It’s more fun than your minister wants you to have,” gloats the announcer’s voice in the casino commercial played over and over on our local radio stations. Every time I hear that line urging one and all to join the hordes already on a gambling binge, it makes me very angry.

First, over the last few years Minnesota, my home state, has suffered an explosion of all forms of gambling that is rapidly reaching epidemic proportions. Per capita expenditures for gambling (losses, for the most part) by Minnesotans is highest of any state, including Nevada. Finally, even state legislators are daring to speak openly about the emerging crisis of addiction to gambling among all categories of our citizens, including teenagers.

Most of us initially shrugged off the steady stream of back-page news stories about illegal “skimming” from the “granny bingo” parlors operated in many communities by or on behalf of veterans’ groups, churches, and civic organizations. Race-track betting flourished briefly. Then the state of Minnesota itself rushed in to promote an endless variety of state-run lotteries. Riverboats, operating in interstate waters, were loaded with slot machines and roulette wheels. Next came the elaborate and expanding casinos owned by subclans and tribal groups of Native Americans—and operated for them by gambling cartels from Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and abroad. The situation is ripe for exploitation.

Cutthroat competition for the gambling public’s dollar has prompted relentless and aggressive advertising by the state and casino bosses. Radio, television, and the print media all bombard us to join the gambling frenzy. I resent being told every ten minutes to come and throw my money away because “it’s more fun than your minister wants you to have.”

The pleasure police

That line makes me mad for a second, and more basic, reason. I resent the popular caricature of the Christian life as joyless, dreary, and negative. It irritates me when ministers are portrayed as the anti-fun police. I understand some of the reasons for these libels, but I don’t like being depicted as a killjoy.

The biblical vision does not proscribe fun, and, though joy and happiness are not the primary goals of life, they are among its hallmarks.

Entertainment and “fun” are best governed by some biblical principles. For instance, moderation is the proper course. Proverbs 25:16 says: “If you find honey, eat just enough—too much of it and you will vomit.” Choices must be made about time, resources, and consumption. A corollary is that our gratification must sometimes be deferred. Often the more immediate the pleasurable sensation of our fun, the more superficial and transitory it is.

Similarly, we must be sure that what we enjoy really is “honey,” because not everything pleasurable is wholesome. Our neighbor lost his beloved dog when it lapped up sweet-tasting antifreeze. Beware of counterfeit honey.

Here is another principle: If my “fun” leaves me more open to my spiritual foes and exposes my weaknesses, it is wrong for me. In Judges 7, Gideon dismissed the members of his brigade who carelessly dived into the waterhole to slake their thirst. Their failure to be more vigilant was a gross dereliction of duty. In contrast, the 300 who remained on guard, even as they scooped up handfuls of water, understood that their pleasure could never be pursued in a way that put them at risk physically, morally, or spiritually. When fun means abandoning for a time character, discipline, or duty, then it is wrong.

Space limits me to just one more principle: No one is entitled to enjoy what can be obtained only by risking another’s life, freedom, happiness, or well-being. Second Samuel 23 reports how three of David’s brave men, at great risk, infiltrated enemy lines to bring back water from his hometown well, for which he longed. David’s conscience would not permit him to enjoy what was only possible with great danger to others. I have no right to my “fun” if it undermines someone else’s morality, modesty, or spiritual welfare.

This minister does not want to limit anyone’s fun, but fun may need to be deferred, and it requires moderation. Fun must not dissipate my character or erode my spiritual well-being. My fun ought not to be destructive of another person. Minnesota gambling’s marketing gambit fails on all these counts. Knock off that commercial, Minnesota.


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