Sunday, August 14, 2005

Spirits in bondage

During our recent travels through the western US, my wife and I stayed one night in a town in Nevada. The motel host assured us that the best dinner was to be had in a nearby casino, so we went there and ate a reasonably quiet meal.

But I was stunned to see the number of people present in the casino on a weeknight. Row after row of slot machines in this huge establishment were 30-50% occupied by customers punching buttons and watching for the results. As a statistician, I felt confident that the vast bulk of them must be doomed to ultimate frustration (for the casinos are not charitable concerns!). A sense came over me that huge quantities of life were literally being drained into nothingness. I wondered, did they have nothing better to do with their lives and leisure?

Even in the glitzy, gaming atmosphere (the geniuses of marketing have morphed the word gambling into the far more innocent sounding word, gaming), the grim facts were still clearly visible: almost all would lose, and even those who won would continue playing till all their winnings were lost. But they would lose far more than their money. They would lose all the time spent in this fruitless enterprise.

I have long known, of course, that the casinos were very successful businesses, and that could only be from having lots of customers. But the reality struck me with more force than I had anticipated. Not for the first time, I wished for a handful of tracts that I could pass out to these poor, lost souls. But I would not have gotten far with that, I suppose. Wish I'd tried.

I am not going to rail against gambling. I am not even sure that it is terribly wrong, in small doses, though one must ask, where is love of neighbor in this pursuit? As recreation, it seems rather empty, but that could be more a matter of taste than anything else. But the obsession with gambling is a terrible bondage. It consumes precious, irreplaceable life—life that could be spent in joy, living out the Gospel.

It is clear that the people who spend their time and money on gambling are anesthetizing themselves from something. What is it that is causing such pain? Is there some strategy that could be employed to reach out to these people with the Good News that life need not be wasted—that it can be spent in enterprises that have eternal value?

8 Comments:

Anonymous Becky said...

I don't gamble currently--though I have tried it several times in the past and have not found it to my liking. Still, I (and most other people, I would venture) engage in activities without eternal value. I'm thinking about working crossword puzzles, watching movies, playing Frisbee with my dogs, attending local football games, and the like. I don't hear any condemnation of these pleasurable but rather empty time fillers. Are they bad because they are temporal, selfish pursuits? At what point does recreation become wrong?

7:08 AM  
Anonymous randal said...

Gambling is covetousness in one of its purest and starkest forms. It is not recreation. It is extremely addictive for millions and, as the "tax on the poor," appeals to a get-rich-quick mentality that looks to get something big for (almost) nothing. Satan has blinded people of faith to this hideous form of sin. It happened at the foot of the cross and continues to occur at the feet of Jesus, without, of course, his approval.

7:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad you didn't rail against gambling - there's too much of that instead of thoughtful discussion. There is no "Thou shalt not gamble." verse in Scripture, so we must discover it's worth - or sin - in less obvious ways.

One thing that is not usually discussed is stewardship. Can gambling ever be considered good stewardship? (Not only of money, but of time, as you have pointed out.) I don't see how, though I know many who love it will find a way to justify it.

But what about the association? What does it do to a Christian's witness if he is known as a gambler? Find me a regular gambler who is also a regular witnesser!

Then there's that little matter of loving one's neighbor. In gambling, for one person to gain money another person must LOSE money. This is quite unlike legitimate commerce where goods and services are exchanged for money. In this case, there is a gain (the goods or services) in exchange for the loss (the price paid). Gambling has been called a tax on those who are bad at math, and this burden falls most heavily on the poor. Nowhere is this more true than in the 'innocent' lotteries.


But even those things aside, the character of gambling is seen in its effects. Where gambling goes, suffering follows. This is as well documented as can be. Those who particpate, perpetuate.

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Becky said...

You make some excellent points, Anonymous. Still, let me play the debater on one point. You say that in legitimate commerce, money is exchanged for goods or services. Couldn't someone make a case that the gambler exchanges money for a service, which is entertainment?

4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see three points here that stand apart from one's opinion about gambling as an activity.
1 - Any actvity can become an obsession or addiction. Am I in bondage because of this?
2 - Any "good" activity can be a distraction from the "best". Am I settling for second best? (See CS Lewis' essay "First and Second Things.")
3 - Any activity can become a stumbling block to another believer or to an unbeliever. When should I stop, when may I carry on?

8:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

shirley said

First handed I see and have seen the devastation that gambling brings to people. maybe there is someone that tried it and stopped. Most keep at it. Just for fun, got to get my money back,until it comsumes a person. Justification of all sorts. To me the only justification is no justification.
The Bible says no get rich scheme, doesn't it? For myself am "less than the least', and in my every day walk I waste time and energy
trying to figure out where to draw the line. The balance. keep talking I just might hear what I need to hear.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.settingcaptivesfree.com/courses/higher-stakes/

5:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as someone who got into gaming, and won tons of money and could have kept going-i will say it is bondage. it is an anesthesia -you are right on that. i found myself any time someone died in my family, gaming to enjoy company of others (table games vs slots) and to not think of my loss. the lord set me free in a dramatic way and also showed me how the money i won, wasnt of Him. As a result, he compelled me to give it all back. He's blessed me with freedom and time to deal with my grief, and be with my child. id have to say knowing what i know, it is wrong, even in doses. i see a lot of hypocricy in the church on this and the lottery. people will justify things for wrong reason-simply because they want to participate.

12:42 PM  

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