Lottery – A Ticket to Hell? – Greg Albrecht

Gambling is a controversial topic in Christendom. I personally see nothing biblically wrong with buying a lottery ticket, but I know that my saying so will rouse the ire of some. They will see such a statement as permissive and back-sliding, among other things.

In my opinion, based on my understanding of the Bible and of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is not wrong to play a game of chance, as long as it does not become an addiction—at that point, as with so many other behaviors, gambling is not only a sin, it becomes a curse.

Here’s how I see the issue of gambling, from a biblical, Christ-centered perspective.

Gambling can be addictive. But that fact alone is not enough to say that any form of gambling is a sin. Many things can be addictive—watching television, eating sunflower seeds, playing games on a computer—the list is endless. Simply because a behavior can be addictive, and in fact is for many people, does not mean, de facto, that such a behavior is a sin. The sin lies in the abuse—the addiction.

Gambling can be dangerous. Gambling is often associated with smoking and drinking to excess. It is true that gambling can be particularly problematic for some types of people. It is true that gambling can be a dangerous, risky behavior.

Driving a car can also be dangerous. Insurance rates charged by insurance companies (who meticulously track such things) reflect that young, inexperienced drivers and those who are older are much more likely to have an accident and perhaps kill someone. Research from a variety of perspectives bear this out. Is driving a car a sin for anyone who is under 21, and for anyone who is over 85— because, after all, it can be dangerous? Is gambling just like driving a car? How far do we allow this argument to go?

Gambling can lead to poverty, because many who gamble are doing so in an obviously futile attempt to rescue themselves from financial hardships. Yes, this is true, according to many studies. Visit any casino and you will find many people who don’t look like they can “afford” to gamble.

Perhaps our government should infringe on our civil liberties and post security guards at the doors of casinos, somewhat like the security you have to go through before getting on an airline. These security guards at casinos would examine the financial status of all who enter, and refuse entrance to those who cannot “afford” to lose any money. Am I saying that some people can “afford” to gamble, and therefore it may not impoverish them as it may someone else? Yes I am.

Some people can never afford to eat out. Some people can afford to go, perhaps once a week, to Taco Bell or McDonalds. Someone else can afford to go to a five star French restaurant once a week. If someone on a beer-and-peanuts budget attempts to live on a champagne-and-caviar diet, they will soon experience financial difficulties.

Some people would like to take their kids to Disneyland or Disney World, but they really can’t afford it. And in spite of the fact that it will cause them to go into debt, they still take their kids—not because they are getting some perverse pleasure from doing so, but because they want their kids to enjoy all that Disneyland offers. Does this mean that people shouldn’t go to Disneyland or Disney World? No, but it means that some people can’t afford it.

My wife and I go to Dodger Stadium here in Los Angeles about once a year. Invariably, when we go to a game, we will see people who look like they don’t have the proverbial two nickels to rub together, but still buy an endless number of beers at $8 per cup. Should that be stopped? Perhaps, but how? The sheer amount of money expended for overpriced beer may be a sin, if that is money that should have been used to feed and clothe a family, not guzzled away at a baseball game.

Gambling poisons the mind. Gambling is seductive—it promises a huge bonanza and people are sucked into the idea of getting rich quick. But let’s be honest, many churches do much the same thing. Health-and-wealth churches exploit the poor by telling them that they will get wealthy—they will win some kind of spiritual lottery—if they just give their money to the church. And what would be the difference between giving your money to such a church and pumping it into a state-run lottery? None. You have the same chance of winning the state lottery as you do getting rich because you listen to some Rolex-wearing health-and-wealth preacher.

Gambling is seductive. But many things in life are seductive, and that doesn’t make them sin. The religion of Islam generally says, and certainly the more radical Muslims do, that women should cover up virtually all of their body, because men are so easily tempted. If a woman does expose a little skin, and a man forces himself on her, the general wisdom within this religion is that she is as much or more to blame. Would we conclude that a woman sinned and caused a man to assault and/or rape her?

I don’t believe gambling is necessarily a sin. I believe that gambling can be a sin, and it can be and is a curse for many. I believe that there are many people who should never gamble, in any manner, shape or form. I believe that many people should never again touch a drop of alcohol. I believe that many people should absolutely avoid peanuts, because they are allergic to them. I believe that perfume and fragrances can have incredibly negative side effects on those with sensitivities to them, but I still splash aftershave on my face every morning. If I became aware that someone I worked with, or someone in my immediate family, were sensitive and negatively impacted by my doing so, I would stop.

Let’s suppose, as some do, that all kinds of gambling are sin—including gambling by anyone at anytime. Okay, so where do we draw the line? Talk about seduction. I believe if we buy into the idea that any kind of gambling, at any time, by anyone, is sin, we have just been snookered by the seduction of legalism.

The first thing we have to do, if we accept this religious legalistic judgment, is to define gambling. Let’s try to do that for a moment. Let’s start with one of the more extreme interpretations. Some religions and churches actually believe that one should never invest money in an investment that bears interest, because this is gambling. It’s gambling, so say such people, because it’s chance, and no one, says extreme religion, should profit from anything but good old fashioned hard work. So, according to this kind of works-righteousness religion, one should never put money in a bank, never invest in a mutual fund, and if one saves for retirement, it should only be in some kind of financial instrument (maybe like the good old coffee can buried in the back yard) that will never bear interest.

Some religions would allow (big of religions to allow people to do things, isn’t it?) for a person to put money in the bank at a low-level interest rate, but never at a higher-level, more dicey interest rate. Some religions would allow people to invest in a money market account, and buy life insurance, but never, ever directly buy stock through the New York Stock Exchange (some of the same churches and religions that don’t allow their parishioners and followers to invest in stocks and bonds do so themselves, as religious corporations. I believe that’s called hypocrisy).

Then, some religions, some churches, allow people to invest money in virtually any kind of financial instrument, but never ever in a bingo game, a Super Bowl office pool, an office pool for the NCAA men’s college basketball finals, etc. Some religions just don’t address such activities, they favor a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, because they feel they are powerless to get people to stop.

Then, as we move forward, there are lottery tickets. Beyond that there are casinos. Beyond that, there is online, off-shore betting on anything from horse and dog racing, to political elections, to football games. Where does legalism propose to draw the line, given the assumption that all kinds of gambling are sin?

We can safely conclude four things, from a Christ-centered perspective:
1) Gambling can become a sin— even a curse.
2) Christians are free to participate, or to choose not to participate, in games of chance.
3) No religious authority has any God-given mandate to impose arbitrary rules about gambling.
4) As with many other potentially addictive behaviors, each of us may differ regarding our tolerance levels. Some are well advised to avoid all forms of gambling.

Finally, a word of wisdom and a request. If you decide to purchase a lottery ticket, depending on your religious affiliation, you may want to buy the ticket at night, or with a paper bag over your head.

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