Today I was getting a haircut, and I got to talking about gambling with one of the guys in the barbershop, someone from another LC-MS church. He basically asked if it was sinful to gamble, even if one was just going to the Casino for some mild entertainment. My initial response (while sitting in the barber chair) was essentially that it was the wrong question to ask. The Bible does not, to my knowledge, come right out and say that gambling is a sin. The question that I gave him to ponder was this: How is this helping and serving my neighbor in love?
Maybe it’s one of those, “If it is a sin to you, then you should not go against your own conscience.” But there is more to this than just, “Is gambling a sin?” I was trying to analyze this as I was running errands later on today, and began running through the Decalogue and Luther’s meanings. So, here are some thoughts that I came up with in regard to the Ten Commandments:
1. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. The whole point of gambling (whether by poker, slot machines, or Blackjack) is to gain for oneself more money. Is that “honest gain”?
2. Wastefulness – Could gambling be considered a form of wasteful spending? Is this proper Christians stewardship? Did God entrust to us the “unrighteous mammon” in order that we could simply throw it away into slot machines, etc? Is our money being used to serve any useful purpose? The Catechism teaches us to ask ourselves in self-examination: “Have I wasted anything?”
3. Stealing: If I am in a game of poker, and I win the “pot,” am I helping my neighbor to improve and protect his property and income? Gambling is not forbidden in so many words in the Bible, but according to the Catechism, part of keeping the seventh Commandment is helping my neighbor to protect his property and income. Taking it without giving anything in exchange seems to violate this, unless my neighbor across the table tells me that I should just consider it a gift. But what if he can’t afford that kind of gift?
4. The argument is often given that gambling is just another form of entertainment, like going to the movie or going to a restaurant. As long as no harm is being done to the neighbor, it is believed, then there is no sin in this kind of entertainment. To watch some movies, I would admit, would be harming the neighbor, particularly if the neighbor on the screen is exposing herself or himself for me to see. But in general, a movie is a means of entertainment, and entertainment in and of itself is not sinful. In fact, I’m sure Gene Veith would say that by going to the movie, I am helping and serving my neighbor, whose work is providing him or her with a needed income.
The question is, when I go to a movie, am I taking something from my neighbor? I suppose some would say that I am wasting money by going to the movie. But as long as I can afford it, there shouldn’t be a problem, right? Lots and lots of questions and issues to consider, more so than just “Is gambling a sin?”
I know our Synod has put out reports on gambling before, and I’ve read parts of them. But it is a serious question. Must everything we do be for the sole purpose of helping and serving our neighbor? Is it wasteful to spend money on mere entertainment? Obviously (or not so obviously) I’m not seeking my righteousness in this. True righteousness is of faith in the crucified and risen Lord, apart from works. Has anyone a better answer than what I’ve given, or attempted to give? I don’t like to call something a sin that is not truly sinful. As I said above, perhaps it is one of those conscience things. If it is a sin to you, then you should not do it if it is going to go against your conscience. Since it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes out of him then perhaps the best answer is that “it depends.” What is your attitude towards what you are doing? Must you do it to be content and happy? Are you sinfully coveting what is not yours? Are you scheming to get your neighbor’s inheritance or house?
There’s a lot to ponder in this question. Maybe I should pose it over at Four and Twenty Blackbirds for a pastoral discussion.