You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. … – Deuteronomy 5:9

Last year a horrific case of child abuse came to light in a nearby city. Identical twin girls, 2 years old, were found living in conditions of such squalor and abuse that an investigating police officer vomited from the smell. They were naked and covered with feces and scabs. The girls lived with their mother and grandmother. The toddlers were so identical that the grandmother could only tell them apart by their injuries. “They didn’t seem to think that it wasn’t that unusual, they weren’t that alarmed by it,” said one of the responding officers.

It’s pretty obvious that the “mother” (I use the term loosely) and grandmother of these twins did not have the faintest idea of how to nurture. The mothering instinct was either squelched early or never existed at all. Do you think these little girls were ever nursed at their mother’s breast? Held by a loving father and waltzed around the room? Rocked and sang to by their grandmother?

Of course not. These poor kids are clearly the neglected and abandoned offspring of a mother who undoubtedly never learned any nurturing skills from her own mother. I wonder how many generations have passed since a real mom was on the scene? Or a real dad? And when these poor girls reach adulthood, will they repeat the cycle? Or were they rescued in time? What a pitiful – as in, full of pity – scenario.

Now refer to that passage from Deuteronomy at the top of the column – “punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”

That’s a pretty heavy passage, isn’t it? How can a loving God punish children yet unborn for something awful done by their parents and grandparents?

But then it occurred to me: God doesn’t do that. He doesn’t have to. We do it all by ourselves. By the stupid decisions we make, we easily punish our children to the third and fourth generation. Descendants who do not yet exist are impacted by our sins.

 How? Easy. Just think of what your children – and then their children – will learn from you. Do they learn hatred? Gossiping? Bitterness? Dishonesty? A sense of entitlement? Even our political affiliation has an impact on our children and our children’s children to the third and fourth generation. 

How we raise our children – the values we impart – the habits we encourage or discourage – the behaviors we model – the traditions we provide – the work ethic we emphasize – can impact several generations after us. How’s that for a scary thought?

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My mother grew up under horrible poverty with a brutal alcoholic father. It would have been very easy for her to pass that legacy on to her children by marrying a brutal alcoholic man. But she didn’t. She was wise enough to recognize that breaking that legacy was up to her. She married a good man and raised four secure children. Because of her choice in a husband over 54 years ago, her only daughter (me) married a good man; and now my husband and I are raising secure children. That legacy will be passed onto our future grandchildren, a generation my mother is unlikely to ever see but whose stability can be traced back to her decisions. See how it works?

God gave us both the curse and the blessing of free will and free choice. We have the freedom to spoil our children rotten and teach them they are entitled to whatever they want without working for it. We have the freedom (until we’re caught, that is) to beat our children and teach them that love for their parents is entwined with pain and hatred.

 We can teach our children that God is nothing but an invisible pink unicorn in the sky, utterly unworthy of worship and deserving of mockery. We can teach our children that those with reverence for the Deity are stupid and mentally deficient. We can teach our children that religion is an opiate for the masses and that intelligent, educated people have no need for God. 

We can choose to marry a bad man and so teach our daughters that men are to be feared and hated. When it comes time for them to marry, they will have no basis for choosing good men, and that curse is passed on to future generations.

 We can choose to teach our sons that girls are not to be respected and they should feel free to release their animal urges upon them. This lack of respect translates into unfaithfulness in marriage with resounding implications for future generations.

See how it works? A curse indeed.

Or … we can choose to raise our children with discipline and faithfulness. We can choose to set the example of marital fidelity. We can choose to insist upon respect and appropriate behavior from our sons and daughters that will be passed on to their own children.

 We have the choice to teach our children reverence for God. We can teach them that belief and surrender to the Deity takes away our ego-induced need to control others. We can teach them about Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf.

 When you think this through – how strong the impacts of our behaviors and our choices and our decisions are on future generations – you’ll be bowled over with the responsibility to make those behaviors, choices and decisions good ones, ones that will be beneficial to our descendants.

For those with rotten upbringings who carry baggage from bad parents (like my mother did), you have the power to affect your descendants by raising your kids better than you yourself were raised. When my mother was beaten as a child, she vowed through gritted teeth never to do that to her kids. And she didn’t. As a result, her choices are impacting future generations yet to come.

God does indeed grant us the ability to gift our descendants with either our sins or our blessings. Our free will. Our choices.

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