[May 06]--It’s My Parents’ Fault!

1 Kings 11:9-13

I’ve mentioned this before and discussed it briefly, but I thought this was a good place to examine it in a bit more detail. The question I’m referring to is whether we’re punished for our parents’ sins. Like most deep theological questions, there’s no simple “yes” or “no” answer to that one.

First off, we have to acknowledge that we’re coming to the Bible with an Western/American point of view. We pride ourselves on individualism and our concern about individual human rights. That’s why American Christians have to overcome a “Jesus and me” type of mentality that overlooks who we are in the Body of Christ. The idea that we’re punished for the sins of others is repugnant to us.

To be sure, there are verses in Scripture which might sound as if God punishes us for the sins of others. Exodus 34:6-7, one of my favorite passages of all time, ends with God saying about himself that “he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." Actually, though, a more literal translation like the NASB renders it as “visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren. . .” which is a bit more vague. God certainly had no problem with dishing out punishment on sinners which sometimes affected their own children. The most famous example is God’s judgment on the Canaanites: The Lord specifically told the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child within those borders, showing no mercy.

On the other hand, there is counter-evidence in Scripture. The book of Ezekiel directly addressed this by warning that “The soul who sins is the one who will die." The whole point of chapter 18 is that God will judge each person individually for what he does, not what his parents did. And of course the picture of the Final Judgment is that each one of us will answer for his own actions before God, not someone else’s.

I think two points need to be made here. First, it’s a fact of life that sometimes people undergo bad consequences for their actions, but any type of “judgment” you see on a whole family in the Bible was a temporal judgment, not an eternal one. In other words, any collective judgment was limited to this life, not the next one. In this world, unfortunately, we suffer not only for our own personal sin but also because of others’.

The second point that needs consideration is based on today’s passage. We are quick to complain when we suffer because of others’ bad decisions, but what about the good decisions? Solomon personally benefited from the godliness of his father. You can visit Arlington Cemetery, in Washington D.C., and see the graves of thousands of people who bravely made the choice to sacrifice their lives for the freedom and benefit of future generations. This country was founded by a few men who pledged their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” in order to face down the most powerful nation in the world. And of course the biggest example of this principle is the Cross. Sometimes we gain an advantage from people who made good decisions on our behalf.

I promise you, trying to figure out all the theology here will give you a headache. Just be sure you understand two things: 1) My spiritual condition affects not only me but people around me, and 2) When I give an accounting to Christ one day, the subject of discussion will be ME and MY choices, not someone else.

Lord Jesus, I need your grace so much, not only to forgive me but to change me. Please.

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