Today, a mess of people will be scouring the Internet trying to find an answer to this question hoping for some sort of assurance to guilt or proof to attack those who do purchase the ticket. But this subject, like others I’ve done on this site, takes some sober consideration from all angles, which I’ll try to keep pretty short.
Is Gambling unbiblical?
The Bible actually doesn’t speak about gambling. You’ll have people who seek God’s will by casting lots (Josh 18:6-10; Acts 1:26) but that was really never considered a gamble. It wasn’t like they were dealing with chance; they were waiting on the opinion of the all powerful and all-knowing God. Indeed, this is the case with all lot-casting apparently because if God really is the sustainer of all things and nothing happens without his say-so, then ultimately he stands behind the die roll (Proverbs 16:33) or the digital output—whatever.
So perhaps the problem with gambling isn’t the fact that you’re gambling (after all, it’s just as much a gamble winning a game of Settlers of Catan—though you probably have better chances in that than the lottery); maybe it’s something else.
What is Gambling aiming at?
Scripture is rife with warnings about loving money (1 Tim 6:10; Heb 13:5) and get rich quick schemes (Prov 13:11; 23:5; Ecc 5:10). It repeatedly warns about the inability to be an all out servant of two masters (Luke 16:13; 1 Cor 10). And in all things, the Scriptures underscore the principle that we are meant for work (Prov 10:4).
As unfruitful as this or that work may seem to us, work is actually tied to the very purpose that we’ve been put here (Gen 2). We might not all be tillers of the field, but we all are workers of some sort.
Gambling in the lottery has many of these markings. People want what money provides. They’re sick and tired of their situation. They want a quick way out. The lottery provides a shining momentary answer.
The fact is that if one is hoping for an answer from the lottery, they’ve lost focus on whom they should be properly focusing on: God himself (Psalm 62:5). He’s the one, in the person of Christ, who gives the ultimate rest (Psalm 23; 2 Sam 7:11).
But can one play without hoping in it?
There’s churches that hold Bingo night to raise money and no one thinks they’re going to go home big after it—they play for fun, camaraderie, and for the sake of chipping in. Plenty of other people have office pools where the entire team chips in, not out of hope, but maybe out of a silly pool. They perhaps do the same thing with sports brackets or fantasy football.
Paul points out that as Christians, we are functioning as grown up sons (Gal 3:26) who are being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). As such we have to weigh things for ourselves and act with a clear conscience before God (Acts 24:16; 1 Pet 3:16-22) because eventually we must all give an account of our actions to Him (Rom 14:12).
Then I can play?
Well, here we still must be careful. We’re grown up sons who are not yet perfected but we must do all things for the purpose of peace and mutual edification (Rom 14:19) with conviction before God.
If you personally have a problem with gambling, and you are totally acting against your faith here, then I gotta’; tell you: to you this is an outright sin (Rom 14:23; James 4:17). It might not be wrong in itself, but it is wrong for you before God: don’t play.
Further, if some Christian brother has a real problem with gambling (perhaps even fighting with recovery) it probably isn’t wise to start offering him some lottery tickets—you might just destroy him (Rom 14:21). Perhaps it would be better if you keep the activity between yourself and God (Rom 14:22).
Yet, even if that is the case, remember that just because we have the freedom to do something doesn’t mean we should be doing something. Everything is permissible says Paul—but is it beneficial? (1 Cor 6:12). If one feels like pre-emptively mastering something that has no mastery over that individual, perhaps not playing is a way to do that. Not because it is sinful (it might not be); not because you think God has a problem with it (he might not care about it); but simply because you want to do this. That is ultimately your prerogative.
So what now?
Well, if you play do so with the right mentality and conscience before God. Don’t automatically trust your tricky heart with the promises of charity you make to yourself right now (Jer 17:9). Look around and take caution with how some people have dealt with sudden riches (it’s not good). Make sure you’re acting in a way that edifies others. And if you win, make sure to be rich in a way that is proper before God.
Paul tells the rich in this present world not to be arrogant or to trust in their wealth because although money comes, it also goes away. Their hope (just like the hope of the poor) should be in God who richly provides us with everything to our enjoyment. (1 Tim 6:17). So enjoy it, but don’t bank (punny) on them. Be rich in doing good and store up treasure in eternity right now: that wealth may have arrived in your pocket for a reason—pray to avoid becoming those who squander on self.
So should you buy a lottery ticket? I guess it depends.