Thursday, July 14, 2005

Ramblin', Gamblin' Man

Instead of clogging up Ron's comments at Northern 'burbs blog, I decided to take on the topic here. Please see the original post here and get some background on the comments. I won't try to recap everything so I am sure not to misrepresent anyone. But here's my opinion...

I remember taking membership classes many years ago to join a church. The pastor was highlighting the beliefs of the local church and the denomination. One of the points concerned gambling, and that the church didn't want any of it's members involved in gambling. My immediate question was simply, "What is the definition of gambling?" I told him that I was a businessman, and that I was considering opening a store in a town I was unfamiliar with. Wasn't that gambling?

The pastor handled the question well. His answer was that gambling was trying to gain monetary advantage without working at it. In other words, it was a gamble to open a new store, but I would in fact be working. To his mind, gambling involved trying to win instead of trying to succeed. I've always liked that distinction. So my opinion of gambling is colored by that backdrop.

From that point, let me look at the question, "Is gambling a sin?" To me, sin is basically a matter of the heart. So we come back to the idea of why a person gambles. Back in college, the guys on my dorm floor would gather occasionally for a poker game. Everyone had a cup or a bucket or a beer mug or something full of pennies. I brought my piggy bank, and we'd play into the early morning and have a great time. The most I ever won was likely $2.00. The most I ever lost was probably about the same amount. It wasn't about the money, it was about the game. I think that may be the case for some folks who travel to the casino to have fun. If they lose $40 on the night, then that's no worse than a decent meal at a restaurant. If that is the true motivation, then I don't have a problem with it -- to a point. (More on that later.)

Where I see problems is where the heart seeks after greed. Or more to the point, when a person is trying to win rather than trying to succeed. Spending a dollar on a lottery ticket is one thing, but making plans on how to win the lottery is something else entirely. I've stood behind plenty of these people while waiting to pay for my gas. These are the folks who sink $100 into lottery tickets so they stand a better chance of that multi-million dollar payday. Those people are gambling. Certainly the casinos are full of people who are trying to better themselves, not just have an enjoyable evening. How can you tell the difference? Aside from having a divine view of the heart, you might see if the gambler is still smiling after losing $75 for a clue.

But the issue goes beyond the heart. As Christians, we must be concerned with our behavior in front of others. If our good time with a scratch-off ticket (and I really don't understand how that can be fun) causes a weaker brother to stumble, then it should be off-limits for us. If our poker game is a problem for another Christian, it's not that important for us to ante up.

But wait, there's more! The other part of this whole issue is a Christian's support of gambling institutions. Should we be doing business in an industry which causes so much heartache and poverty? Should we put money into a casino knowing that it's presence is a call to so many who cannot turn away from it's siren call?

Most states are in the gambling business. Whether through lotteries or state-regulated casinos and gambling boats, our government is a part of the industry. They show no regard for the weak and succeptible. So we as Christians, what is our response?

My opinion is that most gambling isn't worth the potential trouble it could cause. Like Paul eating meat sacrificed to idols, the potential of harm is greater than the possible good. But the key is the heart, then it's a matter of our witness. Maybe you agree. Maybe you don't. Feel free to comment here, but make sure you stop by and let Ron know as well.

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