The National Lottery
Our view of GodWhat we think about God shapes all our other values and attitudes, our whole view of life. This is the very core of who we are and directs all of our behaviour. We are thinking here not only of the facts about God that we believe, but also about the kind of relationship that we have with him. In the language of the Bible, to "know" God is to belong to him. The new life and relationship with God that Christians have may be defined in terms of "knowing" him. Look at John 17:3 for example: "this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent". It is this that makes a Christian what he is.
This is where we must begin our thinking about gambling. The fundamental question is - IS GOD AT THE CENTRE OF YOUR LIFE? Have you come to a saving knowledge of him through Jesus Christ? If so, are you seeking to do everything for His glory? Once you are a Christian, all of life is to be brought into subjection to the Lord - every thought and action is to be shaped so as to honour him. Paul expresses this in a very practical and striking way in I Corinthians 10:31 "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God". If this is our concern it will determine our attitudes to money, to other people and to the activity of gambling. The will and glory of God will be paramount.
We should note also one particular aspect of the nature of God that is especially relevant to the issue of gambling. From Genesis 1:1 onwards, the Bible shows us that GOD IS SOVEREIGN. He is the God "who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Ephesians 1:11). Nothing is outside his direction because there is no other power in the universe alongside God.
Such a doctrine excludes completely the idea of "chance" which is at the root of gambling. There is no room for chance in God's universe. For a Christian to engage in gambling thus means one of two things:
(i) he does actually believe in "chance" and so is rejecting a vital part of God's revelation about himself. This is practical atheism - this "god" is not the God of Scripture
(ii) he does believe God is in control of the outcome (as for example in the case of casting lots, Proverbs 16:33) and is in a sense trying to "cash in" on that fact for his own advantage.
Either option is totally unworthy of a true child of God.
Our view of possessionsAs with every part of life, this for the Christian will be governed by the revealed will of God. Several significant issues are dealt with in Scripture:
(a) WORK : even in Eden, man had work to do - see Genesis 2:15. Work is therefore to be seen as a good gift from God. Scripture places a high value on work and sees it as the proper means for obtaining what we need in life. Thus in Ephesians 4:28 the repentant thief is told that he "must work, doing something useful with his own hands". The normal pattern in this (fallen) world is "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food" (Genesis 3:19). There is to be no short-cut by gambling.
(b) THEFT : is gambling a form of stealing (as many Christians claim)? Don't those involved agree to the arrangement? Although not an obvious form (like picking someone's pocket) gambling is a form of theft: it is an attempt to gain something at others' expense, without giving adequate value in return. As such, gambling is opposed to biblical principles regarding honest work. The agreement of the other parties does not negate the sinfulness of the action - that agreement itself is sinful.
(c) COVETING : there is no mistaking God's will in relation to coveting - Exodus 20:17 "You shall not covet...". This commandment gets right down to our heart-attitude to possessions. It clearly rules out the frame of mind that always seeks more and is never content. A great proportion of advertisements aims to create covetousness and the Christian needs discernment in this area.
We are to live by values that are very different from those of the world around us, even though that may sometimes be costly. In terms of what really matters, however, the consistent Christian is never the loser: "godliness with contentment is great gain." (I Timothy 6:6). Gambling grows out of and encourages attitudes that are blatantly un-Christian.
(d) GIVING : the basic pattern of giving for Christians is the presentation to the Lord of tithes and offerings which are given to the Church, (see Malachi 3:10), supplemented by additional giving as a demonstration of the love of Christ for the needy.
Some forms of gambling - especially the Lottery - are touted as a means of giving to "good causes", but in fact a relatively small proportion of the proceeds reaches those in real need. By any standard this is a very inefficient means of giving, and from a Christian perspective it cannot be a way of expressing the love of Christ.
Our view of othersThe whole ethos and practice of gambling promotes a wrong view of others. As far as the Christian is concerned, those around us are our "neighbours" and the second great commandment is "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31). Indeed the Parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates the necessity for us to be a neighbour to those in need (Luke 10:30ff). We are to love others in a self-giving way that reflects the love of Christ, seeking what is most for their benefit.
Gambling - in complete contrast - views the "neighbour" as a means of self enrichment. My neighbour is to be used and exploited (if possible) for my gain. At the heart of gambling is the principle "if I win, he loses", which is unworthy of a Christian. Note that, according to Shorter Catechism Q80, the 10th Commandment requires "a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbour and all that he has". At the deepest level a gambler cannot view his neighbour in this way.
What of protecting the weak and vulnerable - who lose most by gambling? The Bible constantly commands care for such people, and encouraging and enabling them to gamble is not a way of caring for them. The evidence available from several countries which run National Lotteries, indicates that poorer people (who can least afford the expense) spend proportionately more on this form of gambling than the better off. Christian concern for them cannot be content to leave them to the hard consequences of their actions, however foolish they may be. Instead, there will be efforts made to expose the real nature of gambling and its harmful effects, as well as opposition to the provision of more opportunities to gamble, for example by the increasing range of scratch cards or more frequent lottery draws.
Putting it into practice
The BASIC QUESTION is "Who (or what) is your God?" There can be only one answer for a Christian. Living out that commitment consistently may be costly. Refusing to buy lottery tickets or scratch cards may mean being the odd one out among your friends, and explaining why you do this may be very uncomfortable. It may even mean losing some friends, or giving them up if their company is presenting temptations you cannot resist. The Lord never promised that following him would be easy, but we are told that "Those who honour me I will honour." (I Samuel 2:30). We must also realise that "a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). The Lord alone is worthy of our entire devotion and we should seek the joy of the Lord, not the thrill of the gamble.