I can remember a few times growing up where either my brother or I would make the choice to misbehave. It’s shocking, really, but confession is good for the soul. Anyway, so we would be given the option to straighten up or risk losing the opportunity to participate in the family activity that day, whether it was bowling, mini golf, a movie, or whatever. The problem with having two kids involved is that if one child is unable to go to the activity, the whole family ends up staying home… And that happened a few times. Is that fair? Should the whole family be punished for the actions of one member?
Our justice system, in theory, is designed upon individual responsibility. Whoever does the crime does the time. For the most part, this is absolutely right. I mean, it wouldn’t make sense for a whole family to end up in jail because one member decided to run down the main thoroughfare robbing food trucks wearing nothing but his skivvies.
But is the family free of consequences? Not really. I mean, how many families have you seen broken and suffering because a family member has been convicted and sentenced. How many children wonder where a parent has gone and has trouble understanding their situation? How many children deal with abuse, alcoholism, the effects of drugs, or neglect?
So in Exodus 34, when God’s traits are listed, He is called forgiving, compassionate, blessing families to the thousandth generation. We like that part. We don’t like a little further down where God is described as not acquitting the guilty and punishing to the third and fourth generation. But what does it mean?
It means sin isn’t fair. The consequences of sin aren’t just individual. Western Culture (an academic term which you can probably read as “the way Western Europe, Britain, the US and Canada think”) has bought its own story that if a person makes a mistake it is his and his alone. “You do you,” is a common phrase. This is where we get the idea of relativistic morality, another academic term that roughly translates to “I get to decide what’s right and wrong for me.”
The problem with this type of morality is that it leaves off how our actions affect others. Sure, we generally only see the effects of our actions on ourselves, but that just means we’re horribly nearsighted. An abusive parent has much further reaching consequences than just one child. Addiction slowly wears away at relationships and health, which affects more than the addict. Racism and hatred are more far-reaching in their consequences than heated dinner table arguments. Children pick these things up, figure they’re the way life works, and adopt them into their own lives.
Children of addicts can become addicts themselves. Children of abusers can become abusers themselves. Children exposed to hatred can adopt that hatred themselves. Many don’t, but they have to fight hard to keep away.
Sin is like a virus rather than a punch. A punch affects one person and can heal quickly. A virus infects others and takes time, and often outside help, to recover.
On the other hand, good deeds aren’t fair either… blessings go to the thousandth generation, benefiting those years down the line! The whole system may not be fair, but it’s actually more skewed toward blessings than sin.
What are you handing down to your children? Are you handing down sins or blessings? How are you escaping the pain you might be carrying?