Millions of people play the lottery every week in the United States, contributing to billions of dollars annually. Many of them think they will be the one to hit it big – and that hope is a powerful drug. The odds are really, really low, but that doesn’t stop people from buying tickets and putting their dreams on the line. But what is the lottery all about? Is it just about winning money or is it a way to improve your life?
The history of lotteries is complex. They were common in the Roman Empire – Nero was a big fan – and the Bible is full of references to the casting of lots for everything from choosing the next king of Israel to who gets Jesus’ garments after his Crucifixion. In modern times, lotteries are used for military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away by random procedure and jury selection.
In early America, where lotteries became popular despite Protestant proscriptions against gambling, they raised enormous sums of money. Lotteries helped pay for Harvard, Yale and Princeton as well as helping the Continental Congress fund the Revolutionary War. They also became a way for states to expand their social safety nets without increasing taxes too much on the working class.
The real reason people play the lottery is that they hope that their numbers will come up. They are drawn to the idea that money will solve all their problems, but God forbids coveting money or anything it can buy (see Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). The problem is that this hope is empty — and when it doesn’t materialize, they may end up with more bills than they can pay.