17 February 2017
Euromillions and the meaning of life
This week, Britain's youngest Euromillions winner revealed that she is considering suing lottery bosses, as she believes that she was too young to cope with the stress of winning so much money. Just 17 years old when she won £1 million, Jane Park has said that she often thinks her life would have been better if she had never won.
Did you roll your eyes reading that news? I know I did, at least at first. Certainly neither The Mirror nor The Times had much sympathy. Flicking through a few articles from the past few years, Park seems to have enjoyed the fruits of her wealth. She apparently laughed at the thought of giving the wealth up. Rather than thinking about how to change her lifestyle in order to avoid the negative impact of her wealth, she has effectively rejected her own responsibility for her actions, or the repercussions.
Instead she places the blame on Camelot, which runs Euromillions in the UK. Park says the age limit should be raised from 16 to 18, but would she really have done anything different had she been but a year older when she won? Now aged 21, she seems to continue to enjoy some of the benefits of her money.
Nevertheless, reading the Independent's more sympathetic article, a line from Park's interview with Sunday People struck me: "I have material things, but apart from that my life is empty. What is my purpose in life?" She also notes that just buying things doesn't always make you feel better; it can make you feel worse.
What Park has realised is something that many of us know, though sometimes forget: money doesn't solve all our problems. In fact, the issues at the heart of her unhappiness seem to be ones that many of us would identify with – loneliness and the perception that people judge her and exploit her.
It's easy to mock people with money who whinge about their problems, but how many times do we complain about things that others in the world would find laughable? If my internet goes off for five seconds I despair, but at the Bible college in Uganda where my dad works they are accustomed to the internet disappearing for hours or even days.
#firstworldproblems used to be ironic, but now we use it seriously. And of course, there is a little bit of truth in both usages. Everything is a matter of perspective. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul notes that "people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction" (1 Timothy 6). For some, money genuinely would solve some of their problems. But money – particularly a desire of wealth for wealth's sake, not what can be done with it – also brings temptations that you don't face if you don't have it.
We can judge Park for preferring Benidorm over the Maldives as she can live without judgement there, for making the news of her win public for egotistical reasons, or even for gambling in the first place.
But instead, let's give thanks that she recognises the futility of putting her hope in wealth, "which is so uncertain", and pray that in her loneliness and discontent, she would instead put her hope in God "who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (1 Timothy 6). Let's pray that she would encounter Christians who would speak to her about a God who loves her, who would bring her into their community, and who would help her to answer that question many of us ask ourselves: what is my purpose in life?