Here is the manuscript for week 3 of Emotionally Healthy Relationships!
Your family of origin is the family you grew up with. It’s not hard to see all kinds of ways that family impacts who you are today, including some small things. For example, I grew up as the child of two computer engineers. So in my family, as a kid, dinner time was efficient. We had an efficient system for distributing the food in the kitchen that minimized dish usage. We then proceeded to the table for delightful, civil conversation. After our conversation was complete, the dishes were quickly swept away and the kitchen cleaned.
Then I met Dave, and I went to dinner at his house.Have you seen the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? If so, you have some sense of the contrast here. This is when we learned that our families of origin might be different. At Dave’s house, dinner was a boisterous and perhaps chaotic affair. The conversation was loud and often involved multiple people talking at once. The center of the table was full of serving platters with the different parts of the meal. Once we were settled the family reached in and took these different platters of food and (if you are type A like I am, take a deep breath with me)….they then passed them in different directions. Food would move clockwise and counterclockwise around the table until you had potatoes in one hand and steak in the other.
Until we went to dinner at one another’s homes, the way we grew up was just the way we assumed dinner was done. It didn’t seem strange to each of us because it was what we knew. This can be true of a lot of the things you grew up with in your family of origin. There is a lot of stuff sort of in your bones from your family. Some of it is relatively unimportant things like how to serve dinner, but some of it is bigger, more important values or behaviors.
Because it is a part of your childhood, you may be more inclined to repeat the things you know. Or, as is the case of some of you, you may instead try to run as far in the other direction from the way you grew up as possible. It’s not hard to see how this impacts your relationships.
We are going to look at a passage from Exodus that points at one specific and critical way your family of origin impacts you today. This one is not just about your immediate family but how your grandparents or even great grandparents are all a part of this too. It’s in Exodus chapter 34 when it talks about what some have called the “generational curse.”
"The Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to me, on the top of the mountain. 3 No one shall come up with you, and do not let anyone be seen throughout all the mountain; and do not let flocks or herds graze in front of that mountain.” 4 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the former ones; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of stone. 5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The Lord."6 The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin," Verses 6 and 7 highlight the grace of God. God is slow to anger, full of love and faithfulness for God’s people, forgiving and loving the people through thousands of generations. Sometimes we get this false idea that the God of the Old Testament is all anger and judgment but that’s not true. Here in Exodus, we see a description of the Lord as loving and forgiving of sin.
Then the passage goes on: "yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
We are going to focus the rest of our time on the last part of this passage that said “Visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” We need to look at it carefully because it has huge implications for how our families impact our relationship with God and with one another. At first read it sounds like a sort of curse for the children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren of someone, doesn’t it? That God might hold the descendants of someone accountable for what they did. Are generational curses real? Yes and no.
Let’s talk about a couple of words here. The first one is straightforward, iniquity. Iniquity is another word for sin. The problems that can run in families we will talk about today are not anything you inherit in your genes. We’ll be talking about sin. The second word that’s critical for us is in understanding this passage is visiting. The passage says the Lord is “visiting” this sin, or iniquity of the parents.
There is a lot of chatter and debate in the Biblical scholarship and exegesis community about exactly what this word visiting means in the original Hebrew. I am happy to share a 600 page dissertation I came across in researching this sermon that spent over 250 pages on this one word. Why is it so important? Because this one word in the Hebrew tells us what God is doing in this passage. Is it a curse that is passed down through the generations? Is God punishing us for what our parents or even our grandparents did?
Some translations have chosen to translate it as punishing, that God is punishing the iniquity of the parents upon the children. This is where we get the idea of a generational curse, that someone in your family did something wrong, and now everyone will pay for it. There is a grain of truth in this idea, that there are some sins so grievous (things like abuse) that they by ripple effect hurt everyone in a family, sometimes even generations later. But our verse today isn’t talking about the effect of sin, it’s talking about God as the agent, God is the one acting upon the future generations.
Is God punishing three and four generations later? No. This word in the Hebrew the sense of God visiting rather than punishing, which is why our translation choose this word. It’s attending to a pattern after being away for a while. There is a sin that is repeating itself in the generations that God is paying attending to, or visiting. How do we know that for sure that God won’t punish us for our parents sin? Because we always read specific Bible passages in the context of the Bible as a whole.
Deuteronomy 24:16 says: "Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death."
Ezekiel 18:20 says "The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own."
