mission.  But we’re inviting the Trojan Horse of greed into our living room (1 Tim 3.3; 6.10; Heb 13.5). And greed destroys everyone in its path.  Christians want to not sin more than they want to be rich.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16.26)

Is a billion dollars worth eternity?  We may theoretically hope to “redeem” the money, but at what cost if we don’t?  The heart rarely changes the money.  It’s far more likely the money changes the heart.

Let’s be honest.  How much of our wealth are we giving to ministry and mission now?  If we’re not giving a substantial part of it away now, what makes us think $1 billion will suddenly change our heart?  If I’m not the sort of person who gives sacrificially now I won’t suddenly become charitable just because I have more of it to give.  In fact, statistics regularly prove the wealthier are far less charitable as a percentage of income while the less affluent are more generous.  And what the rich do give goes mainly to “lifestyle” organizations (universities, museums, etc.), not social organizations helping the poor.  The money changes the heart.

Jesus said, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God” (Mk 10.23).  I want to enter the kingdom of God so I don’t need it any harder than I’ve already made it.

(2)  Lotteries exploit the poor.  They don’t help them.  The long-term effects of lotteries is more and/or perpetual poverty.  The poorest families, counties and states generally stay that way no matter how much a lottery promises otherwise.

For example, we live just north of Tunica, MS where casinos promised the world (along with Gulf Coast casinos as well).  Tunica County remains one of the poorest counties in Mississippi with a per capita income just over $15,000 in a state that is last in both median and per capita income.

We don’t dishonor the poor (Jas 2.1-7) but remember them (Gal 2.10).  That means helping in substantial ways that don’t require selling their souls or suffering economic rape.  Winning a lottery is to benefit at the expense of others, namely those who can least afford to be taken advantage of (which is unlike my green fees or earning the highest wage I reasonably can).

Should Christians buy a Powerball (or any lottery) ticket?  Not if they really love the poor more than they love money.

We lose our lives in order to save them (Mk 8.35).  We look for heaven’s imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance (1 Pt 1.4), not some cheap billion-dollar substitute that is here today and gone tomorrow.  We just might be gone with it (Lk 12.16-21).  The gospel is not better served when rich folk give richly, but when poor folk share generously (2 Cor 8.1-6). Better to leave a gospel tract with hope of eternal reward than leave with a scratch-off worth billions.  It will be the best $3 you never spent.

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