Well, okay, it didn’t quite happen. I even wrote this before the lottery drawing, but there is a good and solid reason why I won’t win. Yes, I did not buy a ticket. But then again, the odds of winning are the same whether I buy a ticket or not (1 in 195,249,054, or 0.000000005122). I do have some wonderful fantasies about winning this fabulous prize. In my case, the fantasies don’t include a super-yacht, though an eponymous distant relative enjoys five mega-yachts and his British soccer team. They don’t even include a Gulfstream IV SP, in Matterhorn White with blue and silver accent striping. However, given that my roots are in the immigrant working class, I would never think to select gold-plated seatbelt buckles for my Gulfstream. Now, I must admit that the airplane does appeal to me at one level, as I do hate going through big international airports, like O’Hare in Chicago, and dealing with TSA personnel. Rather, my fantasies include large gifts to Christian universities, Bible schools, and seminaries where God’s Holy Bible is honored, gifts to the publisher of Touchstone and Salvo magazines (wouldn’t that make a good year-end gift, lottery winnings or not?), contributions to countless missionaries to top up the funds they need to raise for their support, organizations involved in missions around the world, gifts to finance and encourage more young people to attend the Urbana 2012 missions conference in St. Louis, Missouri, from December 27-31, 2012 (shameless plug alert: http://urbana.org/urbana-12 ), and countless other big and small projects to help so many around the world.
Yes, it is a seductive fantasy, though a silly one. Winning the lottery might seem a blessing to so many, but as Sandra Hayes, a former child services social worker who shared a $224 million Powerball jackpot with a dozen co-workers in 2006, said, “If somebody wins, God bless them! They’re going to need those blessings.” And why would she ever say that? Ms. Hayes, a single mother whose paychecks were less than $500 per week before her lottery win, explained, “I had to adapt to this new life. I had to endure the greed and the need that people have, trying to get you to release your money to them. That caused a lot of emotional pain. These are people who you’ve loved deep down, and they’re turning into vampires trying to suck the life out of me.” Well, I could see that happening, can’t you?
Further, while the lottery officials love to show off lottery winners with oversized checks at news conferences, they forget to remind us that many lottery winners end in financial ruin. Some have been murdered, and I remember one case where a mother hired a supposed hit man to kill her son, the prize winner, who refused to share any of his winnings with her. There was the two-time New Jersey lottery winner who squandered her $5.4 million fortune. Then there is the terribly sad tale of a West Virginian man, who won $315 million a decade ago on Christmas, and who later said that the lottery windfall was to blame for his granddaughter’s fatal drug overdose, his divorce, hundreds of lawsuits, and an absence of true friends. I suspect that, had he known the ramifications of his lottery win, would have burned the winning ticket.
The National Endowment for Financial Education (”NEFE”) has cautioned those who receive a financial windfall, whether from lottery winnings, divorce settlements, stock options, or family inheritances, to plan for their psychological needs as well as their financial strategies in advance. (Incidentally, I have been involved in a number of lawsuits that pitted brothers and sisters against one another in inheritance disputes. I remember vividly in one case where the judge told the parties, “If your parents had any idea how this was going to end up, they would have burned everything down!” The judge was right, too.) NEFE estimates that as many as 70 percent of people who have sudden windfalls lose that money within several years.
Of course, there is no Scriptural admonition that says, “Don’t play the Powerball lottery!” After all, doesn’t the Bible tell us how the disciples cast lots in the Book of Acts? But I don’t see how the Bible permits gambling as a means of stewardship. Several years ago, I was at a small neighborhood grocery store buying a few things. There, a few people ahead of me in the check-out line was an older, poor man, not quite homeless, but it seemed to me that he was close to being homeless. I watched as he purchased $20 of lottery tickets. Often the people who buy lottery tickets are those who can least afford to buy the tickets. So, I caution myself to work productively, and not hope for a lottery win as the solution to the struggles against adversity in life that we all face one way or another. For I am reminded by St. Paul’s teaching to Timothy, “They that would be rich fall into many snares and hurtful lusts.”