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The Sins of the Fathers and the Las Vegas Shooting

Discussion in 'General Theology' started by Mark Corbett, Oct 4, 2017.

  1. Mark Corbett

    Mark Corbett Well-Known Member Supporter

    United States

    I’m still praying, as I’m sure you are, about the tragedy in Las Vegas. But I’ve also begun to think about what we might learn from it. Terrible events like this raise lots of questions. If those questions drive us to God’s Word for answers, that can be a good thing. There’s so much we don’t know yet about the motives for the tragic slaughter in Las Vegas. Might the claim of ISIS that he was converted to Islam be true? We don’t know. Might the shooter have somehow been led into a dark, evil despair related to high stakes gambling and the related cesspool of evil? Perhaps, but we don’t know yet.

    We do know that the shooter’s father was himself a criminal who lived a life of crime. This raises questions and issues about the influence of fathers and how the sins of fathers affect their children, grandchildren and descendants. This issue is deeper and broader than the shooting in Las Vegas. But let’s start there.

    Here’s a question: Did mass murderer Stephen Paddock’s father have a negative influence on him which contributed to his evil act?

    Having a father who is a criminal does not automatically turn one into a mass murderer. The shooter’s brother said that they did not know their father (see article here). On the other hand, there does seem to be a link between many mass murderers: an absent father (see articles here and here and here). Did the combination of his father’s bad example and absence play a role in making Paddock more vulnerable to evil influences? Probably. Does this influence somehow exonerate him? Of course not.

    This leads me to some broader questions; questions which likely have relevance to your life and to the lives of everybody you know. How do the sins of fathers affect their children? How can it be right that God made it this way? What hope does God give us?

    You don’t have to study mass murderers to become aware of the influence of fathers. We all have fathers. On the one hand, some of the greatest blessings in my life God brought to me through my father’s love and good example and faith. I thank God for my father. But, if I’m honest, it is also true that some of my most difficult struggles came partly through sins in my father’s life. Off the top of my head I could tell many stories about people I know who have experienced similar or worse deep struggles because of their father’s sins. I bet you could, too.

    So, what does the Bible have to say about this?

    Somehow the Sins of Fathers Affect their Children

    CSB Exodus 34:6-7 Then the LORD passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh-- Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers' wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.

    This passage, and several others like it (Exodus 20:5-6, Numbers 14:18, and Deuteronomy 5:9-10), teach that in some way children suffer for the sins of their fathers. But these verses do not give a lot of detail about how this happens.

    Our experience certainly verifies that children often suffer for their parents’ sins. One of the many ways in which children may be affected by their parents’ sins is that children sometimes follow in their parents’ sinful footsteps. There are examples of this in the Bible.

    Abraham and Isaac, Kings and their Fathers

    Out of fear, Abraham deceived the Egyptians into thinking Sarai was not his wife. This nearly ended in disaster for all involved (see Genesis 12:12-20). Later, Abraham repeated this sin in Gerar (see Genesis 20:1-13).

    A generation later, Abraham’s son Isaac was afraid of the Philistines. He deceived them into thinking Rebekah was not his wife. This nearly ended in disaster for all involved. Sound familiar? The stories are even more similar than my short account here reveals (see Genesis 26:6-10). Isaac imitated his father’s sin.

    Likewise, the kings of Israel and Judah often followed the sinful examples of their fathers. Here are several examples:

    CSB 1 Kings 15:3 Abijam walked in all the sins his father before him had committed, and he was not completely devoted to the LORD his God as his ancestor David had been.

    CSB 1 Kings 15:26 Nadab did what was evil in the LORD's sight and followed the example of his father and the sin he had caused Israel to commit.

    And concerning King Ahaziah, we read:

    CSB 1 Kings 22:52 He did what was evil in the LORD's sight. He walked in the way of his father, in the way of his mother, and in the way of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who had caused Israel to sin.

    Clearly, fathers can influence their children to sin. Some people call this "generational sin".

    Why did God make it this way? Quite a long time ago while pondering this issue, an analogy came to my mind.

    The Water Pipe Analogy

    While living in Indonesia we sometimes drove past village areas which did not have piped water. We would see people carrying heavy containers of water from a stream to their village. Because water always seeks the lowest point, and villages are built where flooding is less likely, this meant the villagers had to carry heavy containers of water uphill.

    If some kind engineer came and installed a simple water pipe system with a pump and some type of power source, what a blessing that would be to the village! But, what if later an evil man came and secretly injected poison at the suction point of the pump? The poison made some people sick and others it killed. Would you blame the engineer who installed the pipes and pump? Of course, not!

    In a similar way, I think that God designed a good system. He made people in His image and this includes making us able to love others. He did not design us to be isolated islands, but interconnected. He made it possible for us to influence and bless others. He especially gave parents great influence in the lives of their children, and even future generations, so that we could be a blessing to them.

