A novel idea

At times I have thought about taking my fantasies of winning the lottery (or becoming a major league outfielder, either one) and making a novel. By sharing those thoughts with you today, I am breaking one of the cardinal rules of authorship: Never tell anyone what you are planning to write, because you will lose your enthusiasm for the topic once you have shared it. But I am coming to terms with the reality that I will not live long enough to write all the books I have in mind, so I might as well share some of that material here.

I envision the novel as having a character unstuck in time, like Billy Chapel in Slaughterhouse Five. That way I can move back and forth across this life-changing event and show both sides of the character’s fortune, what life was like without all that money, and what life was like with all that money.

We join our hero (who so far is unnamed) in the parking lot of a grocery store, where he is carrying a bag of groceries to his car. He sees a scrap of paper blowing in the wind, and he picks it up to drop it in a trash can, because that is the kind of person he is. Before he reaches the trash can, though, he notices that the scrap is a lottery ticket, and that the drawing for which this ticket is eligible will be that same night. So he slips the ticket into his pocket and doesn’t think about it any more. The next day he opens his newspaper, sees the lottery numbers chosen the night before, remembers the ticket, and pulls it out of his pocket. All the numbers match. He has won the grand prize, more than three hundred million dollars, and he never even bought a ticket.

A few days later the lottery commissioner presents him with a large replica of the check he will eventually receive. During the interview, our hero carelessly comments about finding the ticket in the parking lot. “I’ve never been a supporter of the lottery,” he confesses candidly. “Even after winning all this money, I don’t recommend that anyone buy lottery tickets. Look at all the people who bought lots of tickets and didn’t win a dime.”

More than a dozen people immediately claim that they bought the winning ticket and dropped it in the parking lot. Each wants a share of the prize, up to half the winnings. Hero hires a private investigator who meets with each of the claimants, then reviews security tape from the store. Only three of the people making the claim have any evidence that they actually bought a ticket. Hero pays the investigator and then meets with the three viable claimants. He reminds them that if he gives money to all three of them, he will be rewarding two liars. That he does not want to do. With Solomonic wisdom, he says that he will give a portion of the winning to whichever of them asks the smallest amount from him. One immediately asks for one million dollars, another counters with $950,000, and the next suggests $925,000. After a couple more rounds of diminishing requests, one of the three drops out. The other two have brought their demands down to about ten thousand dollars when the third one says, “Me, I’d be content to get back the two dollars I spent on the ticket.” Hero pays him the two dollars, and the others go away, threatening legal action. None is ever taken.

So how does our hero spend his winnings? I’ll cover that in a post or two next week. J.

God’s name

God says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (or, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God”) (Exodus 20:7).

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use magical arts, lie, or deceive by God’s name, but call upon it in times of trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.”

Salvageable adds: Notice that in this and all the other commandments, Luther ties our obedience to our fear of God and our love for God. Because we cannot earn anything from God by our obedience, our efforts to live according to his commandments are part of our relationship with the Lord who has washed away our sins, purifying us, and making us acceptable in the sight of God. The commandments help us to imitate Jesus, since he lived a life of pure righteousness, faithfully following all these commandments.

In the narrow sense, God’s name is Yahweh (or Jehovah), the special name that means “I am.” In a more general sense, God’s name is anything that he is called: God, Lord, Jesus, Christ, and the many other names that belong to him. In the broadest, sense, God’s name is anything that teaches us about him or reminds us of him, including the Bible, church buildings, and crosses.

People insult God when they use his name to punctuate their conversation, declaring by God’s name how hot it is, or how happy or angry they are, or how much it hurts to drop a book of boxes on one’s foot. The roofer who worked on my house some years ago sounded like a very holy man, using God’s names in every sentence he spoke. On the other hand, he was neither praying to God nor witnessing about him. But, as Luther indicates, God’s name can be misused in other ways that are even worse than thoughtless and careless utterances of his name.

We should not curse. To curse is to wish harm on someone else. “I hope you fall down the stairs and break your neck” is a curse. The worst thing we can wish for anyone is eternal condemnation and punishment. Therefore, when a person tells another person or object to “go to hell” or says “damn you” or describes someone or something as “god-damned,” that person is cursing. (Other obscene language has come to be known as cursing as well, but Luther is using the word with its original meaning.) Only God can judge and decide who will go to hell. We have no right to make that decision for him, not even while driving on the expressway.

We should not swear. To swear is to use God’s name to back a promise. Luther taught that the government can require us to swear—when we bear witness in court, or when we take an important job with the government, for example. In our daily conversation, swearing is unnecessary and insults God’s name. We should be honest enough with the people who know us that they require no oath from us to prove that we are telling the truth. When we say yes, we should mean yes; and when we say no, we should mean no. If people can trust us to speak the truth, swearing is unnecessary.

We should not use God’s name for magical arts. Magic is part of many pagan religions, in which people use special words, gestures, ingredients, and objects to try to control the world. We are not to use God’s name in that way. His name is holy, but it has no magic power. We cannot control God or the world around us by using God’s name in a special way. In the broadest sense, people misuse God’s name when they believe that wearing a cross or carrying a Bible keeps them safe from certain kinds of harm. These things are holy because they remind us of God and teach us about him, but we should not look to them for magical power over the world.

We should not use God’s name to lie or deceive anyone. Luther says “deceive” as well as “lie” because he knows there are ways we can trick someone into believing a lie without actually lying. To claim that one has a message from God when one has no such message is a serious sin. Those who have made careers and become wealthy by using God’s name to lie and to deceive others face severe judgment when they finally meet God face to face.

It might seem that we can never misuse God’s name if we never speak his name. Neglect is also abuse. Luther says we should call upon his name in times of trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. God wants to hear our prayers. He wants us to talk to him about what matters most to us. He calls us to praise and thank him, not because he wants to be flattered, but because he wants us to remind ourselves how good he is and how many good things he has done for us. Of course we also use God’s name to tell other people about him. We praise him to others as we speak of his grace and mercy and forgiveness and as we describe the victory Jesus won against all our enemies. Other people need to hear these things, and God expects us to use his name as we share this faith and hope. J.