Sunday, July 27, 2008

How To Displease God - 1: Gambling

The rant that follows has been percolating for a couple of years, and was pushed into the forefront by a couple of poster ads currently being shown. They're for Lotto 6/49. One shows a retirement-age husband and wife, sitting up in bed. She's looking bored, and he has his eyes closed with an ecstatic look on his face. In his hand is a golf magazine. In a thought balloon over is head, is an image of him playing golf on some exotic beachfront course.

The second one shows a 30-something couple. Both look very exotic, but he looks like one of those cheesy lounge lizards with pencil moustache, Brylcreemed hair and ghastly shirt. She's the one with the faraway look on her face and the thought balloon shows her getting a spa treatment.

"Need to get away?" is the caption.

I hate these ads with a passion. For one thing, the messages they send are not the sort of thing any right-thinking person would want to be involved with. In the first one, here's this old goofball, dreaming of being anywhere but beside his bored-looking wife. This bored-looking wife has probably given him the best 35 years of her life, raised two kids, made sure she was the perfect hostess and/or escort to parties as he weaselled his way up the corporate ladder. Now he wants to get away from her? And she doesn't exactly look ugly! Maybe she has every right to look bored.

In the second one, the young woman quite obviously wants to be rid of the schmuck she's sitting next to, but let's face it: the only way she would be so entangled with him that she couldn't just up and walk is for her to be married to him, and guess what? She picked him! And maybe the guy honestly believes that was what she was looking for in a man.

Do the people at BC Lotteries have absolutely no idea what messages they're trying to get out? What are we supposed to make of it, if our spouses rush out to buy lottery tickets? That they want to get rich so they can get away from us? WIN THE LOTTERY - BUST UP YOUR MARRIAGE!

Then there's the over-arching theme of total self-absorption. We're in the "me" generation, no doubt about it, and these ads promote that unholy trinity, Me, Myself and I. Why not at least have one of the spouses daydreaming about the two of them together, getting away from humdrum life? Or, in the case of the post-retirement couple, have the wife dreaming of being able to send the husband on the getaway of a lifetime, because she knows that's what he's always wanted to do?

But why should I offer these wondrously creative ideas to the Lottery Corporation, when the main thing that annoys me about these ads is that they promote gambling. They hold out that minuscule hope that you might get something for nothing, so that you'll dig into your pocket for one more loonie or two-nie. Any Christian faced with that should have the still, small voice telling them ...

I realize many Christians don’t consider gambling to be sinful. Some might shrug it off as a “minor” sin, if there is such a thing. Some BC churches receive gaming revenue from the Province to bolster their incomes. But gambling is really a smorgasbord of Things That Displease God. First of all, it's rooted in a lack of faith: putting trust in the turn of a card or a roll of the dice, rather than trusting God to provide. Without faith, as the Apostle Paul writes, it is impossible to please Him.

And then there are the sins connected with gambling: avarice, lust, coveting what someone else has, sloth (wanting to get it without actually working for it) and a form of idol worship.

Besides, gambling involves losing, and God would never ordain something where people lose. That should put you off it right there.

But even winning – especially winning big – has a scriptural interdiction. Proverbs 20:21 warns us, “An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.” In Deuteronomy 7:20, God tells Moses “the Lord thy God will send the hornet among them, until they that are left, and hide themselves from thee, be destroyed. ... (22) And the Lord thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little: thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee.”

God promises to remove the enemies from the land He’s given, but He cautions that there are still pitfalls and perils in that land, and if He were to drive out the enemies all at once and hand the place over to His people, they wouldn’t be able to handle those pitfalls and perils.

Our “promised land” includes freedom from debt and poverty, but the shift from crushing debt to incredible wealth is not supposed to happen in the blink of an eye – which is what happens when someone hits the jackpot. Ever wonder why we hear so many stories of people whose lives turned to mush after winning The Big One? God expects us to go through a transitional period in order to be strengthened against the pitfalls (the “beasts of the field”), which also come with wealth. That’s why, no matter how earnest our prayers are, they don’t get answered all at once.

Alright, you say, but charities and health care benefit from gambling.


According to the BC Lottery Corporation’s 2004/05 Annual Report, British Columbians gambled $2.03 billion – about $130 million more than the year before. Just over forty percent of that – $811 million – went to the Provincial Government, and another $8-mill went to the Feds under a deal to pay Ottawa to stay out of the legalized gambling business.

Of the Provincial Government’s share, $479.9-million went into “Consolidated Revenue”, helping to prop up the government's finances. The Health Services Account received $147.3-million. If you’re scoring at home, health care got about seven percent of the total wager. Put another way, when you plank your dollar for a lottery ticket, only seven cents of that goes to health care. Charities got even less – $135-million.

And yet look at the fruits: governments are still cutting back or going into debt, health care providers and researchers still complain they’re under-funded, and charities are still crying poor. Could it be that money acquired through legislated sin is failing to provide? Could it be that that revenue – like any ill-gotten gain – brings with it a curse, which causes it to evaporate?

Some try to toss in Proverbs 13:22, which says, "the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just". But I don't believe gaming revenue -- and we're talking about the monies turned over by the government to charities and some churches that apply for it -- is the wealth of the sinner. It is, in fact, money that has been stolen from poor suckers -- it's not their wealth, at all. If the sinners are the gaming operators -- taking the money from the willing suckers and encouraging them to lose more -- then the only way it could be their "wealth" is if the money were taken from their own incomes. The money that goes into gaming revenue with the government is a cost of doing business -- not wealth. Is the government the "sinner", and gaming revenue its "wealth"? Well, we elect the government, so if we elect sinners, then what does that say about us?

When the Lord vented His wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah, it wasn’t simply because of sexual sin, but the fact that any kind of sin at all was allowed free rein. That’s what happens when a society simply winks at sin. How much more worse can it be if a society relies on it?

You want to help health care and charities? Bundle up the money you’d spend on lottery tickets, pull-tabs, roulette or slot machines and hike it over personally to the hospital foundation, arts group or sports organization of your choice. Do it as an offering to the Lord, without expectation of reward (another element of spending money on gambling). As Christians, we shouldn’t hold these groups hostage to sin.

If everyone did that, then – according to – there would be $2.03 billion – not a paltry $283-mill – handed over to those worthy causes. You would also have more control over where your money goes, because there may be some groups which receive gaming revenue, and which – for whatever reason – you don't want to support with your hard-earned money.

Better still, there would be no losers, since the Word of God says we are guaranteed serious returns for casting that bread upon the waters.

Is that idealistic -- or simply trading the world's system, with its built-in failings, for God's system?

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