A person from Illinois recently won the Mega Millions $1.227 billion jackpot. Normally I don’t pay attention to such news, but an article about various kinds of problems that some big lottery winners have faced caught my eye. Here are some examples of big winners and the problems they have faced:
- Jack Whittaker won more than $300 million in 2002. Following that big win, his wife left him; in addition, his granddaughter, who had struggled with drug addiction but would have inherited his fortune, died at 17. “My granddaughter is dead because of the money,” he said. He added, “I don’t have any friends.” Thieves robbed Whittaker of hundreds of thousands of dollars, he became mired in various legal battles, and he fell into drinking and gambling. Here’s a telling statement that sums it all up: “Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed. I think if you have something, there’s always someone else that wants it. I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”
- Marie Holmes won a $188-million jackpot in 2015. However, she soon had to deal with lawsuits from her ex-fiance.
- William Post III won $16.2 million in 1988. He dealt with various misfortunes, including a lawsuit from a landlord who obtained a third of his jackpot, an assault conviction, and bankruptcy (!). His brother, Jeffrey, was convicted of trying to hire a hitman to kill William and his wife for “monetary gain,” according to police.
- Abraham Shakespeare won $31 million in 2006. A woman named Dorice Moore was convicted of killing Shakespeare six years later. She owned a medical staffing company which Shakespeare had transferred some real estate holdings to. Shakespeare had previously told his brother, “I’d have been better off broke.”
On the bright side of lottery winners, I recently saw a movie, based on a true story, called Jerry & Marge Go Large. Jerry, Marge, and others in their community manage to game the system, winning millions in the process; they use the money to revive their small town.
In spite of that movie, I still don’t buy lottery tickets, but lest you think I’m picking on those who do, greed can and does manifest itself in many other ways as well. For example, how about the stock market? Do you, like me, have investments that you track? While tracking is wise, it can easily become obsessive, speaking from experience. One way that I have dealt with this is to invest in ETFs, rather than individual stocks. The reason is that even on a bad day in the market, an ETF is, on average, going to lose less than an individual stock; the same, of course, goes for good market days and gains.
In connection with the stock market: When my wife and I were engaged, a couple of college students in a group we were helping lead at our church wondered if it was OK to have an IRA. That got us thinking the same thing. At the time, we had very little, and we were preparing to go overseas for a few years, so this question wasn’t going to affect us immediately. However, we decided at least for ourselves that it was OK, the reason being that we didn’t want to become a financial burden to anyone as we got older. Also at that time, we knew an older couple who had a rather lavish, large home. Initially, I almost felt uncomfortable being in it, but my fiancee explained that they regularly hosted large groups of international students for meals and Bible study. I thought (and still think!) that was fantastic, especially because hospitality was one of our desires as a couple and eventually as a family. At the same time, we discovered, both here and abroad, that we did not need a large apartment or home in order to be hospitable.
Greed shows its ugly face in many contexts; I’ve only mentioned two: lottery tickets and the stock market. One thing I should add is that I’ve noticed, in myself as well as others, that greed manifests itself regardless of age, socioeconomic status, or anything else! I think a good definition of greed is never being satisfied, but always wanting more. So, what is the antidote to greed? As always, the Bible points us in the right direction. Here’s what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:12: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” In 1 Timothy 6:6, Paul writes, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Then in verses 9-10, he writes, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” In connection with this, I should add that “the greedy” are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:10 as people who will not “inherit the kingdom of God.”
In both Bible passages above, Paul mentions contentment; he tells us that it doesn’t depend on how much we have, and he conjoins contentment with godliness, telling us that that combination is truly great gain. How can we become more godly and content and thereby combat greed? I have no doubt there is more than one answer to this question, but here’s mine. I mentioned earlier that when my wife and I were engaged, we were preparing to go overseas for a few years. We were with an organization that sent Christian teachers to various Third World countries, and we were dependent on the generous financial and prayer support of brothers and sisters in Christ back in the U.S. It was positively thrilling to watch the financial support pour in, and we were never lacking. Maybe you can guess what else was thrilling when we came back to the U.S. to live and raise our kids: giving financially! There are many ways we have done this, but one way we have especially enjoyed over the years, I suppose even moreso when our kids were young, is sponsoring Third World children. All four of us enjoyed seeing their photos and getting updates on them, as well as sending them cards and occasionally also a special small gift, depending on their age. Giving financially is still one of our favorite things to do. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 9:7, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Then in verse 11 Paul writes, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” People have misused this verse to say that God will make everyone rich monetarily, but that is not what it means; regardless of your financial status, you can be generous.
Jesus Himself tells us in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Let’s be joyfully generous, not serving money but using it as one way to serve God and others, combating greed in the process.