You then have your sin to deal with but God is not punishing you for the sins of your family. This should come as a relief. Our passage from Exodus is not saying that you are automatically guilty because of what your parents or grandparents did. It does say that God is attending to the families of those with iniquity. God is watching them, because sinful behavior and beliefs can be learned in families.
Just like every family has a way they eat dinner, a way they set the table or serve the food, every family has patterns of behavior, values and beliefs. You grew up in a family of origin that told you certain things. You probably realized as adults that not all of things were healthy. I know some of you are mentally defending your family right now, because it seems like it was pretty perfect. But every family has a little sin, lurking around because we are all sinners. No one is perfect.
While some families have big, obvious brokenness and sin, most families have ones that are easier to miss. If your family believed things like "sadness is embarrassing" or "money is an indicator of your importance" or "we don't spend time with people different from us" there may be generational sin in your family. Thinking about emotionally healthy relationships, we have to look for the generational sin in our own families to be healthy.
Peter Scazzero, who wrote the devotional we are using during this series, says this:
"When the Bible uses the word family, it refers not just to parents and children but to an entire extended family over three to four generations. That means your family, in the biblical sense, includes your brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-uncles, and aunts, and significant others going back to the mid-1800s. The blessings and sins of this extended family over generations profoundly impact who we are today. For this reason, we say, “Jesus may be in your heart, but Grandpa is in your bones,” meaning the proverbial grandpas cast a long shadow over the generations in any family.
In order to respond to God’s invitation and receive God’s promise, Abraham had to leave his family behind. Much as we have to do today, he had to put off the sinful and unhealthy patterns of his family of origin and learn to do life God’s way in God’s family. Scripture teaches us that we can unlearn negative patterns that were passed on to us over generations. And by God’s grace and power, we can learn healthier ways to do life in the new family of Jesus. Change and freedom are possible through the truth that sets us free." - Peter Scazzero Are generational curses real? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that while God doesn’t punish you for the sins of your parents, there may be some things you learned along the way that aren’t what God wants for you. These things are sin, whether you realize it or not. In that sense, sin can be passed from one generation to the next. But generational curses aren’t real because you aren’t stuck there. The sin of your family doesn’t have to be yours too. God can help you overcome any sin in your life, even the subtle ones that sneak their way in. Before you can deal with the sin in your family, first you have to see the sin in your family of origin - and then potentially in you. This can be tough because we are tempted to get protective of our parents and families we grew up with, especially if they’re gone. Remember, you aren’t trying to ruin anyone’s legacy. A lot of parents really did try the best they could. You are looking for the things you learned that might not be what God wants for you. There’s an interesting tool called a family genogram that the class at 10 will take a look at that can help you really dig into this.
But it can be as simple as writing down things you remember from your childhood. The way your family talked to one another or treated one another. Things you were told were important or had value. Specific family members who impacted you. As you write them down, pay attention to things that don’t feel quite right. Then look for the things that go against what Jesus teaches and recognize them as sin. Once you see the things that were in your family, go looking for that sin in your life. Look for ways that these things from your family of origin may have become a part of you too. If you find evidence that the sin of your parents ended up as your behaviors of values too, confess it to God. Remember, God isn’t asking you to make up for the actions of your parents and grandparents. This is especially important if abuse was part of the sin of your family. It was not your fault. It is not your sin to repent of. For things like abuse, it’s especially important to call it sin because what they did was wrong, and to also see clearly that it is not your sin to hold onto. But for the other things, if there are sins that carried through your family generations, beliefs or behaviors that God doesn’t want for you, it’s time to confess it all to God and receive the forgiveness Jesus promises. In one prayer, you begin the process of breaking a generational cycle of sin. Whatever mistakes your family made, or whatever beliefs you were taught as a child, it can stop with you. This doesn’t just change your life. You can be the one who changes the inheritance for the third and fourth generations to come after you. Breaking the cycle of this family sin is hard work. It is not a work you do alone. It is the work of God in you. In 1 John 1:9 it says "If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Notice what we do in this verse from 1 John. We confess. Then God does the rest. God forgives us, and God cleanses us, God gives us a second chance. This is where we truly have our hope. No matter how great the sin you dig up, Jesus can help you break the cycle. The grace of Jesus Christ is more than enough to stop the cycle with you, to wipe it clean and give you a fresh start. Jesus wants to heal you from your past, but first you become aware of what needs to be changed. That’s the kind of work God does in us, and that’s the work we do together here, as a church. When Jesus came into the world he didn’t only redeem you. He adopted you into a bigger family, the church. This is a place where we can one another confront the things in our lives that aren’t healthy, and find new ways to live.