Monday, 22 April 2013

The Verse - Ezekiel 18:20

The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:20)

Sorry for the delay in posts. I've been feeling a little under the weather recently so have been somewhat lacking in motivation.

Today's verse might seem like a curious choice, but it's something I've been mulling over for a while now. Essentially, it is the question of whether or not parents' sins have any effect on their children - or vice versa, the children's sins have any effect on their parents. I've had a few conversations about this, and although I had an instinctive feeling about what the Bible says on the matter, I couldn't think of where it is explicitly stated.

So the other day I was continuing my Bible reading plan when I came across Ezekiel 18:20. Here it is very clear that we do not inherit the sins of our parents or indeed our children. This is also echoed earlier in Deuteronomy 24:16, which talks of punishment for sins:

Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.

This might seem like a pretty straightforward thing, but I think sometimes we can get confused about the boundaries of our sin and our relatives' sin. The Israelites that Ezekiel was writing to certainly did. In fact, they even had a proverb that Ezekiel quotes in 18:19:

Does not the son bear the iniquity of the father?

To which Ezekiel responds: Not as long as the son does what is lawful and right.
However, if the son chooses instead to follow his father in unrighteousness then yes, the son will be punished for his sin. In this way a family's continued sin and rebellion against God can seem like a curse, until it is broken by the gift of righteousness which comes through repentance and faith.

Theologian Matthew Henry puts it like this, much more eloquently than I ever can:

"But this people that bore the iniquity of their fathers had not done that which is lawful and right, and therefore justly suffered for their own sin and had no reason to complain of God’s proceedings against them as at all unjust, though they had reason to complain of the bad example their fathers had left them as very unkind... It is true that there is a curse entailed upon wicked families, but it is as true that the entail may be cut off by repentance and reformation; let the impenitent and unreformed therefore thank themselves if they fall under it."

Interestingly, Jesus also spoke on this subject. John chapter 9 recounts Jesus' meeting with a man who had been born blind. Jesus' disciples ask him:

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

As you can see, this way of thinking was very much ingrained in Jewish culture. Suffering, sickness, and disease had to have a cause. Either the person affected or their parents must have done something really bad to anger God into allowing such unfortunate things to occur. It makes logical sense, right? If bad things happen to a person, they or their parents must have committed sin to deserve it - but good things happen to good people. Ironically, this philosophy is not too far from the meritocracy of our own modern Western societies.

However, Jesus' response to the disciples blows these assumptions right out of the water:

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him..." (John 9:3)

We are all responsible for our own sin, although our parents may perhaps not have been the best role models, or perhaps our children don't love God like we hoped and prayed they would. At the end of the day, when we stand before God it will be our sin and our sin alone that we are accountable for. 

However, although we will all have to stand before God, not all of us will receive judgement. Those who recognise the wickedness of their own hearts and ask Jesus to forgive them and save them will be spared. In fact, the Bible says God will look upon us as if we had never sinned, because of the atonement of Jesus Christ that He accomplished on the cross.

And for you Christians - if misfortune comes your way and if you face suffering, illness, or loss, do not for a moment think that it is some kind of punishment from God for your sin or an ongoing curse you inherited from your family. Instead, know that God is sovereign over all things. Jesus took ALL the punishment for your sin on the cross, and such things happen so "...that the works of God might be displayed in [you]."

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