Most of us have pondered at one time another the ageless question: why do bad things happen to good people?
Occasioned by the recent record-breaking lottery excitement, I’m flipping the question: why do good things happen to bad people?
When I was a teenager, I babysat for some very wealthy family friends who had a second home in an exclusive gated community in Kansas City. It was, in my humble expertise, a posh mansion. One morning, my parents received a call from these friends and went to the computer to watch a video of the most recent lottery winner. There on the screen was the latest winner, who had just purchased the home next to our friends’ posh manor – he was a redneck. Within a month, we heard that he had placed a large trampoline in the front yard, a major faux pas in an exclusive neighborhood.
In the time since that incident, I’ve married into a self-described redneck family and looking back, I can’t imagine that I would have allowed the attitudes of my neighbors to keep me from installing a trampoline, either. I certainly can’t say that I think rednecks are “bad people,” but much of America would consider them unworthy to win the lottery: why did they get to win the lottery? Why do good things happen to bad people?
While the traditional question (Why do bad things happen to good people?) is an essential matter of justice in an often unjust world, our question, no less traditional, is a matter of ingratitude. The real core of the question is not why good things happen to bad people, but why good things don’t happen to me, but do happen to those who are, in my eyes, less worthy. The question places me in a position of snide judgement over my fellow man. Can I really determine who is less worthy than I? Can I really consider myself worthy of God’s blessings while I complain about God’s providence?
Yes, questioning your failure to win the lottery is a matter of questioning God’s providence. After all, isn’t it the case that God provides all things according to the greatest good, which He always has in mind?
I’d like to think that if I won the lottery, I’d give the vast majority of it to worthy causes, start a few foundations, open a few profitable business to serve their communities, pay off the debts of all my catechetics-major friends, and buy the copyright to a decent contemporary Bible translation to release it into the public domain. Nevertheless, I’m sure that the devil would use my eagerness to do good as a temptation to push me toward luxury: “Why yes, I would be more attractive as a catechist to typical parish communities if I showed up in a Ferrari. Indeed, the fundraising gala to fund the USCCB’s recently thwarted ministry to victims of human trafficking should feature white alba truffle and matsutake mushroom risotto with wagyu steak with a garnish of almas caviar.” Much as I’d like to think I’d be humble, I am all too aware that if I won the lottery, I would let much of God’s providence go to waste.
Nevertheless, in keeping with the what the Catechism tells us about gamblingCCC 2413 - Games of chance (card games, etc.) or wagers are not in themselves contrary to justice. They become morally unacceptable when they deprive someone of what is necessary to provide for his needs and those of others. The passion for gambling risks becoming an enslavement. Unfair wagers and cheating at games constitute grave matter, unless the damage inflicted is so slight that the one who suffers it cannot reasonably consider it significant., I decided to buy a ticket yesterday and try my luck. I won! Lucky number 23! Unfortunately, lottery headquarters shot me down. Apparently you have to get all the numbers to win the jackpot. I walk away a loser from this exercise in minimal frivolity. Still, it’s in accord with God’s plan, so doesn’t that make me a winner?
To the victors go the spoils. You lucky winners, don’t forget: God has a plan for this money.