I was in the precinct of Sydney’s main casino on Saturday, and, with the full knowledge and approval of several of my Matthias Media colleagues, I trotted off to the casino with $140 of MM’s money in my pocket.
As you might expect, there is an explanation for this somewhat unusual behaviour, and I’ll come back to that. But in the meantime, I want to share with you what I learned from my visit.
I approached the casino, walked past the retail shops, and, with the sort of nervous feeling in my stomach that most non-Christians probably have when they enter a church building, marched purposefully into the main part of the casino. This consisted of a massive open space filled with hundreds and hundreds of gaming machines and tables, and only a few less people. I needed to find what I was looking for, and so explored the room.
I had come to the casino from another big room filled with hundreds of people. But the contrast could not have been greater.
The Equip Women conference at the Darling Harbour Convention Centre was held in a building with light streaming in through enormous glass walls that revealed wide views of the water and blue sky outside. When the women came out of the main auditorium, the sound of conversation and the shrieks of laughter and delight as women greeted each other, probably meant that under workplace health and safety laws I should have been wearing ear protection. The women came out of a series of talks that stimulated their minds, and challenged their hearts; they sang joyfully together, and shared the intimacy of joining in prayer to the Lord by whom they are united. And a more multicultural group of happy and united people you’d struggle to find anywhere.
The casino, on the other hand, was dark and dingy. There was no natural light—indeed no windows at all—and the cacophony of noise was not of people laughing, talking, and enjoying themselves, but of bells and beeps and fake mechanical sounds, as well as the silence of nobody interacting socially with anybody. I didn’t see anyone who seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no happiness and laughter. Minds were not being stimulated and hearts lifted; in fact it appeared to be quite the opposite. It was a horrible place to be.
In my Bible study group, we’ve recently been studying the opening chapters of Romans, and as I walked out of the casino (with as much money in my pocket as I walked in with!) the phrase “God gave them over” (Romans 1:24, 26, 28) came to mind. Like so many in our world, the people in that casino were mired in the depressing consequences of their own sin—God has given them over to their greed and folly. They are under God’s judgement. Yet they don’t seem to see it.
I came across a similar idea to Romans 1 in Psalm 81:12 where God describes Israel’s disobedience and his reaction to it:
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.
But God judges Israel in this way not because he takes pleasure in the irony of people getting what they ask for, but because he longs for them to change:
Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! (v. 13)
Likewise, I took no pleasure at all in seeing people in the casino under a dreadful slavery to sin. It is very hard to take pleasure in it when several of my good friends suffer from the awful impact of gambling on their close family.
How do we help people such as were in the casino to see the judgement they are under, to listen to God, and walk in his ways?
How do we take the light to such dark places, I wonder?
[Oh, now I suppose you want to know why I went to the casino in the first place. Well, we ran out of coins for change at the Equip conference bookstall, and we thought we might be able to exchange some notes for coins at a change machine or cashier in the casino. As it turned out, the casino gaming machines don’t use coins anymore; it’s a minimum of $5 to play apparently. So it was a fruitless trip—other than reminding me of the truth of God’s word, and the need for the light of the gospel to be shone in such places. So perhaps it wasn’t altogether fruitless.]