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Stopping the Pain

Exodus 20:4-5 


"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)

Maxwell is astute in seeing that the dysfunction has been inherited from his family and that he has passed it down the line. He is wise in seeing that the cycle doesn't have to continue. People can change family systems. Which leads me to a powerful truth: Just as a parent's example can influence a child to do wrong, it can also influence them to do right

That's the good news, Children are not bound by the mistakes of their parents. They don't have to repeat the mistakes of their parents. 2 Kings 14:3 "Amaziah did what was pleasing in the Lord's sight, but not like his ancestor David. Instead, he followed the example of his father, Joash." 

I've heard my dad tell the story of a young man in Brazil who came forward and received Christ as his Savior during a series of meetings Dad was preaching there. That night he followed my dad back to his hotel room and stayed until Dad had to ask him to leave so he could get some sleep. The next morning the young man was lying in the hall outside my Dad's door. When Dad asked him why he had slept outside his door all night, he found out the new convert was afraid to go home for fear of what his father would do to him. Spiritualism had been the family religion for generations, and his father feared his curiosity about Christianity would anger the pagan gods.

This young man chose a different path than his father. He was charting a new course for his life.

2 Kings 15:1-3 says, "Uzziah son of Amaziah began to rule over Judah in the twenty-seventh year of the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel. [2] He was sixteen years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-two years. His mother was Jecoliah, from Jerusalem. [3] He did what was pleasing in the Lord's sight, just as his father, Amaziah, had done." NLT 

Just as the Jukes family showed the results of a poor example, the descendants of Jonathan Edwards show the results of a good example. Jonathan Edwards was the son of a godly home. His father was a preacher and before him his mother's father. More than 400 of his offspring have been traced, and they include 14 college presidents, and 100 professors, 100 of them have been ministers of the Gospel, missionaries, and theological teachers. More than 100 of them were lawyers and judges. Out of the whole number 60 have been doctors, and as many more, authors of high rank, or editors of journals." Your family can follow the same healthy pattern.

Our text says, "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," Commenting on this verse, Keil Delitsch said, "The words neither affirm that sinning fathers remain unpunished, nor that the sins of fathers are punished in the children and grandchildren without any fault of their own." (117-118) In other words, the innocent are not punished. Everybody deserves the punishment they get for their sin. 

Ezekiel 18:20 says "The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. (NASB)

Today I'd encourage you to take ownership of your own sins, confess and repent from them so you can receive forgiveness, lest you suffer from them or our children learn to commit them from you. You are responsible for your own life.

Unfortunately, just as a person can choose to reject a bad example, so they can also choose to reject a good one. Many of you were raised well and have a great example to follow-but that doesn't guarantee you will live a righteous life.

2 Kings 16:2 says, Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the Lord his God, as his ancestor David had done. (NLT)

Just because you are a Christian--doesn't guarantee that your children will be Christians-- too! Faith doesn't get passed along genetically--like: blue eyes--or freckles! It has to be handed down--generation to generation--like: a relay team does with a baton--runner to runner!

Every child of God must: receive it--grasp it tightly-- and--run the race! So how's your relationship with the Lord? Do you have the determination to ignore a bad example and stop the pain? Do you have the foresight to follow a good example and live with integrity? The choice is yours.

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