I’ve seen several people in my counseling office over the past few weeks who are deeply concerned about the idea that God will punish children into the third and fourth generations for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers.
That’s not the meaning of the biblical passages ((Exodus 20:5-6; 34:6-7; Numbers 14:18; Jeremiah 31:29; Ezekiel 18:2; Job 21:19).
If the passages are studied in their context, it becomes clear that God is saying that sinful fathers will have sinful children. It’s the human condition, part of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Often, the sins of the children will tend to be the same sins that the fathers committed–tendencies passed down through the generations.
Every generation has the opportunity to stop the cycle of any particular sin. I have clients whose ancestors back into the great-great grandparents were guilty, for example, of abusing alcohol. My client has decided he will not become an alcoholic, and therefore refuses to touch the stuff. His decision often grieves his relatives, who are fully participating in the sins of their fathers/uncles/grandfathers/great- grandfathers.
It’s an interesting thing that we tend to resent family members who break a chain of sin, thinking they’re snooty and self-righteous. I suppose, sometimes, they are. It can be very easy to fall into that way of thinking when one has refused to participate in generational sin. Or maybe they just love God enough to be willing to obey Him, in spite of the relatives.
In any case, the concern is that the children will be called to account for their fathers’ sins, and that is not the teaching here. The truth? We will all stand before God, stripped of our lies and our pride. We will answer for our own sins; we will be called to account for our own disobedience, but not that of our fathers OR our own children. Each individual is answerable to God for the choices hes has made.
A prodigal child will not be able to point a accusing finger at a mother or father, blaming them for his choices. We will not be able to fool God, no matter how effective our lies may have been in life.
No, you will not answer for your fathers’ sins. You will answer for your own. You will not answer for your children’s sins. They will have their own moment before God, and will answer for their own choices.
I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll have enough to deal with without burdening myself with anyone else’s sin.