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Gambling and the lottery


Recently a Christian friend of mine who is a computer expert of sorts
told me that he thinks playing the lotto is no big deal. According to
him, its simply playing the odds as a computer generates a random
number and this determines the winner. He thinks gambling like this is
a sport, but like everything else, must come under the principle of
moderation in scripture, and should be mastered (you should not allow
yourself to become the servant of it). I admire his liberty where this
is concerned, and tend to agree with his reasoning to a point. But
does the scripture say anything definitive on this issue?


Let's look at lotteries from a Biblical basis. The Lord is absolutely
sovereign over everything in the Universe at all times. Jesus told us
that no sparrow falls to the ground without the Father permitting it
and that the Lord has every hair on our head's numbered (Matt
10:29,30). Proverbs tells us:

 "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the
  LORD." (Prov 16:33)

In God's sovereignty He uses whatever and whomever He wishes
for His purposes though they may think they act for themselves:
"the king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of
the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes" (Prov 21:1). God
knows the nature of individuals and groups and channels them to
accomplish what He wills. Just as we harness the attributes of
nature to accomplish what we desire without violating the laws
of physics so does God direct people and events without violating
people's free will. How these small details all work together
to produce God's plan is a mystery too great for any of us to
fathom. In Jonah a major theme is how God's sovereignty oversees
things including the lots cast by the sailors, the fish that swallowed
Jonah, Jonah going to Ninevah, the plant that grew to shade Jonah,
the worm that killed the plant, and God's grace extended to the
Gentiles of Ninevah.

Is the lottery really just a matter of statistics and random
numbers? Do we really "play" the lottery? If we look
at it from God's absolute sovereignty over all creation then it
is not just a matter of statistics and random numbers. But can
we say that because someone wins the lottery that God is showing
favor on them and blessing them? Not really. After all, all these
things ultimately come from God and God's love pours on the sinner
and saint alike (Matt 5:43-47). Let's look at life the way God
looks at it. God tests each of us. These tests reveal what is
in our hearts and demonstrates our character. For some these tests
include disease, or physical hardships, temptations of various
kinds, etc. These tests also include blessings. All of these things
reveal who we are. As God reveals who we are He uses this revelation
to draw us towards Himself. For some individuals God uses instant

A good movie to see that relates to this subject is "The
Treasure of the Sierra Madre" with Humphrey Bogart and Walter
Huston (based on a novel). There we see Bogart win a lottery (#13
- a hint from the author) that gives him enough money to go on
an expedition for gold prospecting. The audience is led to believe
that Bogart had gotten some good luck and that the #13 is a bit
of curious irony. But as the movie unfolds we see that Bogart's
true nature is revealed. It was, in a sense, Bogart's bad luck.
Although he and his partners gain a great amount of gold Bogart
is destroyed and his partners loose all of their gold in the end.
This is as Paul wrote: "For we have brought nothing into
the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either."
(1 Tim 6:7). The lottery winning and the wealth that resulted
from their adventure only revealed their natures. And so it is
with all the things that God brings into our lives. They test
and reveal. But, like in the movie when the old prospector described
that gold brings on trouble, we say something like Bogart's associate:
"I wouldn't mind a little of that kind of trouble."

Now let's look at the lottery on a statistical basis. The California
lottery gives odds of something like 1 in 50 million or there-abouts.
So if you by one ticket for $1 you have about 1 in 50,000,000
chance of winning. If you buy 100 tickets you then have increased
your chances 100-fold but the odds are still virtually identical
to when you had one ticket: 100 in 50,000,000 versus 1 in 50,000,000
is like standing at the top of a 100 story building and saying
that you are closer to the moon than the fellow standing on the
ground floor. But $1 versus $100 is a big difference for most
people. We must use our limited resources wisely because we will
be accountable to the Lord. So if one insists on playing the lottery
then only buy one ticket and no more.

Your servant in Christ, XXXX

P.S. Following are some Scriptures to keep in mind if one plays
the lottery (to make sure that what we reveal in our life is pleasing
to God):

  "For we have brought nothing into
  the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we
  have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those
  who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many
  foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.
  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some
  by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced
  themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you
  man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love,
  perseverance and gentleness." (1 Tim 6:7-11).

  "Make sure that your character is
  free from the love of money, being content with what you have;
  for He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I
  ever forsake you,' so that we confidently say, 'The Lord is my
  helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?'"
  (Heb 13:5-6)

  "He who loves money will not be satisfied
  with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This
  too is emptiness." (Eccl 5:10).

  "And Jesus said to His disciples,
  'Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom
  of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go
  through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the
  kingdom of God.' When the disciples heard this, they were very
  astonished and said, 'Then who can be saved?' And looking at
  them Jesus said to them, 'With people this is impossible, but
  with God all things are possible.'" (Matt 19:23-26)

  "Do not store up for yourselves treasures
  on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break
  in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
  where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not
  break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart
  will be also." (Matt 6:19-21)

  "Come now, you rich, weep and howl
  for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have
  rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and
  your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against
  you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last
  days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of
  the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld
  by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did
  the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You
  have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton
  pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.
  You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does
  not resist you." (James 5:1-6)

  "Because you say, 'I am rich, and
  have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not
  know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and
  naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that
  you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe
  yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed;
  and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see."
  (Rev 3:17-18)