30 July 2010

Question of the Week:
Generational Sin?

by Anne Lang Bundy

Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present and future. We make discoveries about ourselves."
~ Gail Lumet Buckley

"The LORD God [is] merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation."
~ Exodus 34:6-7 (NKJV)

"Does this biblical curse still exist today?"
Bud Ezekiel

As surely as the Lord is merciful, gracious, longsuffering, abounding in goodness and truth—yes, sin is indeed visited upon successive generations.

This is most obvious when people imitate the same sin they observe in the world, often in a context which makes sin look normal. Another explanation for the same negative behaviors occurring in multiple generations is genetic predispositions being passed on in the flesh. (Those related to some forms of mental illness are one example; the human disposition to sin is another.)

But what about spiritual factors? The Bible says God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13). When otherwise inexplicable forces seem to be powerfully at work for evil, presence of the devil (a demon) is a possibility. Evil spiritual forces may even follow a generation in the person separated from a parent, such as by death or adoption.

The person belonging to Christ is inhabited by the Holy Spirit, and need not fear being possessed by a demon. Yet we can still be influenced, tempted, and attacked by demons:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
~ 1 Peter 5:8 (NKJV)

God has not left us powerless against sin:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
~ 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV)

Iniquity is visited upon our generation by the devil, the world, and our own flesh desires. Knowing that the devil is an adversary out to get us should prompt daily training with the spiritual armor provided by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:10-18). Such practice readies us to defeat temptation, regardless of its source.

A closing thought is that with God, even His curse works for our good.

Christians will face sin which feels irresistible. We are then frustrated by seeming inability to overcome sin and its inevitable suffering. But like a pregnant woman compelled by love to overcome the temptation to take in unhealthy substances which can hurt her child, the realization that our sin hurts others besides ourselves works together with love to compel us to muster the resistance we cannot otherwise find.

Those in Christ are members of one body. Any sin to which we yield is visited upon our natural and spiritual family. There is no such thing as a sin we can "get away with."

Tomorrow (Saturday) on Building His Body: window">Generational Blessing. Next week's question will be about the different words for sin / kinds of sin, and about overcoming sin. Please see my follow-up comment below.

© 2010 Anne Lang Bundy
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  1. thank you, Anne! when i read this 45 years ago, i suspected it to be the case for me. as the years passed by, things were taking place in our family that left me no doubt. i asked a lot of Christians about it and told them of my beliefs...but they rejected it completely. while staying staying with a friend in Beijing, pastors of the underground church had come in for training. two brothers had come from Perth, Australia to give these pastors some training. i'd decided to join them that day. when they read this verse i jumped out off my cot/seat in excitement. later they all prayed for me and then told me my countenance had changed. when i went back and told my house group the story they just gave me a strange look and remained silent. later on after the fallout with the China ministry...i threw everything out the window. been asking myself for a long time was the experience real or not. was it a coincidence? it was definitely shaking my faith in Him concerning this. the doubt is gone and my faith in Him increased. i do have another question though. what's the difference between iniquity and transgression? you say iniquity comes from the devil. sin comes from us. is it named transgression because it's all against God?

  2. I have no doubt of the veracity of generational sin, or as some prefer to call it "generational curses".

    I am the first man on my father's side of the family to profess Christ as Lord for at least five generations (the family tree disappears after that) and there were a lot of "bad men" going up my family tree. Alcoholism,insanity, incest, and even murder has characterized the men of my family looking up that sordid family tree.

    One thing that one must remember when considering "generational curses" is that we have the power through Jesus Christ to break those patterns of sin and thereby break those generational curses.

    My children are the first children carrying my last name (in my family) to have a Christian father in at least 120 years. I have prayed over my children and asked God to break those sins of my fathers and have those sins stop with me.

    One interesting result of my conversion to Christianity is that the breaking of that curse is actually working UP the tree. My 73 year old father, who has never been a Christian, has begun to ask me about my faith and has actually committed to go to a Christian retreat with me this spring. He has yet to publicly confess Christ and be baptized, but I can see how God is working through me to get to him.

    The curses are real, but the power of Christ can overcome them. All it takes is one person to call on the name of Jesus and ask God to break those generational curses. I am witnessing it in my life.

  3. I'm fairly certain I've needed to read this for a long time. During my miscarriage I had people say the oddest things. One friend...friend told me maybe it was a result of a sad choice my sister made (won't divulge specifics out of respect). I grappled with that. I still do. I just couldn't see my God punishing me for my sister's sin. Complicated. I may send a personal email to describe more.

    Sending LOVE.
    ~ Wendy

  4. Wow.

    Your post is compelling Anne, and I see the Spirit at work all over it, because look at these responses. Bud, Randy, Wendy....powerful, awesome, touching, hurting. My heart is bursting and breaking at the same time.

