What would you do if you won the lottery?
With the record-setting $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot announced just last week, many people, including myself, have imagined what they would do if they won the lottery, but far fewer folks actually have to answer to the hordes of reporters demanding a literal answer.
This was predicament faced by John and Lisa Robinson of Munford, Tennessee, who chose to accept a single lump sum payment of $328 million last week when they realized they had the winning Powerball lottery numbers.
Perhaps what’s more incredible, however, is how they’ve decided to accept and spend their money. Forgoing the alternative payment of 30 annual installments totaling an estimated $533 million, the Robinsons said they decided to take the lump sum “because we’re not guaranteed tomorrow” and that they’d be giving away a good portion of their Powerball payout to friends they know, St. Jude Children’s Research hospital in nearby Memphis, Tennessee, and their local church” because they firmly believe in tithing.[i]
What’s more, at the recent news conference where they were asked tons of questions about their winnings, the Robinsons said they wouldn’t stop working at the auto-parts store or the dermatologist’s office where they’re currently employed, and they wouldn’t be making any extravagant purchases either. Asked why they wouldn’t get a bigger house, John Robinson said, “Big houses are nice, but also you gotta clean ‘em.” So what else will they do with their millions of dollars now? “Pay off their mortgage and their daughter’s student loans,” they told reporters.
As it turns out, this homespun wisdom may actually align quite neatly with the latest social science research. Elizabeth Dunn, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, shows that having more money does not translate into increased levels of happiness unless that money is given away and personal gratification delayed. One of her articles on the subject, entitled “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right,” published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, highlights empirical research showing that individuals who help others instead of themselves and even buy less insurance generally report higher levels of personal satisfaction.[ii]
Long before Powerball lotteries and social science research, the Apostle Paul warned about the love of money as “a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10) and Jesus cautioned, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Indeed, the Bible speaks to the issue of money and our desires throughout, prompting us to consider this area of our lives in a world largely governed by free-market capitalism. Though few would deny the importance of the economic structures that run our world, the prospects and challenges many of us face as we make important decisions with whatever money we may have can be overwhelming.
Perhaps this is why Scripture encourages a certain “light-heartedness” in dealing with personal finances. Without dismissing the realities of financial hardship, Scripture teaches that Christians have in a sense already won the lottery because of the righteousness imputed to us in Jesus. Thus, Christians possess a system of meaning that can help them deal with personal, financial struggles. As theologian Craig Gay writes, “The Gospel of Grace provides us with just such a system.”[iii]
So what would you do if you won the lottery? Maybe we already have. Maybe, like the Robinsons, we already possess a system of meaning that promotes allegiance to the church and a love for others. These things, as homespun and traditional as they may seem, could be just the refreshing advice needed in a world that wants to know how we’ll spend our money.
[iii] Craig Gay, Cash Values: Money and the Erosion of Meaning in Today’s Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 20.