Jesus and the Lottery: What We Learn By Losing the Megamillions

The other night I heard the Mega Millions was $648 million and two people won. I looked at the winning numbers and they were integers I was familiar with. I now regret not playing.

That said, I have played the lottery a few times … and lost each time. There’s that moment after you lose where you feel the need to console yourself. “Well, who needs all that money anyway?”   “It probably would have changed me too much.” “I still have my family and health” and the ever-classic, “I still have Jesus.”

In this light, Jesus is seen as the ultimate parting gift. 

I can’t help but wonder if Jesus hears these inner monologues and thinks to himself, “How about that, I leave the splendor of heaven, incarnate myself in human form, suffer and die for the evils of the world and invite all of humanity to a restored world of love and life forever … and I’m seen as the consolation prize.”

We would assume that Jesus doesn’t talk to himself like that – this is my projection of course but the point remains, if we have to console ourselves with the gift of eternal life with God and all who believe, than what do we suppose is the real prize in life?

My argument is certainly not against playing the lottery.  Play, just don’t let it control you. I mean, where else can you pay a dollar and allow your imagination to create a world of escape, allow your mind to bask in amazing luxury and predictably conclude that you would certainly be generous to others? Drop a dollar in the offering plate, be reminded you’re a guilty sinner for the hour. Drop a dollar at a gas station lottery counter, imagine yourself as a god for the next ten minutes.  It’s also much cheaper than going to the movies and most state lotteries support programs for education, the elderly, and various other charities.

The act of playing or not playing the lottery does not move us further or closer to the meaning of life and if anything, we might want to consider playing more. But not for the sake of winning. In fact, according to this article on CNN, “You have more than 1,000 times better chance of an asteroid or comet killing you according to Tulane University.” And my new favorite comparison, “Winning the Mega Millions is akin to getting struck by lightning at the same time you’re being eaten by a shark,” said Todd Northrop, founder of” (Can’t help but wonder who survives the lighting bolt – me or the shark? Cuz I’m feeling lucky.)

Further, we are often told that lottery winners often lose it all within a few short years because of squandering, indulging, experimenting, and in short becoming victims of their sudden wealth. Upon hearing this, no one ever says, “Oh thank God, I didn’t play” but rather “I’m pretty sure I could figure out how to win millions and not ruin my life,” And if you are a good Christian then you add a prayer reminding God that of course, you would tithe your winnings with a “just say’in” wink for good measure.

But it’s here we need to ask ourselves again, what is the real prize of life?

To cut to the chase, we might conclude the prize of life is to live in peace, love and fulfillment with those whom we love the most for as long as possible. Jesus offers us something even greater – the aforementioned with no limits of time or boundaries for joy with those we love and the Giver of those we love.

Considering what Jesus truly offers it’s in this light that winning the lottery would be a parting gift. Could you imagine the real tagline to a radio commercial for the lottery? “Enjoy all the happiness you can with all this wealth before you meet your demise.” They should stick with “All you need is a dollar and a dream.”

Now this is similar to the story of the prodigal son: a restless son leaving his father to enjoy the ways of the world only to be destroyed by his pleasure. In desperation, he returns home resolved to be a servant but instead is given a hero’s welcome and his father’s restoration. I imagine this young man woke up with a very different understanding of what can be pursued and prized in this life.

We often think that life would be significantly better if we had just a more fortunate circumstance. And we’re not alone in this, throughout history and across civilization we are tempted by things like winning a lottery, receiving an inheritance, securing a contract, being discovered, promoted, or featured that this will give us what we thought we have always wanted. There’s a beautiful awakening in gaining what we have always desired, losing it all, realizing that we had more and lost more than previously understood and in forgiveness can receive more than we could ever dream of in the first place.

It’s likely why Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as a treasure and why we celebrate Christmas each year. God the creator and redeemer of all things inviting all humanity to live the good life now and forever, and along the way, enjoying family, deepening friendships, serving strangers and realizing who we were meant to be. And all this doesn’t even cost a dollar.



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