On Wednesday, January 13th, 2016, the largest lottery in world history will take place. As it currently stands, people will be vying for a chance to win $1.5 billion. This has led to some, allegedly speaking for God, attacking the idea of Christians playing the lottery. The notion that playing the lottery is a sin is the epitome of false theology and pseudo-spirituality. There is nothing in the Bible that demonstrates that playing the lottery in a responsible fashion is a sin against God. It is perfectly acceptable for a Christian to decide not to play the lottery, but the idea that Christians who do play the lottery are somehow in contravention of God’s will and are living in sin is Biblically unsupportable bunkum.
Curiously, last week, as the current jackpot began climbing to its current billion-dollar range, Calvinist preacher John Piper wrote a piece titled Seven Reasons Not to Play the Lottery. When the article was posted on Twitter, it arrived with a message that said “every penny [of the lottery] offends God.” When one sits and reads the article, it becomes clear that Piper, like most from this school of thought, has no sound theological arguments to defend his point. The rest of this article will expose the weaknesses of his arguments.
“Playing the Lottery Is Spiritually Suicidal”
To make this claim, Piper relies on the trusty scripture of anti-money Christians: 1st Timothy 6:9-10. The scripture tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil, and that while trying to get rich, some people fall into destruction and perdition. Anybody reading this passage without an anti-money agenda can clearly see that the passage says that some fall into destruction and perdition while trying to get rich. The purpose of the passage is not to tell Christians that trying to become rich is verboten. The passage is a warning against pursuing wealth at all costs, especially to the dangerous point where one loses faith in God. A scripture that is related to 1st Timothy 6:9-10 is Matthew 6:33:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
God ought to be primary in the life of a Christian, not money and material things. Like the Matthew passage, the 1st Timothy passage is cautioning Christians against loving money more than God and the things of God. Only willfully dishonest people can argue that this passage means that Christians should not be wealthy.
“Playing the Lottery Is Embezzlement”
This is just an assertion with no support, except Bible passages that talk about working with one’s hands. On a superficial level, it sounds somewhat spiritual to talk about our property being God’s and that we are caretakers over the things He gives us. However, making the case that spending $2 on a Powerball ticket constitutes embezzlement based on that principle is utter balderdash. By this logic, investing in the stock market is also a sin, inasmuch as one buys a stock with a little money and hopes that, by chance, the stock one purchases increases in value. Moreover, stock market investments are far riskier than “embezzling” $2 to buy a Powerball ticket. Piper expertly elides the fact that the Powerball costs $2 per ticket. He coyly begins his piece by pointing out that $70 billion is played on the lottery annually. By failing to point out the price of a single lottery ticket, Piper’s argument seems sophisticated. When scratching just a little beyond the surface, his argument falls apart and is exposed for the nonsense that it is. Additionally, who is Piper to determine what constitutes “embezzlement” in the relationship between a Christian and God? Only jaw-dropping hubris would make people think they can, with no solid Biblical reference, speak for God relating to what Christians can and cannot do with the money He allowed them to acquire.
Granted, there is a case to be made about people who play the lottery irresponsibly. Certainly, there is no reason why Christians should use their money for rent, utilities, and other responsibilities and squander it on lottery tickets hoping to become rich. That is problematic behavior that crosses the line into sin. However, the idea that the average, fiscally responsible Christian who plays the Powerball is operating in sin makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Piper and others like him would be on far sturdier ground if they focused their attention on the extremes. Gambling addiction is a serious issue and an undeniable sin. By trying to castigate the majority of responsible people who play the lottery, however, they lose an opportunity to make a strong case that needs to be made.
“Playing the Lottery Is a Fool’s Errand”
This is not a Biblical argument at all. This is just an assertion. Yes, the chances of winning the lottery are vanishingly small, but winning is not impossible. Of course, if someone were planning on winning the lottery and used this as a sole financial plan for the future, it would be idiotic and damaging. However, the vast majority of people who play the lottery have jobs and careers. The fundamental point still remains: Piper and his ilk have failed to point out anything that demonstrates why it is problematic for Christians to open a legal, morally acceptable avenue through which God can bless them by playing the lottery.