    My ancestors came on the Mayflower...pilgrims, people of God who, yes, made some strange and regretable judgments, but nonetheless sought after Him.

    I thank God for my Christian relatives. At the same time, I don't want to "rest on my laurels", or "inherit" a love of God--I want it like Randy has it, as if I were first in many many generations to love the Lord. I am convinced the times we live in require that kind of committment....as if I, too, were on the Mayflower, living in dangerous and poor conditions, risking everything to worship my God.

    May He bless you all richly.


    If it wasn't absolutely clear in the post: we are not powerless against sin, no matter what word is used for it, no matter its source in our lives.

    I've added a note to the above text noting that I'll make next week's question about the various words for sin / kinds of sin, and about overcoming sin.

  6. Bud ~

    I'll do a thorough study for next week's post about the various words used to describe different kinds of sin. Off the top of my head, I'd define "sin" as a broad and generic word for all deed, word, thought, and feeling which opposes the will of God. "Iniquity" is the sin inherent to our nature, or the sin within. "Transgression" is more willful, rebellious action against God.

    Hope that holds you for a week. : )

  7. Randy ~

    You've observed this as well? There's no doubt, as one looks through the Bible, that the actions of fathers not only reappeared in their sons but were often also magnified.

    One thing that one must remember when considering "generational curses" is that we have the power through Jesus Christ to break those patterns of sin and thereby break those generational curses.

    Absolutely! This post didn't go into detail about that vital truth, so I'll address it next week. Perhaps the very first step necessary is simply renouncing sin verbally, to speak against it. The power of words is often underestimated.

  8. Thank you Anne,

    I think that scripture shows that God is rarely punitive ... although we know from scripture that someday there will be judgement.

    There are many natural consequences to sin. When we stick our hands on a hot stove, our hands are burned because the stove is hot, not because God is punishing us. In the same way sin is rewarded.

    In my mind generational sin woks much the same way. The pain experienced from sin often begets more sin.

  9. Wendy ~

    Many Bibles use the word "punish" rather than "not clearing" and "visit" for the above text. I had actually checked on that before I published this. One of the reasons I prefer the NKJV is that it tends to be more literal. The word "punish" is not used in the original Hebrew.

    May I be very clear: God Himself does not punish us for another person's sin. Sin itself always brings on suffering—to God, to offender, to victim, and to others connected to the offender.

    We are not punished for the sins of our parents. Their sins are visited upon us, whether by example, spiritual DNA passed along to us, or the presence of demonic spirits. Though we definitely suffer for our parents' sins, it is their sin itself rather than God that brings on suffering.

    If there is a connection between you and your sister, I'd be far more likely to link it back to your ancestors or environment in some way. But I'd be quite reluctant to judge that a connection is present if it is not immediately obvious.

    I hope you do email me. You know how much I care.

  10. Russ ~

    Thank you for affirming the principle of my last comment. We must have been typing at the same time. (I didn't see your comment until after I posted mine.)

  11. Gwen ~

    My heart has been shattered over this issue. I look at my own family, learn of past generations' sins, and weep when I see how they have played out in my generation. I see that David sinned with Bathsheba, was genuine and thorough in his repentance, yet could not avoid that his sexual immorality and murder led to the deaths of three of his sons, and to the extreme sexual indulgences of Solomon which eventually led to idolatry and the split of the Israelite nation.

    I tend to be so overwhelmed on this issue that I feel powerless against generational sin, especially when I see our children imitating the visible behavior of my husband John and me, and I then wonder how much of our internal struggles will also be visited upon them?

    It truly is heart-breaking—until one remembers that the power of the Holy Spirit is greater than the power of sin. He Who is in us is greater than he who is in the world.

    The response to recognizing the reality of generational sin is the blessing that I mentioned in the post: we are compelled to fight all the harder against sin, lest it be visited upon those we love most. We are compelled to abide closely with the Lord, to overcome the sin and break its curse.

    The day is on the horizon when the Lord will finally destroy all curse of sin. Until then, it is vital that we do not stray from Him if we are to be daily, increasingly set free from the curse. He gave His life not only for our eternal freedom, but also for this temporal blessing.

  12. I'm watching fascinated from the sidelines. Enjoyed the post and the comments are tragic and enlightening as well. I worked in psych long enough to understand that chaotic patterns repeat in families simply for the reason they rear themselves to begin with. Once a member does something horrific such as suicide it ups the odds of some other family member repeating this action using the rationale 'that's how we take care of problems in our family.' I assume the same is true for alcohol and divorce, you name it. We are much stronger examples to one another than we can ever know. Sometimes we are satan's greatest tool. Tragic yet true.

  13. Such a thought provoking post sis, has my heart, and mind really working overtime. I love you.

  14. T ~ Tragic is a fitting description. But we pass along blessing as well. We must be aware of both.

    Denise ~ May the Lord use these words for healing everywhere you need it.