God spoke this concept to Moses when he spoke of the consequences of not obeying the Law, of breaking the Covenant He had made with Abraham. Its heart is there in the conversation with Abraham when the Covenant is being made. The basic phrase is: “The sins of the father will be visited upon the son to the fourth, even the fifth generation.” And so it begins.
What does this mean?
I know plenty of Christians that would say it is a cold heard fact of life that if your great-great grandfather “sinned” then you are suffering the results. What results are we talking about? If G-G Granddad was a slaveholder in the south, does that mean I am responsible for that? OR to put it more practically, if he had an adulterous affair does that mean that I am cursed to have an adulterous affair?
Not as cut and dry as that, but at some level, yes, and then again, no. (By the way, this is how most of the “small” things in the Bible tend to be. It’s not as clear and distinct, as we would like it to be. Sorry control freaks).
I know the APA (American Psychological Association) would say it’s not so “religious” as such, but is still evidently true. If you were physically abused as a child by mom or dad you are more prone to abuse your children, and it probably didn’t start with mom or dad, but their parents, etc. And anybody who has spent some time really listening to the story of a recovering abused, or abuser (I don’t know the newest PC term as such) would hear that the APA is pretty much right on.
Let’s throw another piece of chum in the discussion. (A discussion that is obviously one-sided since it is written and I am the only one here right now…but you can respond in the comment section below) American independent, self-sufficient, get-to-itness would say all this talk is really just an excuse to not own up to your mistakes. (which might not be so American anymore, since nowadays it is more hip to blame someone else for you misery than take responsibility for it, do something about it, and what not. And if we want to get political about it, the Republicans are just as guilty as the Democrats of this childish game) Assuming, though that the pre-60’s mentality of self-responsibility still exist, then the comment is often made, “Sins of the father is all good and well. I get that. But when do you stop blaming your parents and take responsibility for your own life?”
Ah, and here is the rub.
I have always lived in the mentality that agrees with the idea that the curse is literal. There are choices for bad, let’s say, that my parents and their parents have made of which I am still feeling, suffering the effects. In the immortal words of Chas Tenenbaum,"Dems da rules, lights out." To get to the nitty-gritty, there are behavioral characteristics I see in me that are clearly my dad or mom…and there are many good ones, but I am focusing on the life-killers. Honestly, it irks me that I have such an inheritance. I know there are ways to pray and live that don’t let those things affect me or the ones around me, etc. And I have relatively concluded that those things are connected to this curse thing and that’s that – nothing more to be done, it’s the hand I’m dealt. But is it?
The other day I was reading a book that made mention of this particular curse in Scripture. What caught me was there are many Rabbis that read this differently than the general Christian outlook has portrayed. They say that God is acknowledging a reality that is a result of sin, of choices made by a father and their affect upon his children. (Once again, showing that God is a much better psychologist than anyone we know, since he was the first to make the observation long before the 19th century.) Not only that, but it’s not an inevitability, according to these Rabbis. Each generation has a choice in the matter whether they will let it continue. (Sorry Calvinist – this one doesn’t fit your paradigm)
So what am I getting at?
Well, it seems the nature of God that as much as our surroundings initially define us, he knows we each individually have a part in the story he is telling that doesn’t have to be the result of other’s choices. It’s like the Script Writer knows the words he wrote for you long before you were chosen to be in the play, but how you will act out, perform those words is in part up to you. It seems that God says, “Uh, yeah, your dad’s dad screwed up and you inherited that mess. It doesn’t mean, though, you have to carry on the inheritance. You aren’t him. I made you for more. Do you want to know what it is?”
How you respond to that last question determines whether the curse continues to be in play or if it is going to stop today, right now. And I got to tell you, it’s not like you live the rest of your days like David Banner trying to restrain the Incredible Hulk. Because that isn’t living, either. (Contrary to old-covenant Christian’s belief that the way to a “godly life” is to not sin by not thinking about sin. Try that one for five minutes and let me know how it’s working for ya)
What provoked this whole diatribe?
It’s been stirring in my head for years, but I was reminded of the reality of it when I found myself living this self-depreciating, your-a-failure kind of thinking. It was oozing into every crevice of my life and relationships. Then God seemed to ask one day, “where do you think that came from?” We explored it and he showed me it was something I had seen my in father, and his father’s eyes, manner, behavior. Then God asked, “You think that is true of you?”
Now it’s taken years of peeling away layers on the ol onion of me to come to the answer I came to. If the question had been asked a few years ago it would have been very different than it is now. God knows that. He’s the one who peeled the layers back.
“No,” is my response.
Then he asks, “So, why do you live like it is?”
Are you getting what’s going on here?
Freedom and life in God’s terms are so very different than mine. And to try and define it all right now would make this longer than it already is, and beside the point currently. This much I find in play: my part in the story HE is telling is far more alive and thriving than the mere words on a script tell. Why DO I live like this if it isn’t set in stone to be true, if the Rabbis were right?
And let me tell you, the more I hear God telling me who I REALLY am, the more I am able to accept how much of it is REALLY who my father is, and his father, and so on. Contrary to the theology of depravity, we are not destined to live a life enduring the shit that came before us.
I must add that this is a reality in process, not settled. Another great rabbinic tradition is that they approach these truths not to settle in an end, but to explore the questions that come from them. So I keep exploring and asking...