“The System Is Designed for Most People to Lose”
This is not a theological argument—or a good argument of any kind. The idea that Christians ought to be against things where most people lose has no Biblical basis whatsoever. Again, it is vital to highlight what people are “losing”: The Powerball is $2 per ticket! The way Piper and people like him structure this weak argument, one would think most people irreparably damage their finances by spending $2 on the lottery. What also strikes me as odd is the hypocrisy of Piper, who is a proud Calvinist. Interestingly, Calvinists believe in the theological principle of “Unconditional Election,” which is the idea that God chooses those He wants to save and damns those He does not want to save. This is a glaringly false doctrine that impugns the character of God. How is it plausible to consider that God is good if he ordained people to go to Hell for eternity? However by Piper’s very own view of salvation, Christianity is a lottery “designed for most people to lose.” It is stunningly ironic that someone who believes in the blasphemous “lottery view” of Christianity and salvation suddenly develops moral indignation at the fact that people lose $2 playing the Powerball.
Matthew 7:13-14 (KJV) says:
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
This is not something that God chooses. It is merely a description of what humans do with the choice that God gave mankind. God gives humans free will and people are free to accept the gift of salvation, which is given to all. It is not given to a select few as Calvinists like Piper falsely promote.
“It Preys on the Poor”
This argument falls apart when one remembers that most lottery tickets cost $1, and the Powerball costs $2. Even the poorest, homeless person can pay for a lottery ticket with a morning shift of panhandling (and still have enough change left over for a cup of coffee).
In any event, the vast majority of pastors who live large off the massive contributions of poor congregants should be a more important consideration for Christians. But attacking the lottery is a lot easier than attacking money-grubbing frauds in the pulpit. Admittedly, Piper is not one of these high-rolling preachers, but the point still stands. Why would Christians be more concerned with denouncing the lottery than bettering the image of Christianity?
“There Is a Better Alternative”
Here, Piper points out that about one-fifth of lottery players think that playing the lottery is a practical way to accumulate wealth. Assuming that the survey is accurate—and one cannot assume that without having read it and seen the questions that were asked—that constitutes approximately 20 percent of lottery players. This means that 80 percent of lottery players are aware that they need other sources of income and are interested in realistic financial planning. I am willing to wager (at risk of “embezzling” God’s property), that Christians who play the lottery are mostly in the 80 percent.
Piper suggests that people should save their lottery money and invest it to create $24,000 in 20 years. If the survey he cites is to believed, approximately 80 percent of people are already planning their financial futures in other ways. They do not need to have their spare dollar bills policed by officious preachers with god complexes.
“Government Is Undermining Virtue with the Lottery”
Does the government “undermine virtue” when they put on VISA lotteries, too? Does every church “undermine virtue” when they put on raffles to raise money? This idea that participating in a lottery depletes human virtue is simply a ridiculous assertion with no Biblical support.
To be clear, playing the lottery irresponsibly is unquestionably sinful, but there is nothing in the Bible that suggests that playing $2 on the Powerball when it is at $1.5 billion constitutes immoral behavior or an absence of spirituality. It would also be sinful to win the $1.5 billion and do nothing for people in need of charity. In other words, there are sins that are related to playing the lottery (in the same way that any earthly activity could plausibly lead to sin), but there is no credible argument that can be made that, ipso facto, playing the lottery is sinful.
Unfortunately, there is a massive problem in Christendom: Very few people have the Christ-like humility to simply say, “This is my opinion.” Too many people claim to be speaking for God to give their opinions an added, undeserved air of credibility. It is perfectly acceptable to claim that you do not want to play the lottery, or that you do not feel that playing or winning the lottery will help your relationship with God. That is an opinion to which a Christian is entitled. However, it is the zenith of spiritual arrogance to force that perspective into the mouth of God based on demonstrably tenuous theological assertions and palpable pseudo-spirituality.
It is also important to note that not everything is written in the Bible. That notwithstanding, we have enough information, in addition to our God-given consciences, to live Christ-like lives. Some people go as far as to say that people who play the lottery do not trust God as the source of their income. This statement can only be true if one can demonstrate that the lottery falls outside of the remit of God’s providence. How can anyone who believes in the omniscience and omnipotence of God make such an assertion? Playing the lottery is not murder or prostitution—things that are manifestly verboten according to the Bible. Simply assuming the lottery is akin to any other incontestable sin and arguing that one must have a weak relationship with God to participate in it is absurdist. Having examined the exasperatingly obtuse and pathetically tortured theological arguments for suggesting playing the lottery is a sin, it is clear that finding a single good argument from the anti-lottery crowd is about as likely as hitting the $1.5 billion jackpot.