Is Investing in Stocks Any Better Than Gambling?
We have a follow-up question to episode #1269. In that episode, we talked about fantasy-sports gambling — specifically related to DraftKings and FanDuel — prompting this question from a listener named Preston.
“Hello, Pastor John! I listened to your episode where you discussed your thoughts on sports gambling being sinful. You said the system itself was evil and made the case that $50 contributed to a ‘well-invested stock fund’ could yield a $230,000 future value over many years, and this would be a wiser use of the $50. My question is that, if you invest the $50 into a stock fund instead, aren’t you somewhat subscribing to unknown risk in the same way that you are with educated (not random) sports gambling? This creates the question of, how do we as Christians determine what the appropriate level of risk is with investing our dollar?
“Secondly, how can we trust that the investment industry is not also a system of evil in the same way sports gambling is? How can we trust that our dollar returned from an investment has not been earned in a crooked or sinful fashion in the same way a dollar from the sports gambling institution would be?”
Gambling vs. Investing
Let’s take Preston’s questions one at a time. First, he asks, “If you invest the $50 a week into a stock fund instead, aren’t you somewhat subscribing to unknown to risk in the same way that you are with educated (not random) sports gambling?”
“The financial life of a Christian should not be focused on how to minimize risk and maximize gain in the stock market.”
Now if Preston had asked if there is some risk involved in investing money in a stock market or security of some kind, I would have simply said yes. But notice what he actually asked. He asked, “If you invest $50 a week into a stock fund instead, aren’t you somewhat subscribing to unknown risk in the same way that you are with educated (not random) sports gambling?” And the answer to that is no.
There is always risk no matter what you do with your money. You bury it, and it’ll maybe rot. You can hide it in the house, but the house may burn down. You can put it in the bank, and the banks may fail, and the government that insures it may fail. Put it in stocks with differing philosophies of principle protection, and they all may go bankrupt.
Yes, there is no escaping risk when it comes to money in this world — or for that matter, doing anything in this world. But when we ask whether gambling is risking in the same way as investing, the answer is no. For several reasons.
Investing means letting another person use your money for enterprises that you believe contribute to the common good, while gambling means supporting a system that is counterproductive to the common good, and especially destructive for the poor.
Investing is not usually an all-or-nothing kind of risk. You may lose part of what you invest and pull out, while in gambling ordinarily all is lost or something is gained.
Investing lets you choose your degree of risk with greater clarity and probability than most gambling does.
Those are at least three differences.
Let me back up and say that when I was answering that question from which he was quoting — about the sinful waste of $20 to $50 a week on gambling with fantasy sports — my allusion to putting money away for twenty years and having $230,000 to buy a house with when you’re fifty was simply to show that even the world thinks it’s idiotic not to do that. My point wasn’t that that’s the best thing to do with your money.
“There is one kind of investing that is foolproof. Its dividends are absolutely certain and greater than any dividends in the universe.”
Let me make the real point about risk. While you might have to lose your life in the process, there is one kind of investing that is foolproof. Its dividends are absolutely certain and greater than any dividends in the universe.
Here’s the way Jesus put it: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” — I don’t care where: bank, dirt, mattress, or stock market — where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.” Stock markets go bearish. “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21).
Here’s the way Jesus puts it in Luke 12:33: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.” Sell your possessions and give be generous.
Or here’s the way Paul puts it:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17–19)
I would say that the main emphasis in the financial life of a Christian should not be on how to minimize risk and maximize gain in the stock market, but rather on how to maximize eternal gain by maximizing generosity for the sake of causes that glorify God and rescue sinners from suffering, especially eternal suffering.
Where Our Responsibility Ends
But Preston asked another question: How can we trust that the investment industry is not also a system of evil in the same way that sports gambling is?
“Never invest in what you know is evil.”
As far as I know, you can’t. You can’t know that. But that’s true of every dollar you spend in the marketplace. Any grocery store may be running a racket when you get your groceries. Any gas station you fill up at may be ripping off customers with machines that are set falsely. Any clothing chain may exploit foreign workers where you get your shirt. Any company you invest in may support causes you deplore.
I would say the rule is to do the diligence you can before you invest. Never invest in what you know is evil. But any thought that none of our spending and none of our investing will be misused by others is totally naïve. You’re not responsible for all that somebody might do to misuse your money any more than a salt manufacturer is responsible for high blood pressure.