    Now, if we put “poison” in the “pipes”, should God be blamed? No. The system He made is a good system. The system of influence from parents to children and future generations makes it possible for blessings to flow and for us to have the blessing of blessing our descendants. But when we sin and rebel against God, instead of putting blessing into the “relationship pipes of influence” we put in suffering, sin, and evil. God’s system is good. We have perverted his system so that it often harms instead of blesses. God help us.

    And come to think of it, God does help us! Praise God, He has not left us to suffer the consequences of our parents’ sin without hope. And now we come to my favorite parts of this post. Let’s start looking at the hope and good news in Ezekiel 18. While in seminary, I shared from this passage a number of times while volunteering in ministry with youth who had been imprisoned in the juvenile justice system. Almost 100% of those youth came from broken homes.

    Hope from Ezekiel 18

    In Ezekiel 18, God corrects a wrong way of thinking that some of the Israelites had. They thought that God judged the children for the parents’ sin. God emphatically says that He does not do this. He explains that if a person has evil parents, but turns away from their bad example, he can live. Likewise, God warns that if a person has good parents, they still might turn to sin on their own and in that case will come under judgment and die. This teaching is summed up in verse 20:

    NIV Ezekiel 18:20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

    Because of Ezekiel 18 (and other passages) I believe it would be wrong to interpret God’s words in Exodus 34:6-7 as meaning that God will judge a child for her parents’ sin. Rather, as mentioned above, I believe it is best to understand Exodus 34:6-7 as teaching that God created a system where the actions of parents have an impact on their children, grandchildren, and even their great-great-grandchildren. When we sin, the results can ripple down for generations. And one of the results is that children can imitate their parents’ sins and then they will reap the consequences of those sins.

    Now, when I was sharing from Ezekiel 18 with incarcerated young men, I never stopped at verse 20. That would bring only despair. Most, if not all, of these young men had already begun to follow the bad example of their fathers (I’m not assuming that every single one of them had a father who was a bad example, but most of them did). In Ezekiel 18, not only is there hope for children with evil parents, there is hope for children with evil parents who begin, early in their life, to follow the evil example. Thus, God said through Ezekiel:

    NIV Ezekiel 18:21 "But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die.

    But even this verse does not yet point to the great hope we have in Christ Jesus. After all, who is able to “turn away from all the sins they have committed and keep all my decrees”? None of us in our fallen state can do that. But just a few verses later, at the end of Ezekiel 18, we see a sign which points to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Ezekiel 18:30 "Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.
    31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?
    32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

    When we are influenced by the sins of past generations, and even by the sins of our own past, what we need is a new heart and a new spirit! And how can we get a new heart? Only by God’s grace through faith in Jesus!

    By trusting in Jesus we can be born again with a “new heart and a new spirit”. This is true even though we ourselves have many sins in our past, and we are influenced by the sins of our parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and great-great grandparents. The blood of Christ can set us free from all that evil influence. Which brings us to this wonderful passage:

    1 Peter 1:18-19 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.


    Hallelujah! That’s really good news. Do you have a grandfather who was a racist? Christ died to set you free from that! Is there a history of alcohol abuse in your family? The precious blood of Jesus was shed so that those chains can be broken! What if you parents divorced, or never married? Through Christ, you can break that pattern. And what if you already have begun to imitate the “sins of the fathers”? Your own sins are forgiven when you accept Christ, and God’s power is available to work in you to help you change your habits, even if those habits go back for generations.

    More Good News: In Christ You have been Adopted into God’s Family

    Once a person accepts Jesus, their human family is no longer their primary family. Don’t get me wrong. We still have and honor and love our human families. We also still struggle with the sins and problems in our natural families. But we have been adopted into God’s family, and God has become our Heavenly Father. Our destiny is not to be like our human ancestors. In terms of our character, our destiny is to be like Christ, who is Himself the exact representation of God:

    NIV Romans 8:29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

    Pastoral Advice

    Becoming like Jesus is a lifelong process. Being born again is the beginning. God has promised to complete the good work He began in you (Philippians 1:6). Some of this good work involves getting free from sinful patterns in our family backgrounds. Here is some advice that I hope will help in the struggle:

    1. Pray specifically for freedom and protection from known areas of sin in your family background when you become aware of them.

    2. Know that God forgives you when you ask for forgiveness in Christ.

    3. Don’t expect instant complete easy victory over sinful patterns which have built up over generations. This isn’t an excuse to sin. But realize that while God instantly forgives you, the work of changing your habits, thoughts, and character is a lifelong process. Don’t give up and don’t give in!

    4. Be gracious with others. You don’t know what they may be dealing with from their own family heritage. Again, this does not excuse sin. But it does remind us not to judge and to be full of mercy and grace.

