Soap Box: Is the Lottery or Gambling a Sin?
September 19, 2002
A sin is basically defined as an offense against God. In other words, actions that He says you should not do. The bible is pretty straight forward on some sins. You're not suppose to lie or steal. You're not suppose to fornicate or worship other gods. Reading through the bible will garner a list of things you are not suppose to do. 1 Corinthians gives us quite a list of those that won't be in heaven, 1 Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 1 Corinthians 6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (that drunkard part means that Noah may be in hell, but that's another topic for discussion). Unfortunately, there is no direct mention of gambling. Nowhere in the bible does it directly say that "thou shalt not gamble or buy a lottery ticket". Sometimes the bible is less direct, like this passage concerning wealth: Matthew 19:24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. But we still don't have something similar when it comes to gambling. So why do so many churches and preachers claim gambling, and therefore playing the lottery, is a sin? Is it really a sin? Well, I have the answer for you.
First of all, if your state is ready to have a lottery drawing on a huge jackpot and the ticket sales are about to close, run out and buy a lottery ticket (if you can afford it) because it is NOT a sin. When you come back, read the rest of my article, and consider sharing the wealth with me if you win.
Lots of religious people claim that gambling is a sin. They will even quote bible verses. But those verses don't directly denounce gambling. Rather these people infer from them that they denounce a particular activity. And from that, they infer another vice. And so on and so on until they can say that gambling is a sin. On the surface it is bad logic and reasoning and underneath it might be downright deception. Let's look at some of the arguments, both secular and religious, against playing the lottery and gambling in general.
One I think is particularly ignorant is the "something for nothing" argument. People argue that you are getting something for nothing, and therefore it is somehow bad. They sometimes quote how you are suppose to earn money, 1 Thessalonians 4:11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you. One poor soul even called it stealing because he reasoned that the people that didn't win the lottery didn't want you to have their money, therefore they didn't willingly give it to you, therefore you stole it (assuming you won). In the first place, it is not money for nothing. Until they start giving out lottery tickets for free (hey, that's an idea), you will be paying for your chance to win. The "something for nothing" argument could easily be applied to the stock market. Yet I bet you won't hear any of these hypocritical preachers telling you not to invest! Lots of people got rich off of Enron and WorldCom stock with no knowledge of the corruption that was going on or how many people would get hurt in the end. Did all of those people suddenly become sinners when the companies when bankrupt? They got their money at the expense of others didn't they? In my point of view, nobody loses when they play the lottery. You buy a ticket for the chance to play. You get value for that lottery ticket. You get the excitement that as those numbers are read, they might just match the ones you have. Sure, it's fun to win. But it's also fun to play. A lottery ticket can be likened to a ride on the Ferris wheel. As you play the ticket, you enjoy the "ride". At the end, you either have a fun memory of the "ride", or you might have some extra money. And it's definitely not stealing because the people that didn't win voluntarily purchased their tickets. They willingly put their money into the pool, just like with a church raffle or bingo game.
Some say that playing the lottery or gambling hurts the poor, or your family, or children. Indeed, the bible specifically tells us not to do these things, 1 Timothy 5:8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel, and, Luke 17:2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. But this is the fault of the person, not the lottery or gambling. The people that do these things could just have easily spent the money on tobacco, or alcohol, or pornography, or junk food, etc. The fact of the matter is that this is a character flaw in the person, not the activity. People are trying to blame the lottery and gambling for the faults of the person. It's just like saying the "devil made me do it" rather than owning up to the fact that it may just be your own fault.
Some say that playing the lottery is a form of being greedy, or coveting and loving money. And we know what the bible says on this matter, 1 Timothy 6:10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But again, this reasoning fails if you compare it to other avenues that bring wealth and prosperity. Again, what about the stock market? What about high paying jobs. I'd be willing to bet those TV preachers make way more money than I make. What about successful businesses? There are quite a few church run businesses that are very profitable. Why isn't that considered being greedy? Of course the answer is that they are bunch of hypocrites, but you already knew that. People know what is in their hearts. If they play the lottery because they are greedy, then yes, it might be a sin for them. But that doesn't mean it's a sin for everyone else.
The lottery is a voluntary tax. It's another way for a state to get money from people that voluntarily give it. It doesn't prey on the poor because the poor can see the odds of winning just like everyone else. Besides, how do you keep these so-called poor people from spending their money on tobacco and alcohol instead of a lottery? The states that have lotteries don't become seedy, evil, casino looking areas. Just look at the states around you. You can't tell a difference. I've visited many lottery states and even briefly lived in one. The only difference was that there was a lottery to play and the state had some extra income to apply to whatever they wanted, like education, roads, healthcare, etc. Some people argue that after a lottery is established, law makers don't spend it on what they promised. To this I say, so what? If you don't like what the money is being spent on, then don't buy a lottery ticket. It's still extra money that the state didn't have before, so it's more likely to stave off a tax increase.
Some say it is wasted money because it is money that could be given to God. This one really burns me because of the blatant hypocrisy that is apparent. If you live in a significantly large city, drive around and take a look at some of the religious establishments. You'll see grand cathedrals. You'll seen intricate statues and stained glass. You'll see Cadillacs and SUVs in the parking lot. And this is just on the outside. Inside you will find the best carpeting and woodwork. You'll see chandeliers and paintings. You'll see million dollar organs and musical equipment. And the people will be wearing furs and jewels. Talk about wasted money! Just think of how much money would be available if those religious establishments were just a little more modest. Think of all the poor that could be helped and fed. Think of all the mission work that could be done. Think of all the extra people that would hear the word of God. It really sickens me to see such wasted wealth in my local churches. The simple fact is that if they are not spending that money on lottery tickets, they are spending it elsewhere, thus this is not a valid argument against the lottery or gambling.
And probably the simplest example of the lottery being a sin is a reference to the Roman soldiers casting lots for Jesus' garments. The fact that they did this does not make it a sin. They also wore clothing. They also spoke a language. Are these sins? In fact, throughout the bible you'll find plenty of examples of people casting lots, some with the apparent approval of God, Leviticus 16:8 And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat, and, Joshua 18:10 And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the LORD: and there Joshua divided the land unto the children of Israel according to their divisions. They cast lots all over the place in the bible. The simple act of casting a lot was not a sin.
The fact of the matter is that buying a lottery ticket or gambling is not a sin. The bible makes no mention of it being a sin and as I've shown, the inference made by some is faulty logic. There will be some people that spend their "milk money" on lottery tickets, but that doesn't make the lottery evil. That person could just have easily spent that "milk money" on alcohol, tobacco, Twinkies, movies, clothes, jewelry, car, cellular phone, computers, etc. It's a voluntary system which means that the responsibility of any harm done lies with the person doing the gambling. To be honest, I use to think that gambling was a sin. I had been indoctrinated in the religious propaganda that still continues today. But as I grew and read the bible for myself, I realized that nowhere in the bible does it say or even imply gambling is a sin. So if you have the money to spare and want to play the lottery, you can do so without worry of going against any of God's rules. Just remember me and spread the wealth if you win!
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