The odds of winning last night’s Powerball jackpot were one in 292.2 million. You were more likely to be killed by an asteroid (one in 700,000), be struck by lightning while drowning (one in 183 million), or give birth to quadruplets (one in 729,000).
Nonetheless, someone in Massachusetts bought the winning ticket. The annuity option totals $758.7 million, doled out in thirty payments over twenty-nine years. The cash option, which nearly all winners choose, would pay out $443.3 million.
If you’re like most of us, you’re imagining what you would do if you won the lottery. Here’s the ironic part: compared to most of the people who have ever lived, you already have.
You are living in the most prosperous time in human history. As Yuval Harari notes, GDP in America grew between 1950 and 2000 from $2 trillion to $12 trillion. Real per capita income has doubled. Has all this prosperity made us happier? Not at all. Studies show that our subjective well-being levels are the same as they were in the 1950s.
In Peru, Haiti, the Philippines, and Ghana—developing countries dealing with poverty and political instability—the suicide rate is half of prosperous countries such as Switzerland, France, Japan, and New Zealand. South Korea has seen an amazing rise in economic prosperity since 1985, but its suicide rate has quadrupled since then.
Depression is such an epidemic today that a San Francisco company has created a “chatbot” (a computer program that simulates conversation with humans) to talk to people needing counseling. Alcohol abuse is much more common among the wealthy than the poor.
My point is that happiness has never depended on wealth and never will. In fact, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Timothy 6:10). That’s why we are warned to “keep your life free from love of money” (Hebrews 13:5).
But using money for the right purposes redeems its potential.
N.T. Wright: “Spiritual experiences, great moments of illumination and transformation, are never given simply so that we may enjoy them for their own sake. We live in an experience-oriented culture, which teaches us to value experiences for themselves. The danger . . . is to think that one’s experiences of the presence and love of God are somehow a possession, given simply to be enjoyed, clung to, celebrated in themselves.” Rather, “the gift is given within a context of vocation, and to strengthen us for that vocation.”
The same is true of money: As an end, it is dangerous. As a means, it can be transformative.
Joseph’s wise financial stewardship saved the lives of his family in Egypt. Solomon’s wealth brought glory to his Lord (1 Kings 10:9). A Levite named Joseph was so generous that he earned the nickname “Barnabas,” meaning “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36–37).
The question is not what you would do if you won last night’s lottery. It is what you will do with what you already have. Thomas Chalmers: “It is more blessed to give than to receive, and therefore less blessed to receive than to give.”
Jim Denison, Ph.D., speaks and writes on cultural and contemporary issues. He produces a daily column which is distributed to more than 113,000 subscribers in 203 countries. He also writes for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Post, Common Call, and other publications.