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Stopping the Pain

Exodus 20:4-5 

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"You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. [5] "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, NASB 

What does verse five mean? What does it mean that God will visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children for several generations? Is it fair that God would punish children for a sin their father committed? Though I'll be quick to admit that I don't understand everything about this text, there are a few things I know for sure. I know that a parent's example can lead a child into sin. Look at 1 Kings 15:1-4 "Abijam began to rule over Judah in the eighteenth year of Jeroboam's reign in Israel. [2] He reigned in Jerusalem three years. His mother was Maacah, the daughter of Absalom. [3] He committed the same sins as his father before him, and his heart was not right with the Lord his God, as the heart of his ancestor David had been. [4] But for David's sake, the Lord his God allowed his dynasty to continue, and he gave Abijam a son to rule after him in Jerusalem." (NLT) 

I recently read an accounting by A.T. Pierson into the linage of an infamous criminal family, the Jukes. This is a family with a long line of criminal activity. "A total of 1,200 descendants have been traced of this prolific family tree. Some 400 of these were physically self-wrecked. 310 professional paupers, 130 convicted criminals, 60 habitual thieves and pick-pockets and 7 murderers; while out of the whole 1,200 only 20 ever learned a trade, and of these half of them owned it to prison discipline." Each of these individuals chose their lifestyle and committed their own sins, but certainly these overwhelming numbers show that parents can lead their children into a lifestyle of sin. Or to put it another way, pain can run in families.

Besides repeating their sins, children often repeat the mistakes of the parents John Bradshaw popularized the term "dysfunctional family" in his books and in his national televised PBS series. It is impossible to summarize in a sentence what that term means, but the thrust of it is that families are not functioning as families are supposed to function. Instead of love, trust, respect, freedom, and encouragement, they are characterized by conflict, distrust, shame, bondage, and discouragement. The first component of dysfunctional families, according to Bradshaw, is that they are a part of a multi-generational process. Dysfunctional families create dysfunctional individuals who marry other dysfunctional individuals and then create new dysfunctional families. In other words, a cycle or a pattern of pain is established. 

At the end of the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the daughter who hated going to Greek School forces her own daughter to go. Not because she wants to inflict the same pain on her daughter that she felt growing up, but because she didn't know what else to do. It was the family way. Unfortunately, there are times when the family way is more devastating than being made to feel different. Sometimes it is harmful, painful or even destructive. 

Not only can we teach our children to sin, part of our punishment may be to watch our children repeat our mistakes. In his book, Winning Attitudes, John Maxwell writes, "From my earliest recollections I do not remember a compliment or affirmation from my father. His father also had thought it unmanly to express affection or even appreciation. My grandfather was a perfectionist who worked hard and expected everyone else to do the same without positive reinforcement. And since he was neither positive nor relational, he had constant turnover in employees. Because of my background it has been difficult for me to encourage my family. This critical and negative attitude has hindered my work. I raised five children and lived a Christian life before them. Sadly, it is easier for them to recognize my love for God than my love for them. They are all starved for positive affirmation. The tragedy is that they have received this bad attitude trait, and now I see them passing it down to my precious grandchildren. Never before have I been so aware of catching an attitude from surrounding conditions. Obviously, this wrong attitude has been passed along for five generations. It is now time to stop it! Today I made a conscious decision to change. This will not be done overnight, but it will be done. It will not be accomplished easily, but it will be accomplished! (Maxwell, Winning Attitude, 51)
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