The Powerball winners were recently announced. Here are a few details about the latest jackpot.
While the Powerball sits at $1.5 billion, if you take the winnings as a lump sum (which most lottery winners do), you will receive only $930 million (if you want the full amount, you must choose annuals payments over 30 years). Whether you choose a lump sum or annual payments, you won’t avoid Uncle Sam. Depending on where you live, you can expect taxes to grab at least 40% (or $368 million). Best case scenario, if you win the Powerball and choose the lump sum, your take-home check after taxes will be a measly $568 million.
Why all the details? I need to justify the time spent researching, and it’s important to understand things aren’t always as they seem.
Now, a more important question. Is buying a lottery ticket sinful? The answer is fairly simple.
The Bible warns against microwaved wealth and get rich quick schemes (1 Tim. 6:9-10; Proverbs 28:20; Proverbs 13:11). But Scripture doesn’t specifically address the lottery. Growing up, gambling was a sin. No questions asked. This type of legalistic Christianity where personal convictions become doctrinal truths is a big reason why I left the church.
So, if your only question is “Am I sinning if I buy a lottery ticket?” you have the answer. But if this is your only concern, I’m not sure how devoted you are to Jesus. Christians shouldn’t just be concerned with whether a particular action is sinful. This is kiddie pool Christianity. We must ask whether a particular action or thought pushes us closer to Jesus. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians.
“Everything is permissible—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible—but not everything is constructive.”1 Corinthians 10:23
Basically, Paul says you’re free to do want you want. Imagine someone saying that from a pulpit. But, at the same time, Paul says, if you love Jesus, you should ask, if your action, thought, or whatever leads you towards Him?
Questions like this are more difficult. It brings motivations and desires into the picture. I hope people who visit this site are concerned with deeper questions than “Is this sinful?” That type of Christianity might be safe and comfortable, but it doesn’t form you into God’s image.
So, “Can I buy a lottery ticket?” Sure. “Should I buy a lottery ticket?” That’s a very different question. I want to explore a few spiritual realities from the recent Powerball frenzy. Again, this comes down to conscience. But, before you buy, consider these.
1.) The lottery highlights our neglect of the poor and marginalized.
God weaves a common thread through Scripture, “Don’t neglect the poor. Don’t take advantage of the underprivileged.” God’s heart rests with the marginalized. Like a protective father, God warns those with power or money to hear something loud and clear. If you take advantage of the poor, you’ll have to answer for it.
Well, this is precisely what the lottery does. Without the poor, the lottery doesn’t exist. Of the 43 states where the lottery is legal, Americans spend roughly $70 billion on lottery tickets. Just for perspective’s sake, that’s more than Americans in all 50 states spend on sports, books, games, movies, and music….combined. Wow.
But here’s where things go from bad to worse. The poorest third of all households buy half of all lottery tickets. Lotteries are vicious monster. They prey on the poor, enticing them with dreams of escaping poverty while pulling them deeper into a never-ending cycle of financial woes.
While you might chalk it up to entertainment, the helpless, desperate and vulnerable don’t see the lottery as a good time. They see it as an opportunity, albeit a false one. Of all the reasons to avoid the lottery, this one appears most obvious.
2.) The lottery reveals our desire for microwaved wealth (or status, accomplishments, etc.).
God works slow. He’s methodical. We say, “C’mon God, let’s do this!” God says, “Not yet. Let’s wait another century.” We sacrifice quality for time. God won’t sacrifice quality for anything.
God is never in a hurry because he wants to do quality work. This includes the work he’s doing through you.
I’m not sure about the details of heaven, but I’m fairly convinced of this…you won’t see a microwave in heaven. Microwaves represent impatience. They save a few minutes, but sacrifice quality. All things being equal, how many foods would you prefer in a microwave over an oven or grill? Don’t lie. The answer is zero.
What does a microwave have to do with the lottery?
What is true for food is also true for wealth, status, or accomplishments. Speed diminishes quality. Roughly 70% of all lottery winners (regardless of prize amount) end up broke. Don McNay, author of Son Of A Son Of A Gambler, estimates the rates at 90%.
Why is this? Integrity isn’t microwaved. It’s a slow process with speed bumps, road blocks, and traffic jams. It’s refined through struggle and failure. The lottery says your journey doesn’t matter. Just reach a destination. God says the journey matters. He’s doing something in the journey, molding, shaping, and forming you into His image. The journey prepares you for the destination.
3.) The lottery reveals misplaced hope.
God says hope isn’t a commodity to be bought. It’s not a risk or a shot in the dark. Hope is real and eternal. Lotteries, on the other hand, thrive on misplaced hope.
One article says this about the lottery, “It’s a game where reason and logic are rendered obsolete, and hope and dreams are on sale.” Consider that statement. Hope and dreams are on sale. The lottery exists because many Americans see hope as a commodity, something you can buy.
Even though I’ve never purchased a lottery ticket, I’ve been enticed by the billboards. Where I live, there’s one next to the interstate on-ramp. Every time I see it, the thoughts come. “What would I do with that kind of money? Man, a life without bills and financial stress. The good life.”
Maybe it’s fun to throw around ideas about how you would spend $1.5 billion. But it’s not productive. The lottery replaces “what is” with “what ifs.” It misplaces your hope, and creates a dangerous situation.
What you hope for is what you work towards. At the same time, you will also reap what you sow. So, if you hope in the lottery, you will invest money there. And, you will find that your investment reaps…well…nothing. If Jesus is your hope, you invest in an eternal reality. And, your investment reaps great rewards, ones moth and rust can’t destroy.
The lottery reveals how desperate the world is for hope. People are so desperate their willing to buy it. For Christians, this is important. Whether your circle of friends, peers, or co-workers want to hear about Jesus is debatable. But you can’t debate whether they want to hear about hope. We know a thing or two (at least, we should) about hope. Why not share it with someone?
Again, I want to re-iterate this. I won’t judge you for buying a lottery ticket. If you ask, I will give you my opinion. Ultimately, however, you must decide. But don’t decide while swimming in the kiddie pool. Ask the hard questions. Wrestle with the deeper matters. Regardless where you land, your faith will be stronger for it.
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!