On Stewardship and the Orthodox Life - Part 84: The Lure of Lottery

“Do not toil to acquire wealth; be wise enough to desist. When your eyes light upon (wealth), it is gone; for suddenly it takes to itself wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.”

(Proverbs 23:4,5 RSV)

I write this in the midst of the world-wide craziness that was a billion-dollar lottery prize last January. Thousands of people are lining up to buy one or many lottery tickets that, should the ticket be proven to be a winner, will make the holder an instant billionaire, or at worst, a millionaire.

This is craziness. The chances of winning are one in several hundred million. Yes, I admit, for some people this may seem innocent fun. But for others, it seems to be a revelation of what is going on the minds of modern human beings. The prospect of riches beyond belief is seemingly irresistible. The idea of gaining enormous wealth without having to work for it is tantalizing.

Our Scriptures have no examples of a lottery, but they do contain instances of gambling: Samson’s wager in Judges 14:12 and the soldiers’ gambling over Jesus’ garments in Mark 15:24. In neither case is gambling presented in a good light. The Bible also mentions the casting of lots for the purpose of decision making (Joshua 18:10; Nehemiah 10:34). Yet to be remembered is the absolute control of God in all things of this world: “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33 RSV).

Playing the lottery as a get-rich-quick scheme is statistically futile, and it focuses the lottery player on the temporary riches of this world. The fact is, God wants people to earn their money honestly by working hard: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10 RSV). We ought to gain wealth through the work of our hands, as a gift from the Lord: “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4 RSV).

One of the world’s lies is that money is the answer to life’s problems. People are lured into playing the lottery with promises that their lives will improve if they can only hit the jackpot. If they can just get lucky with the numbers, their problems will disappear. Such hopes are empty: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves wealth, with gain: this also is vanity…” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 RSV). “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plenteous redemption (Psalm 130[129]:5 RSV).”

This weekly series of brief thoughts on stewardship and Orthodox life is brought to you by your Diocesan Stewardship Commission.

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