This week we continue the question regarding the church making rules the Bible doesn't have, and this week we deal specifically with the issue of gambling.
When dealing with any biblical question it is imperative to first see if the Bible deals with the issue specifically. A quick search through a concordance (a book that lists all the words the Bible uses) reveals the word "gambling" isn't found in the scriptures. The next step is to see if gambling was practiced in the Bible.
Now, this is where it gets tricky. What one person might call gambling, another might call divine direction. For instance, in the Old Testament the high priest had in his possession two stones called the Urim and the Thummim (generally thought to be a white stone and a black stone). When asking a question of the Lord the priest would reach into a pocket with the stones and draw one out. If the Urim stone was drawn then the answer was "yes" (or a positive answer). If the Thummim was drawn the answer was "no" (1 Samuel 14.21). Further, the drawing of lots (like drawing the "short straw") was used extensively in decision making (Joshua 18.6; 1 Chronicles 25.8; Nehemiah 11.1). In the New Testament the apostles also drew lots to decide who would replace Judas Iscariot after his death (Acts 1.26).
So, if drawing lots or depending on black and white stones is considered gambling, then it was certainly practiced and never forbidden in scripture.
On the other hand, when most of us think of "gambling" we think of casinos, poker, and the lottery. This is a very different sort of gambling than what we read of in the scriptures. In these cases what takes place is the rather risky investment of a smaller amount of money to gain a windfall profit (like trying to win the $175,000,000 Powerball lottery with a one-dollar ticket).
Is this kind of gambling wrong?
The problem with a black-and-white answer to this question is that it would be woefully inadequate. Many churches have long insisted that all gambling is wrong. And yet, many, many of the members of these churches (and the ministers as well) have stock portfolios.
"Wait a minute, that's different!" I hear the cries of dissent. But what's really different about it -- from the investor's point of view? Investors regularly put money into stocks with the hopes that they will make a profit, indeed a windfall (Oh that Microsoft would split again!!) from their investment. Indeed, the whole stock market game is often called a "gamble."
So, if the blanket answer is "yes it's wrong" to the question of gambling, then we have to re-evaluate many of our "investments" (which might not be a bad idea in any event).
On the other hand, if we assert that gambling is okay then we open the door to abuse and misuse. The high percentage of the funds raised from state lotteries come from people on welfare or the working poor who cannot really afford to play the lottery -- or to gamble even in the stock market. But the hope, the dream of gathering a windfall of 175,000,000 to 1 and find relief from economic oppression seems like a palatable investment opportunity. Further, there are those individuals who are compulsive gamblers who cannot stop once they begin. Surely we have an obligation to protect them, right?
The whole issue becomes convoluted as we add specifics. So, we're back to the general rule of right and wrong. Everything we do must be done in the spirit of loving God and loving our neighbors. On this issue, and in all issues, if our actions glorify God and if our motivations are God-like, then our actions are certainly allowed. On the other hand. . . .