My Father’s Sins
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"I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Ex. 20:5-6).
The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself (Eze. 18:20).
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These passages offer two perspectives on a perplexing theological question: To what extent can the sins of one generation be charged to another generation? Expressed more personally, can I be held responsible for the sins of my father?
To answer that question, we must distinguish between the guilt of sin and the consequences of sin. By definition, guilt is a function of behavior. The criminal is declared guilty because he committed a crime. Each one of us is guilty of a plethora of sins, and the Lord is right in holding us accountable for our misdeeds, whatever the mitigating circumstances. But guilt cannot be imputed where there is no sin ("Death spread to all men, because all sinned," Rom. 5:12). That's why in every civilized society, the children of a criminal cannot be held liable for the crimes of their father. "The son shall not bear the guilt of the father."
But the law-breaker's children can suffer from the consequences of their father's behavior. An alcoholic's kids may go hungry because of their dad's reckless behavior. A mother's explosive temper can leave emotional scars that will plague her children for the rest of their lives. Whole generations of young people are struggling with serious character flaws because they were raised in dysfunctional homes. Indeed, the iniquities of the fathers will have an impact on their descendants "to the third and fourth generations." The kids are guilty of their own sins, but they were set up by parents who did a lousy job of preparing them for life.
To summarize: My father's sins can explain my current struggles to live right, but they do not excuse them. I have the freedom to examine my own life and make my own decisions, regardless of the mistakes my parents made. I have the ability to rise above my circumstances and make something good of my life, whatever my pedigree. Blaming my parents--or someone else's parents--for what's wrong in my life is a cop-out. I must accept responsibility for my own behavior.
That's why the current frenzy of blaming a whole race of people for the sins of their long-dead ancestors is so destructive and wrong. It does nothing toward healing the problems of the current generation. In fact, it provides a convenient excuse for avoiding responsibility for the real problems of today. Everybody loses.
My father will answer for his own sins, not mine; and I will answer for my own. I must make my decisions accordingly.