This is a tough passage to read in today’s world. Why should we be punished for the sins of our parents. It doesn’t seem fair. But it happens. Read on…
I must say that I received some good wisdom on this passage from a book I’ve been reading called, The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. Here’s the book on Amazon. A.J. is a self proclaimed agnostic. But he wanted to learn more about himself and faith so he ventured into writing this book. As he ponders God, he came across this passage. He likens the relationship that God has with his children and that A.J. has with his own.
If you interpret this passage to mean that a child would be struck down with a disease if his grandfather did something morally wrong or corrupt than such a God would seem cruel. If God is a fair God as the Church teaches, wouldn’t each person be born with a clean slate for themselves to tarnish? But A.J. (and I) don’t think that God is threatening us with such an outcome.
Think about a child. A child’s behavior is learned, usually by their parents. If you as a parent cuss, then get ready to hear those same words coming from the mouth of your three year old. If you cheat on your taxes, you’re teaching little Suzy to do the same. Men, do you ogle women? Chances are, Jr. is going to view women through the same set of glasses as you. I think you get the point. Children, whether they like it or not, often grow up to be the parents that shaped them.
Let’s go back to that verse. God is talking about worshiping other idols. If we worship idols, then God will punish “the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” This could mean that when parents act badly, their bad behavior will be passed down to the next few generations. Consider how the New Living Translation interprets it, “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.”
Do I believe that my children will face some kind of retribution two generations from now if I ignore the speed limit? No. I really don’t. But I do believe that behavior is learned and we pass down our behavior to our children. When they act bad, isn’t it fair to say that there is a part of us acting through them? And isn’t it fair to say that our children will face the consequences of our lifestyle?
Now don’t read too much into this. We are responsible for our own behaviors. Plus, I don’t think this kind of defense would hold up in court. “Your honor, the reason that I stole that loaf of bread is because 75 years ago my great grandfather didn’t return that wallet he found with all the money in it.” (Of course, if you think that kind of defense would work, please let me know when your court date is. I want to be there when try it out.)
I do believe this. I am called to live with Jesus Christ as my measuring stick for my behavior. The more I model Christ, the more the generations that follow me will also model him.
God’s words in Deuteronomy serve more as a love warning than anything else. Your behaviors follow you. You have a responsibility to those that come after you. Change your behavior and you will change for family tree in a way that it will produce abundantly.