Thursday, January 14, 2016

Exciting true hope

The big news the last couple of weeks has been the record-breaking $1.5 billion Powerball lottery. The news frenzy has been astonishing and disturbing. There were reports of poor and working-class people spending huge amounts of money buying lottery tickets despite the staggering odds against winning: 1 in 292.2 million. (Source) The fact that buying multiple tickets, even thousands of them, does not increase the odds of winning, seemed irrelevant to many purchasers.

Even people who typically don’t play the lottery bought tickets for this prize. Lottery officials said they were selling 131,000 tickets a minute. (Source)


People continue to buy into the hope that winning a lottery will solve their financial problems, or at least ease their financial burdens. Yet, according to a study “by researchers at Vanderbilt University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Pittsburgh, the more money you win in the lottery, the more likely you are to end up bankrupt.” (Source) About 70% of all lottery winners end up going broke and filing for bankruptcy. (Source)

Contrary to popular opinion, most lottery winners also aren’t happier for having won. In 1980, for example, Evelyn Adams won the lottery twice, but quickly gambled away her $5.4 million winnings and lives in a trailer park, financially ruined. Billy Bob Harrell Jr. was a Pentecostal preacher and stock boy who won $31 million. “The stress of winning so overwhelmed him that he divorced his wife and committed suicide.” Jack Whitaker won $315-million, but said, “he wished he never won after his teenage granddaughter became addicted to drugs and then was found dead in 2007 of… an overdose. His daughter died in 2009 in another apparent overdose.” (Source)

The yearning the lottery taps into is deep and ubiquitous among humans, but it can’t be satisfied by money, not even lots of it. The hope is for happiness – but that’s where we go astray.

The goal of life isn’t happiness. Jesus didn’t come among us and send us out to spread happiness. Jesus sends us out to the share the Good News that the whole world is being reconciled to God in Christ right now; that God created, loves, sustains, and sanctifies us – all of us – not because of what we do but because of who we are: God’s own people, the apple of God’s eye. (Source, p 132)

Happiness happens, but so does pain, misfortune, blessing, and injustice. That’s called fullness of life. Followers of Jesus know that we must take up our cross and follow him – to the cross, the grave, and finally into resurrection life. Happiness isn’t our goal; faithfulness is.

The Good News we bear assures us that God is with us, within us, working out a perfect plan of salvation for us and for the whole world. It assures us that whatever we face in life and the world, we face as a community. No one is alone. We are one body, one spirit in Christ – the church – and we are assured that “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” (Source, p 862)

If the Church could motivate people to participate in the work of reconciliation the way the lottery motivates people to buy tickets, think of how the world might be blessed and transformed! It staggers the mind and excites hope – true hope – which is: “to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.” (Source,p 861)

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