“The lot puts an end to quarrels and decides between powerful contenders. A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” (Proverbs 18:18-19)
Even though games of chance and other forms of gambling predate the writing of Scripture, the Bible is silent on the subject. Perhaps that is why the church has vacillated in its teaching. It is very difficult—if not impossible—to make a convincing case from Scripture against gambling or games of chance as inherently wrong, but it is no difficult task at all to marshal biblical evidence against gambling (as different from games of chance) as a social evil.
When the church has opposed gambling as inherently wrong, what has been the rationale? Although some have held it to be a form of stealing, this charge seems ill-founded, since stealing is taking by force that which one has no right to take. In the case of gambling, the loser has agreed in advance, and the risk of loss is freely undertaken in the hope of making a gain or having fun.
Gambling is said to violate the law against covetousness. This is certainly true for the serious gambler, but it can hardly be alleged against the person who gambles for recreation. Furthermore, though most gamblers may violate the law of love by seeking personal gain through another’s loss, a motive of malice or lack of love can hardly be demonstrated as inherent in the act of gambling itself.
A definition that would apply to virtually any game at all, certainly games of chance implies an artificial risk, taken for personal gain at another’s expense, having no social good as its goal. Games are inherently artificial, someone wins, someone loses, and there is no visibly constructive product, though there may be the social good of relaxation. I do not deny that the attitudes of covetousness and selfishness are present in most gambling and therefore that gambling of any kind may be inappropriate for the Christian. But are these poor attitudes inherent in the act?
The most common argument against gambling is the sovereignty of God—to deliberately take a risk on an uncertain outcome is to call in question God’s sovereign control of our affairs or actually to invoke God’s involvement in our attempt to gain at another’s expense.
The same argument was used in earlier centuries against insurance. It will not do, this position holds, to say that all of life is a risk and that we constantly take chances—the farmer on the weather, the insurer on the insured’s longevity, the businessman on the market. But these are not deliberately taking risk with the intent of avoiding exchange of value. These are people who make every attempt to reduce risk, who intend to pay an honest return on investment, and who have every right to humbly ask the Almighty to intervene should they err.
The argument against gambling based on God’s sovereignty carries more weight than the others but is not compelling for two reasons. In the first place, it is really only applicable to the serious gambler. In the second place, even for the serious gambler, the argument could be turned the other way. In Scripture gambling was specifically used in making decisions because man is finite, and God alone knows and can intervene on behalf of one party or the other: “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord” (Proverbs16:33; see also 18:18). In fact, “casting the lot” was standard practice in settling disputes, dividing the Promised Land, choosing people for a position—all things that could well be of greater value than money. Even an apostle was so chosen (Acts 1:26). Contemporary gambling differs from the biblical examples of making decisions on the basis of a “chance” outcome in that two or more people were not offering something of value with the hope of gain and the risk of loss. Nevertheless, subjecting the outcome of a decision of great moment to the chance toss of the dice was seen as deliberately invoking the intervention of the Sovereign One, not flaunting his will or authority, much less making light of it. I suppose the same motive could be in the mind of the contemporary gambler, though. I grant it is not likely. The point is, if one deliberately trusts God with the outcome of a chance event—either planned (“artificially contrived”) or unplanned—it can hardly be said that he is resisting God.
In summary, I find it difficult to make a strong case from Scripture to categorically affirm that all games of chance are inherently evil. A person could conceivably be generous, not covet, love his neighbor more than himself, and explicitly trust the sovereignty of God while betting a Coke on the outcome of a game. But that most gamblers violate one or more of these principles is beyond dispute.
Human experience indicates that even recreational gambling promotes covetousness and leads away from giving as a way of life. It often nurtures the fantasy that luck rather than hard work is a way to prosperity. All too often it sucks the gambler into a life of dishonesty. Even if one should escape the common evil results, is it right for the strong to validate gambling by personal example and help create an atmosphere in which others will fall? Seeing the practice in real life outcomes leads to the conclusion of the difficulty with gambling as a legitimate part of a God-pleasing way of life.