One of my favorite songs in high school was the Barenaked Ladies’ classic “If I had a Million Dollars.” In the song, the band dreams of things that they would do if they had a million dollars and how they would give it the woman they loved.
With tonight’s anticipated Mega Millions drawing and anticipated $600 million-plus payout, it has everyone doing their own version of the song and dreaming of what they would do with that money. For the record, my wife and I jokingly had our little “$600 million dream” session last night. We decided we would pay off seminary debt, pay off the debts of our family members, put money away for our future children, give money to our favorite charities, establish scholarships at all of our alma maters, and follow through on Michael Scott’s desire to find a class of students and give them a free education.
We all have dreamed big with this payout, but tonight’s drawing raises an important question for us to consider. Should we support lotteries and should we play them? Ignoring the claims that lotteries promote education, it is my belief that lotteries are nothing more than a state-sponsored scam aimed at the poor with the hopes of a better life and fortunes.
It is often the poorest in our communities who will spend hundreds on lottery tickets banking on the hope that one of their numbers provide fortune and fame. The investment is unwise. As CNN pointed out yesterday, you have a better chance of getting killed by a vending machine than you do winning the lottery. Yet, the thrill of striking it rich brings us back to our neighborhood store with our money in one hand and lucky numbers in another.
Had that same money been invested, as some like Dave Ramsey points out, it would have turned and made a profit that has better odds than hitting the “powerball.”
Even though Scripture never comes out specifically against gambling, we can infer that gambling goes against God’s desires. If we assume that is the poor who play the lottery the most and that it takes away money that could be used elsewhere, then gambling and lotteries take advantage of the poor. In both the Old and New Testaments, we see that God calls us to care for the poor and seek their provision and care. One of the basic calls in Jesus’ ministry was to care for the poor who had, so often, been neglected by the ruling elites of his time.
Lotteries also shows us who are god truly is. It’s almost ironic that as we prepare for Palm Sunday, the day we celebrate Christ’s arrival to Jerusalem as king, that we have this massive lottery. Chasing after lottery payouts shows us that our money, and future riches, is really are god. When we lay down our money at the lottery stand, we do so as an act of greed and lust of money. Something as simple as wanting to provide a better life for our family can deter us from our obedience and desire to live for God.
Turning to lotteries for financial success will only breed financial and personal ruin and will deter you from your faith in Jesus Christ. We can and must seek better for ourselves and our neighbor.
My hope is that the day will come when lotteries are phased out. Though this is my hope, I recognize that as long as lotteries pay big money and people are dictated by their love of god (money) they will be here for a long time to come. As leaders in the church, we must be willing to address lotteries and teach people a better way to financial health and personal obedience in Christ.