Busy shoppers in a grocery are suddenly made aware of a serious altercation between a Mother and her child:
"But I want them!"
"No, Honey, they are filled with sugar and have no food value."
"BUT I WANT THEM!"
As this conflict escalates in intensity and volume, it becomes both embarrassing and frustrating to onlookers who have had their serene shopping experience so rudely interrupted.
Later, as the child in victory over his Mother fills the shopping cart with numerous delicacies as his spoils of domestic war, adult spectators cringe at the young rebel's victory over his mother's will, and shake their heads in grief over what they anticipate for that child's future.
Yet other youngsters are raised in the violent and impoverished home of a drunken parent, whose regular, abusive fits of temper or excess make life a nightmare for every family member. Still others are raised in "modern homes" in which parents have been deceived by various "Pied Pipers" of the social sciences who have encouraged permissiveness and indulgence for their offspring. The rod and reproof would be criticized as Neanderthal, "cave man" parenting, which would produce aggressive tendencies in adulthood.
What can we prognosticate for children of dysfunctional or abusive homes and children of parents who allow their children to grow like weeds? Will they automatically repeat the sins of their incompetent parents? Will they similarly fail as their parents failed? Certainly many will.
Sin Has a Cumulative Effect
Scripture clearly indicates a cumulative effect of sin: "For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the Fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me" (Exodus 20:5-6, 34:6-7). Assuming no repentance on the part of any family member, a tragic, downward spiral occurs in the offending family, with destructive effects on each generation. In fact, the degrading and escalating effect of sin would guarantee more outlandish sin in each succeeding generation. Whereas in their own personal lives, parents may flirt with the bounds of propriety, sinful sons and daughters will radically move the ancient landmarks set by their fathers with utter disdain for the moral compass and boundaries which their parents only tested.
Any soul of average discernment, and who has lived several generations, can see the degrading, escalating and cumulative effects of sin in our country. But must we automatically expect this sordid outcome? Are we all robots, doomed in a fatalistic, lockstep track from which we cannot extricate ourselves? One would think so as we listen to some believers.
Shifting Blame Is Not New
Many of our girls excuse their sin because of the sins, failures and habits of their parents. But this blame shifting is not new. Adam started it by blaming God for the woman He gave him. Eve joined his refrain and blamed the serpent. Excusing self because of the character flaws and failures of others is part of the freight carried with the lower nature. Ancient Israel tried this same tactic, and even became so convinced of its validity, they coined a proverb: "The Fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Ezekiel 18:2). In other words, we are suffering because of the sins and failures of our parents.
Propagandists have long known that if a lie is repeated often enough, it takes on vestiges of veracity, and undiscerning minds begin to accept it as truth. Our depraved nature is willingly ignorant in this area, and finds great comfort in accepting such a quaint and catchy proverb. What a relief to our conscience to conclude: "I'm not so bad after all, and the problems I do have are because of the failures of my parents." "Just think what I could have been had I not been so unfortunate as to be saddled with such faulty parents!"
God Holds Us Accountable
However, God will not allow us to live in such a fanciful world contrived by the flawed thinking of our depraved hearts. In Ezekiel 18:5-23, the Lord takes away the foundation of our self-justification, and reveals we are wicked because we choose to be, not because of influences or forces outside ourselves such as fallible parents.
In this passage, the Lord emphasizes the personal accountability of choice and specifically denies that a soul is doomed to repeat the sinful habits of his parents.
In Ezekiel 18:5-13, we are introduced to the example of a righteous man who has a son who fails to live righteously, and in fact chooses to deliberately reject the Godly example of his father and instead follow the inclinations of his lower nature. What is God's assessment? "Shall he then live? He shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him" (Ezekiel 18:13).
Later in Ezekiel 18:14-20, we see the opposite extreme. In this instance, a father is a wretched example for his son, choosing to live a wicked, profligate and sensuous life. Is this son locked into a helpless and hopeless future because of parental failure? Quite to the contrary: God points out that if this son takes note of his father's sins, and purposes in his heart to be different than his father, choosing to live a God-pleasing life, he will not be punished for his father's failures. ". he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live" (Ezekiel 18:17).
Individual choice and accountability is the rule in God's Kingdom, not an unbroken and inescapable chain of generational sin and punishment. Ezekiel 18:20 states this principle well: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him."
Repentance is the Key
In Ezek. 18:21-23, personal repentance is shown to be the exclusive way of escape from God's judgment. Regardless of personal failure as a parent or as a child, any soul choosing to repent will find refreshing, cleansing wells of God's mercy and forgiveness. It is not God's delight to judge and condemn, but to restore and reclaim. Therefore, only the stubborn, obstinate heart of man consigns him to experience judgment. He is personally, individually responsible for his fate regardless of the peccability and culpability of his parents.
Personal responsibility as a ruling principle in God's economy is illustrated more than once in Scripture. "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers, every man shall be put to death for his own sin." (Deut. 24:16).
In 2 Kings 14:6, the Deut. 24:16 text is repeated as a reason to explain Amaziah's actions. When he took the throne, he executed the murderers of his father, but he deliberately allowed the children of the murderers to live because of this ruling principle of God's economy. Other passages such as 2 Chron. 25:4, Jer. 31:29-30 and Isa. 3:10-11 illustrate the same truth of personal responsibility.
It is on the above basis that no one can legitimately abort a child who has been conceived as a result of rape or incest. Just as the son of a murderer cannot be executed, neither should the child of a rapist or of one committing incest.
Our Future Depends On Our Choices
The perfect, just and impartial judgment of God (Romans 2:9,11) removes the strident complaints against one's parents as a justification for personal sin. No doubt long litanies of inadequacies can be documented in the testimony of a parent. However, that son or daughter can still choose to live right and please God. One may evoke sympathetic emotions from friends, neighbors, relatives and counselors because of the awful parents one may have, but you can still choose to live a different, God-pleasing life. Rahab did, and so did Abraham and Ruth. In their lives, all they knew was idolatry and heathen behavior, but each chose to live for God instead of following the example of their parents and family.
A child with improper or permissive upbringing may have significant obstacles to overcome, but he can do it by the grace of God! He does not have to repeat the sins and habits of his parents. If he instead chooses to blame the faults of his upbringing for his poor spiritual condition, he will find an unsympathetic God, for He has already spoken clearly on this issue.