There are times in our lives where things get extraordinarily tough. It’s either one big curve-ball like cancer, or it’s the thousand little paper-cuts that have been accumulating over years and that last one just cut you off at the knees.   

In these times, we confide in people and a lot of the time, due to their own desire to consolidate suffering with the image of a loving God, the advice we get comes out in the form of “It must be a generational curse that is causing your financial woes.”   

As good intentioned as this advice might be, and even seemingly biblical, it’s not truth in all situations.  

The Scripture That Birthed “Generational Curses” 

In Exodus 34, Moses goes up the mountain where God is about to show Moses His glory. From verse 8 it reads;  

“The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, keeping steadfast love for thousands (to the thousandth generation), forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”   

There’s quite a bit happening in that piece of scripture, but the last part is where I believe the foundation of “generational curses” springs forth.   

It seems biblical, but if it’s applied to everything that goes wrong in our lives, it creates a fearful dread of what types of sins your grandparents may have committed that might be taxed from you in the future.  

With this understanding, it is difficult to imagine the Lord as merciful, gracious, and abounding in steadfast love. The “but who will by no means clear the guilty” is the part that is easy to get stuck on. 

The errant view on “generational curses” isn’t new  

Unsurprisingly, this way of thinking isn’t new. Thankfully, it’s something the Lord pointed out to Israel through Ezekiel (read chapter 18). In Israel, there was a proverb,  

“The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge…” 

Sounds familiar? Are your teeth being set on edge because of your parents’ unrighteousness? Are you worried about the tax you’ll need to pay in the future? 

Good news time  

In Ezekiel 18, from verse 10 to 19, the Lord uses an example of how a righteous father had an unrighteous son, who had broken every form of righteousness that the father had upheld. However, the grandson then turns back to the grandfather’s ways and observes all righteousness. After giving this example, the Lord draws the line in the sand and says in verse 19 – 20;  

“When the son has done, what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. 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 be upon himself.”  

Keeping in mind that righteousness doesn’t guarantee an easy life (just read Job or look at Jesus for an example), having iniquity visited upon you isn’t about the tough things happening to us in life.   

What I believe the “visiting iniquities” part is about  

For the Lord to be just, there must be consequences to everything we do. If, as a parent, I choose to live above my means, and rack up immense debt and died suddenly, I would leave that debt behind for my family to deal with. It is the consequence of my greed.   

In the same way, we can draw clear lines between sinful decisions our parents made and some of the behaviours we exhibit in our own lives. For example, if our family model was to foster bitterness that led to family rifts, this has likely affected us on some emotional level and will affect our children in one shape, size or form.   

The good news about this form of “visitation of sins” is that the Lord is gracious and compassionate and will help us work with the consequences of our parents’ sins.   

I’ve recently dived into a small part of the mess of consequences that reign in my heart. I’ve found sinful and unhelpful behaviours that need to be addressed. Things so dark and scary that all I can hope for is a God that is bigger and more gracious than all the iniquities of the previous generations. Which, according to Jesus is a blessed place to be at (Matthew 5:3)  

With this view, it’s possible to hold the whole part of the Lord’s declaration of who He is in healthy tension. He is gracious, merciful and abounding in steadfast love, even to the thousandth generation, but He also must enforce consequences for our decisions or else He wouldn’t be just.   

Grace and peace to you, and may you know Him as the gracious and merciful Lord who forgives iniquity, rebellion and sin.