Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t gamble. Those are the tenets of a good-living, Bible-believing Christian. At least, that’s what I thought in my early teens. Also, don’t sleep around. But I guess that didn’t fit into the punchy proverb above.
Joining the ranks of the Christian Youf as a 17-year-old, these were the things I was faced with. Growing up in a Christian family, I never really did many of those things anyway. I thought alcohol tasted like, well, warm piss. Smoking was equally gross and like booze, difficult to hide should I have partaken in the action. Chasing girls, I did relentlessly, but not that successfully. And gambling, well, I just didn’t have the money to do that.
Fast forward to today and it’s funny how things change. I enjoy beer, wine, whisky and whiskey and various other tipples. Every now and then I’ll enjoy a cigar with friends; enjoyed even more with one of the aforementioned whiskies, like a Lagavulin 16. I’ve been happily married for almost five years with two and half years of courtship before that.
The rest of my story continues a few years back – sorry for the Christopher Nolan-esque time jumping – for the first time in my life, I decided to place a bet. An actual bet with actual money. It was only maybe 10, at most 20p, but a bet all the same. It was probably on a football game, I don’t remember exactly. And I don’t even remember what the outcome was. What I do remember is that one bet was followed by a second, a third, a fourth, and so on.
I was pretty good. I sometimes lost, but mostly I won. I had a few short spells where I maybe lost more regularly than I won, but overall, I won. And I enjoyed it. Particularly because it was in cahoots with a friend.
Come the end of the season, I did my research for Euro 2012. I followed detailed reports of squads and likely starting line-ups. I studied qualifying results and typical formations and strategies. I listened to dozens of journalists opinions on potential successes and pitfalls of each team and their predictions for group winners, all the way through to tips for the overall winners.
By this stage my stakes were higher than when I began. But just to bring you back down to earth, I’m not talking James Bond money. A tenner a go maybe. If I was confident, £20. And it was all money I’d built up after a decent Premier League betting campaign.
As Spain re-emphasised their international dominance by collecting their third trophy in four years, I basked in the glory of dominating my chosen bookmakers by collecting my not-so-unsubstantial winnings.
As I chatted openly with my church leaders about it, we examined the scriptures. Two things stood out.
First, my motives. The question underneath the question is why. Why do I want to gamble? What’s the root issue? Is it boredom? If so, is placing a bet the healthiest way to get a buzz? Is it the desire for money? I can tell you right now that it won’t make you rich, in fact, the probabilities point towards the opposite.
Second, the Bible talks about our finances a lot. The Old Testament people of God had a rich understanding of justice and equity and had a complex set of laws which governed in such a way to encourage economic fairness. In the New Testament we’re charged with sharing our possessions and giving to the poor. The way of Christ is not one of receiving or getting, but one of sacrificially giving; that is, giving beyond comfortable. It’s a radical way of living that is so different to what our culture says that it stings us as we do our best to learn the ways of Jesus.
So to the question. Can I be a Christian and gamble? My answer: yes, but best not to.
Would Jesus Christ stick a tenner on Red Rum to win the Grand National? Probably not. There are better things you could do with a tenner. How about a beer with a mate that you haven’t seen in a while? Or buying lunch for someone? What about a bunch flowers for a significant other or your mother? There are many seemingly insignificant – yet deeply significant – ways a tenner can be used to glorify God and continue the advancement of the kingdom of God. Placing a bet probably doesn’t come close to the top.