How Would 1.5 BILLION Dollars Change Your Life? It Might Ruin It!

Posted on January 20, 2016 in Theology by

LotteryI’ll admit that I have watched with fascination as the lottery has ticked up to its highest jackpot in history. When it was at 900 million I thought it couldn’t go higher. Then it got to 1.5 billion and I was stunned.

What amazed me most was that someone, perhaps several someone’s would overnight go from their current financial position to being millionaires. Not just millionaires though, multi-multi-multi-millionaires. The kind that, with the right guidance, would never work or worry about money ever again.

I have never been tempted to play the lottery, I’m still not. Mostly because the logical side of my brain (which is roughly 80% of my brain) knows the odds are not in my favor and that it is a bad investment. I like good investments. But, nonetheless I watch with curiosity at the spectacle.

I can’t help but wonder how many of my Christian friends have decided to “just buy one” in hopes of winning. No doubt it is with the promise that they will tithe and feed a small nation that they justify their purchase of what they hope will be a life-changing ticket. (Cue “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

While we dream of how large sums of money would change our life we need to come face to face with the reality that at times our dreams are full of envy and idolatry; and we lack faith and thankfulness. This is easily seen in the definition of “large sums of money” from one country to the next. As people cross our borders in hopes of making $30,000 a year working I am reminded that there is a family living in a tent in Haiti.

I was further convicted of my own selfish greed by John Piper’s blog post entitled “7 Reasons Not to Play the Lottery.”

Piper, speaking to both Christians and people in general (which is presumably why he did not title his post “7 Reasons Christians Should Not Play the Lottery”), lays out a case for being wise stewards of all that we’ve been given. More than that he argues that the lottery is enabling poverty and keeping people from growing out of poverty. Some of his reasons include:

  1. It is spiritually suicidal. “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. . . . and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9–10).
  2. It is a kind of embezzlement. All you have belongs to God. All of it…The parable of the talents says Jesus will take account of how we handled his money. They went and worked (Matthew 25:16–17). That is how we seek to provide for ourselves (1 Corinthians 4:121 Thessalonians 4:11Ephesians 4:28).
  3. It’s a fool’s errand. The odds of winning are nearly 176 million-to-one. You take real money and buy with it a chance.
  4. The system is built on the necessity of most people losing. According to the International Business Times, lotteries are “just another form of gambling (without any of the glamour and glitz of Las Vegas, of course). The ‘house’ controls the action, the players will all eventually lose.”
  5. It preys on the poor. The lottery supports and encourages “yet another corrosive addiction that preys upon the greed and hopeless dreams of those trapped in poverty. . . . The Consumerist suggested that poor people in the U.S. — those earning $13,000 or less — spend an astounding 9 percent of their income on lottery tickets. . . making this ‘harmless’ game a ‘deeply regressive tax’” (ibid).
  6. There is a better alternative. A survey by Opinion Research Corporation for the Consumer Federation of America and the Financial Planning Association revealed that one-fifth (21 percent) of people surveyed thought the lottery was a practical way to accumulate wealth. We are teaching people to be fools.
  7. For the sake of quick money, government is undermining the virtue without which it cannot survive. A government that raises money by encouraging and exploiting the weaknesses of its citizens escapes that democratic mechanism of accountability. As important, state-sponsored gambling undercuts the civic virtue upon which democratic governance depends. (First Things, Sept., 1991, 12)

Piper’s case is not just biblically sound, it is financially sound as well. As a financial adviser that daily advises people of the best ways to secure their money and help it grow I can say his arguments are sound. Of all the stories I’ve heard of how people planned for retirement and secured the savings they would need, not one involves the lottery.

And while Piper didn’t specifically state it, I believe he would agree that at the root of playing the lottery is both a lack of faith and greed. We play because we don’t believe God will take care of us and provide our needs. We play because we desire more money to buy things: a bigger house; a newer car; a vacation, etc. We also play in order to – hopefully – correct our poor financial decisions (i.e. pay off the credit cards, repay the loan).

Don’t misunderstand me. Not every person struggling financially with credit card debt and loans is solely responsible. Some have come through tragedies, unforeseen circumstances, and, at times, been a product of their environment. However, I believe that these cases are few and far between. At some point we must take responsibility for our spending habits and our financial decisions. We must also heed the biblical advice to be prepared and have a plan.

In the end, the lottery a scam designed to take people’s money. There is nothing virtuous about it. It propagates bad habits and addictions rather than teaching solid financial principles. I can easily agree that it is something to be avoided.

Piper makes it clear that he wants no part of the lottery, even the winnings. He tells all potential winners that might try to donate to his ministry to keep their money. His reason? He makes that clear as well:

“So, if you win, don’t give from your lottery winnings to our ministry. Christ does not build his church on the backs of the poor. Pray that Christ’s people will be so satisfied in him that they will be freed from the greed that makes us crave to get rich.”

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