We are all sinners. Since we are, sin is often a topic of sermons, discussions, books, articles and arguments. There are sermons about what constitutes sin. There are arguments about which sins are more serious, and which, if any, are unforgivable. There are discussions, possibly arguments, over if, when and how God punishes sinners.
Some people can accept the fact they will be punished for their sins. Other people have a problem with the idea that their sins will be punished, but have no problem with the idea that someone else’s misdeeds will be punished. However, one of the most contentious points in this debate is the idea that God will punish someone for the sins of his or her father.
It is no wonder that the topic is contentious. First, it seems to go against the concept of a loving God. Second, the scripture seems to contradict itself in several places. Third, who wants to believe the mistakes they made will bring punishment to their children? Worse, who wants to believe they will be punished for the sins of their parents.
Whether the scripture actually contradicts itself is for someone with much more education and experience than this writer. In fact, the question is moot as far as this text is concerned. In this writer’s humble opinion, God does not need to punish the children for the sins of the father. The children will punish themselves quite nicely.
I am a prime example of the concept of children punishing themselves. Like most kids, I grew up thinking my father hung the moon. As a young adult, I found out the hard way, that he was not quite the man I thought he was. I discovered he had been a liar and a cheat. I found out his love for me was highly conditional and weak at the best of times. I swore that I would never be like him. I swore that I would do things right.
I did some things right. I started on what turned out to be a long and successful career. I started down an academic path that led to two degrees, and a number of academic and professional accomplishments. I started a family, bought a home and appeared to have the life my father never achieved. Appearances are often deceiving.
Beneath the surface my life was a mess. I had two of my father’s biggest weaknesses, pride and lust. I managed to control my lust for many years, but my pride would not let me seek help when I couldn’t. I did not need the help of a therapist or, worse yet, a pastor, to keep me from making the mistakes that destroyed my father’s life. Not to mention the lives of those who loved him. I could do it myself. Of course I could!
My father pretended to be a husband and father for twenty-four years. I did not make twenty. My father walked out on me when I was eighteen. I left my children and their mother when my oldest daughter was fourteen. It would be almost ten years before I found my way back to the role of father and husband, and this time I was not pretending.
I learned many valuable lessons in the ten years I wandered in the wilderness alone. Please know. I was in a wilderness before, but I had a wife and kids to keep me from being totally alone. I could use them as an excuse, as a shield, as a place to hide. When I abandoned them, I tried to hide in all the normal places, work, shallow relationships and bars, but there was no place to hide from myself. Certainly, there was no place to hide from God.
Thankfully, God had me on a path that led me to where I am today. Along the way, he introduced me to the sons and daughters of other sinners. Children who were doing their best to punish themselves as I had. I met the sons of adulterers who were themselves committing adultery. I met the children of abusive parents who were themselves abusers. I met the daughters of mothers who would accept any sort of mistreatment from the man she loved. Each of them was in the same dungeon as their mother. It was then I realized that God was not threatening to punish the children. He was warning that the children would walk in the footsteps of their parents.
I also discovered part of God’s plan for me. He led me to a ministry. It was a ministry that allowed me to help those like me to find a new way of seeing life, of seeing themselves. They could not hide from me. They could not push me away and claim I could not understand them. I understood them. I could feel their pain and they could feel mine. We were different in many ways, but we were the same. We were all damaged and empty, and we were all seeking a real father, the Father. God allowed me to be a part of His process for helping some of these souls start on a new path.
I would like to say I am healed today. I would like to say my walk is certain and my path clear. I would like to say that, but I cannot. I am much better. I am no longer willing to follow every false path laid out to tempt me. However, I know that part of me will always be like my father. The difference is that I have Christ in my life, a wife that He provided, family and friends who love me and a church that supports me.
If you, or someone you know, are walking the path laid out by a sinful father, I pray you, or they, will find yourself humbled and on your knees as I did, finding forgiveness and direction in Him.
© SE. Jackson, 2012