Today is Friday, March 6, and it’s the 10th day of our 40-day Lent journey! We are one quarter of the way through our time together of scripture, reflecting on God’s word, and prayer. My name is Gina, and I’ll be sharing the reading with you today.
Scripture: Ezekiel 18:21–28
When I first read this passage from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. How could the Israelite people argue with God about whether it’s fair for people to be forgiven when they repent from their destructive choices and change their lives? Or that those who decide to rebel against God’s good love will experience the painful consequences of their choices?
Why would the Hebrew people have whined, “The Lord isn’t being fair?” It seems fair to me.
Let’s turn to the whole chapter of Ezekiel 18 to gain some broader context for these statements.
The book of Ezekiel was written by God’s prophet to the Hebrew people who had been conquered by a foreign country and carried off as slaves to Babylon. We call this the Babylonian exile. The Bible says this happened to them because they had rebelled for so many generations against God that he finally withdrew his protection, abandoning them to this foreign country and its power.
Ezekiel 18 begins:
“Why do people use this proverb about the land of Israel: The children are punished for their fathers’ sins? As I live,” says the Lord God, “you will not use this proverb anymore in Israel, for all souls are mine to judge—fathers and sons alike—and my rule is this: It is for a man’s own sins that he will die.”
It’s hard for me to understand why the Hebrew people actually argued with this statement, replying to God, “The Lord isn’t being fair!” Who would argue with the idea that each person should reap the consequences of their own choices, and ideally not be punished for something someone else has done?
This passage indicates that the Hebrew people were not taking responsibility for their own actions and for the inevitable consequences that they were suffering. They were trying to pass the blame for their exile and suffering to others, namely prior generations.
It’s such a human thing to do. From the very first story of the Bible, in Genesis, when Adam and Eve knowingly disobeyed God by eating a forbidden fruit, they both shifted blame. Adam blamed Eve for talking him into it, and Eve blamed a serpent for tricking her into doing it.
Fear is what leads us to shift blame. We fear punishment or discipline. We fear embarrassment or humiliation. We fear losing the trust of others. We fear seeing ourselves as we truly are, rather than as we like to think of ourselves. It takes courage to accept responsibility for what we have chosen to do.
Here, the Israelites tried to take the coward’s way out, essentially, saying, “We are innocent! It was our parents and their parents who did wrong, not us. But we are unfairly being blamed and punished!”
Who among us hasn’t, in our childhood, complained that our parent’s discipline isn’t fair? This conversation sounds so much like a petulant child who’s gotten caught in an act of rebellion, and is upset to receive the subsequent discipline.
In response to their accusations that God isn’t being fair, God says, in verses 19-20, that in His justice and mercy, he holds each person responsible for their actions alone.
“‘What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the son pay for his father’s sins?’ No! For if the son does what is right and keeps my laws, he shall surely live. The one who sins is the one who dies. The son shall not be punished for his father’s sins, nor the father for his son’s. The righteous person will be rewarded for his own goodness and the wicked person for his wickedness.”
This seems to be in direct contrast to other scripture passages in which God actually does say that children are punished for their parents’ sins. In some stories, he even does seem to punish entire families for one family member’s sins. (Numbers 14:18; Numbers 16.)
We can make a distinction between the truth that God holds each person accountable for her own choices alone, while at the same time He warns us that our destructive choices always hurt others around us, especially, and most directly, our families and children.
In the 21st century, we broadly accept the idea of generational cycles. Tragically, an abusive parent often raises a child who is so damaged by the abuse that he or she later abuses others. Similarly, the dark slavery of addiction frequently passes from one generation to another. Indeed, children suffer beyond our comprehension from the destructive choices of their parents and guardians. And the cycle continues for many generations.
I take hope from what God passionately argues in this passage: It doesn’t have to be this way! Cycles of sin are not inevitable! They can be broken! A person can receive God’s almighty grace and power over an inheritance of trauma, abuse, addiction, neglect, mental illness, divorce and unfaithfulness, and even generations of rebellion against God.
2 Corinthians 5:17 promises, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
God has the power to break generational cycles of sin and death when we apologize for the part we have played in our own suffering, and the suffering we have caused to others. We can appeal to God’s power and love to take victory over these things.
We can take ownership of the things we ourselves have done wrong, rather than shifting the blame to others. When we do that, we open the door to God’s miraculous transformation that heals us and gives us a fresh start, with victory over our generational brokenness.
Praise God that it doesn’t have to be the way it has been. For, as the one who sits on the throne of heaven says in Revelation 21: 5 “Behold, I am making all things new.”
- Is there any kind of generational sin in my family that has damaged me in some way? Bring this hurtful inheritance before our Father, and ask that He intervene to break the cycle.
- Are there ways I have reacted to, or participated with, this hurt that has perpetuated the cycle of generational sin? Ask God for the strength and courage to take responsibility for your part, and to apologize to God and to others.
- Are there others who are trapped in cycles of generational sin whom I can intercede for? Pray for them now. Ask the Holy Spirit to shatter these strongholds of destruction and bring healing, reconciliation and new life to everyone involved.
Yahweh, Bread of Life:
Thank you for these words of hope that, in your justice and goodness, you judge each of us alone for what we have done. Although we accept the reality that, in our fallen world, we often suffer through no fault of our own because of what others have chosen, thank you that you do not blame or punish us for their choices.
While generational inheritances of sin and death plague us with addiction, abuse, neglect, unbelief and suffering, we have hope in you to defeat these strongholds. You have promised that when we give our broken selves to you, you can make us a new creation. The old things in our lives will be wiped away, and you will plant new things in us.
We throw ourselves on your powerful goodness and mercy. Give us the courage to examine our own part in our suffering, and the suffering of others. Help us to be brave enough and strong enough to apologize for our choices. Please help us to break generational cycles of pain and rebellion so that we, and our families, and communities can experience freedom to live the abundant life you promised in John 10:10.
Thank you for what you are going to do in us and in our families.
We pray all this in the name of Jesus,
The additional scripture readings for today are from:
Watch a video about a high chief who was gripped by addiction and alcohol abuse, having grown up with a father who was addicted. Find out how God broke this cycle and take hope for the people in our lives.
Invite your friends and family to join our 40-day Lent journey by posting a link from our website to your Facebook and Twitter accounts.