‘The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’
– Numbers 14:18
Let the offspring of the wicked, never be
Prepare a place to slaughter his children for the sins of their ancestors;
they are not to rise to inherit the land and cover the earth with their cities.
– Isaiah 14: 20-21
Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. 20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.
-Ezekiel 18: 19-20
So how does it work? Do the sins of our ancestors have consequences for us? These Bible scriptures would seem to say yes and no. There are several other passages on the subject that appear to say yes (Deuteronomy 5:9, Exodus 20:5, Exodus 34:7). Yet still there are others that would seem to say no (Jeremiah 31 29-30, Deuteronomy 24:16, 1 John 1:9).
If you don’t care what the Bible has to say, then I suppose it doesn’t matter. But, if you do believe, as I do, that the Bible is the inspired Word of our Creator then it does matter. However, I am not one of those who takes every word literally. I don’t think God Almighty dictated the books of the Bible. But I do consider the message to be God-breathed and the Truth. Even when, in cases like this the message appears to be mixed.
So how does one reconcile these seemingly contradictory scriptures? Do we pay a price for the sins of our ancestors? And will generations that come after us reap what we have sown? Or is every person’s slate wiped clean when they confess their sins, repent and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? To the first question, how does one reconcile these scriptures, I would answer with much prayer and discernment. To the other three questions, the answer is yes, yes, and yes. Yes, we pay a price for the sins of our ancestors. Yes, those who come after us will reap what we have sown, both good and bad. And Yes, every person’s soul may be saved by confession, repentance and following Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
But in the meantime, we live this life, for a short time, in this world as it is. And, to a large degree this world as it is, as well as each of our own little worlds, has been shaped by those who went before us. Increasingly, science is finding that a great deal of who and what we are is in our genes. We can’t pick our parents, but we live with what they gave us. And what their parents gave to them and back on down the tree, limb by limb. That’s about as arbitrary as it gets. Our hardware is determined before we take our first breath and see the light of day.
And those who raise us, be it parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters or just the village; program us to be who and what we are. With these amazing human brains we also learn how to live, or at least survive. We are constantly receiving and processing information, not only that which is expressed in words and ideas, but information we experience through the physical senses.
Each of us is a complex, beautiful, dangerous, wonderful and tragic creation . Made in the image of our creator, but born imperfect into a fallen world. In God’s image with Adam and Eve’s DNA. With the freedom and the ability to change some things in ourselves and in our world…but not always for the better. And so, we discover fire and the wheel and that two plus two always equals four. We create ways of communicating with each other. We organize ourselves for mutual benefit and survival. Yet “the apple” is always within reach. We make war, we conquer others for the benefit and survival of our tribe. We invent, we innovate, we take that which has been created and transform it to suit our purposes. We make tools for good and weapons for war. We make vessels for travel and discovery and then use them to transport others against their will to labor unwillingly on our behalf. We make machines and generate power to run them, making our lives easier today but at what costs to our children tomorrow?
This world will eventually come to an end. In the meantime, life will go on one way or the other. What we do matters. What we believe about what we do, or should do, or fail to do; matters. Those who come after us may thank us or curse us for what we leave behind. But they will not forget us, even if they try. How will we be remembered?