The Sins of the Fathers
Q: I’ve prayed about this for a long time. I’m a Christian who dabbled in the occult years ago. I hate myself for what I used to believe in and pray constantly for forgiveness. I know that I am forgiven but after hearing about the “sins of the father,” I fear that I may have endangered my child’s soul. I wasn’t pregnant when I practiced but still feel that I may have hurt her. Right now my child is 3, so I try to have her pray with me on occasion, but at her age I don’t know if it will help. Please, tell me what to do.
A: First, continue giving your worries and fears to God but ask that He increase your faith in Him. Don’t let the Devil, who once used the occult to ensnare you, now accomplish the same through doubt and guilty feelings.
Trust that when God forgives you, He completely wipes away the sin and refuses to remember it: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)” You remain trapped by a common human failing. We often have difficulty forgetting our sins that God has already forgiven for the sake of His Son.
Regarding worshiping false gods, both Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9 warn, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” First of all, this was part of the Law given specifically to Israel.
Even if it would pertain to Gentiles, I think it’s as much, if not more so, “descriptive” rather than “prescriptive” — that is, the passage is primarily a warning that sinful thoughts, words, and deeds may not only bring direct harm to the children but also may have the consequence of establishing and passing along sinful patterns to the offspring. Think, for example, of families recovering from the damages done through previous generations’ addictions and hatreds.
You aren’t modeling evil behavior. Instead, you live and teach a godly life which includes regularly praying with your little one. Since our Father always listens to His children, her faithful prayers “will help.” Moreover, you might be surprised how she will respond to age appropriate devotional materials. In them she can learn more about Jesus’ love for her.
I remember my parents reading books like Little Visits with God from Concordia Publishing House to me and my siblings. Mom and Dad didn’t only show the example of faith, they also gave us its content, the Gospel, taught in the form of short stories. And even when their sinful humanity sometimes surfaced, God’s unfailing Word still pointed us to Jesus and to our forgiving heavenly Father.
Your daughter may only be three but that doesn’t mean that she cannot possess saving faith. Jesus welcomed little children into His presence and also flatly stated that they can and do believe, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God” and “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. (Luke 18:16-17)” Therefore, dedicate yourself to faith-building by teaching the Scriptures at home and bringing her into the Lord’s house.
Think about Paul and Silas answering the terrified Philippian jailer. “They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ (Acts 16:31)” There is no age limit to a “household” — either you are part of it or you are not. When he heard about new life in Jesus, the jailer “was baptized at once, he and all his family. (v. 33)” Baptism and the Word ushered his earthly household into “the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)”
You believe that you possess this same new life in Christ: Have you brought your household, including your dear daughter, to receive Holy Baptism, “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5)”?
See also the earlier columns Forgiven but Feeling Guilty, To the Third and Fourth Generation, and Raising Godly Children.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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Newspaper column #570:3