The Mega Millions Lottery is up to $540 million and some person is going to win it. They can take a $370 million lump some payout (for comparison, Mitt Romney is worth around $200 million) if they don’t want to live off annual payments of $27 million per annum. However will their life be better for it?
The big winners in the lottery could turn out to be big losers in the long run. Consider the case of Jack Whitaker who took a $114 million payout and even began well by giving money to Christian Charities and the poor, lost the whole sum through a long series of arrests and lawsuits within four years. His teenage granddaughter and her boyfriend died an an apparent consequence of his decision to give his teenage granddaughter a $2100 a week allowance with little supervison. Whitaker is not alone, the horror stories of lottery winnings gone wrong are manifold with suicides, bankruptcies, and lost marriages among the casualties.
What causes this disproportionate misery? Perhaps, it can be explained by who plays the lottery. Lottery ticket sales disproportionately come from poorer zip codes which means that’s there’s a very good chance of people who have never managed a significant some of money finding themselves with the same net worth as Mitt Romney. And they can’t handle it well, certainly not as well as those winners who are expert at handling money.
Despite the horror stories, people are eager to buy the tickets, believing as many winners did, that having all that money will be fun, nice, and a great fortunate occurance.
It seems to me that, at the core of lotto fever are some very subtle lies and rebellion. The lie is that money will make us happier and more fulfilled. Christ warned us, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” (Luke 12:15)
Even Hollywood in its best moments acknowledges this truth. In its A Wonderful Life, George Bailey’s life was rich and full despite a meager salary because of the good he did for others. In Groundhog’s Day, Bill Murray’s character takes advantage of the ever-repeating day to satisfy his selfish desires, and only begins to find satisfaction when he uses his knowledge to help and being a blessing to other people.
The lottery also seems to lead us to rebel against God’s design for life, which is that if you’re faithful over a few things, God will give you more responsibilities. (Matt. 25:23) The sad story of many lottery winners suggest that one reason that God doesn’t give these huge responsibilities to people who haven’t shown themselves over little is that they will be unable to handle the much.
Beyond this, the scriptures particularly the Proverbs warn about seeking sudden wealth. “He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.” (Proverbs 28:20)
Lottery time is perhaps a good time for us to check our hearts. Do we think that money will make us happier? That it will solve our problems? In my life, I’ve only played the lotto once, as I’m stereotypical cheap Scotsman, but I’ve entered other contests and thought of how much better life would be if only Publisher’s Clearing House or Readers’ Digest came to the door. I’ve thought how winning a million dollars on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire or America’s Got Talent would be exactly what I needed. In those moments when I think like that, I’m putting my hope in getting enough money rather than in God working His Will in my life and supplying my needs according to His riches.
In Proverbs, the wise man Agur made a request of God that we’d all be wise to make in this get rich quick culture:
“Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me.” (Proverbs 30:8)