    5. There are things we can do which will aide us in growing into Christlikeness and getting free from sinful patterns. Some people call these the “means of grace” or “spiritual disciplines”. They are not complicated, but they only work if you actually do them. Here are the big three:

    1. Read and study the Bible.
    2. Pray.
    3. Go to church and be very active in fellowship, worship, and service with other Christians.​

    6. Some family sin patterns are really tough to break. God sometimes helps through other Christians. Ask a mature Christian friend, a pastor, or a Christian counselor to listen to your story, to pray with you and for you, and to give you encouragement and wise counsel.

    7. I don’t know how this works, but it seems likely that somehow demons may be involved with some family sin patterns. Remember, we have authority in Jesus Name over the enemy. Again, if you suspect this is true and are finding victory difficult, get help from mature Christians. God loves you! He often shows this love through other Christians.

    8. Only God is our Heavenly Father but, like the Apostle Paul, we can in a limited sense become “spiritual parents” to younger believers in Christ (1 Corinthians 4:15, Galatians 4:19, Titus 1:4). As you grow in Christ, seek opportunities to provide fatherly/motherly love, guidance, support, and care for younger Christians. We all need this, but be especially alert to opportunities God gives you to care for those whose own families have not provided them the love and truth of Christ.

    9. Being a parent is both a wonderful and terrifying responsibility. We won’t be perfect. But knowing that our own lives will deeply impact our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren should be one more motivation to passionately seek to become more like Christ. This principle applies not only to our biological children, but to others whom we influence in Christ. When you fall short as a parent, remember God’s grace and forgiveness applies to you.

    10. Never give up. Keep trusting God. Remember He forgives you and loves you in Christ!

    A Closing Prayer

    Lord, we thank you that the blood of Jesus was shed to free us from the empty ways of life handed down to us from our ancestors. Help us to become less and less like the sinful examples in our family background, and help us to become more and more like Jesus. We all need this help, for none of us have anywhere close to perfect human ancestors. But Lord, we do especially pray for those with very dark and evil family backgrounds. Let them experience your love, mercy, healing, forgiveness, and grace. Let them be powerfully changed in Christ and become shining examples of salvation. Lord, I thank you for people I know who are like that. In Jesus Name, Amen.

    This was originally a post on my blog.
    We teamed up with Faith Counseling. Can they help you today?
  2. Halbhh

    Halbhh Everything You say is Life to me Supporter

    United States
    Mark, to get to this helpful paragraph (quoted) you wrote way down in the middle of the long post, one has to have patience and/or expectation you will arrive at some good thing, and not the seeming initial impression early on that simply children do pay for the sins of their parents without any hope. I think you need to suggest this point of hope and fairness earlier, because some will just look at the title and the first paragraph (about the central question: Somehow the Sins of Fathers Affect their Children

    CSB Exodus 34:6-7 Then the LORD passed in front of him and proclaimed: Yahweh-- Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers' wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.

    And having read that, reach a conclusion, and stop reading.
  3. Mark Corbett

    Mark Corbett Well-Known Member Supporter

    United States
    Thanks for pointing that out. I hope that some might read your comment and be encouraged to be patient with my admittedly long post.
  4. com7fy8

    com7fy8 Well-Known Member Supporter

    United States
    Even if he did, why didn't his brother do the same thing? My theory is that while a psychopath might have been wrongly treated or influenced by certain people, he or she also likely spent times with kind people, but then chose to go with how the wrong people effected him or her.

    I would say that, in any case, if someone is hurt and violated by a wrong person, how the person reacts in an evil way might be getting support somehow from how others also have been relating with the violated person.

    For one kind of an example > let's say a predator violates a child. Now the child has actual experience of what the child can do to someone else. The child might even report the incident. But it could be that not a big deal is made out of it; among other things, maybe the child does not actually see consequences going to the predator. And so, the child could get the impression that it was not nice but it was not really a big deal; and so it could be easier . . . because of cultural reaction . . . for the child to later copy-cat what was done to him or her.

    But . . . in my case > I was a screwball and therefore was mainly able to get the attention of dogs. I would lead a dog to church, walking to church. Then, one day I wanted to bring my so treasured dog-friend in to Mass.

    No, the doorman said; because dogs don't go to Heaven. Would he, then, watch the dog and keep the dog around until I came out? No.

    So, from that, I concluded I would do all I could against God (by being a fake priest so sacraments would not work and people would go to hell), since He would not allow my doggie friends into heaven. And > maybe it was because a human was refusing to at least help me keep my dog for me to enjoy after church > I in the seventh grade was planning to derail trains in order to hurt and kill as many people as I could.

    That was my own doing, not at all God's fault and certainly not the doorman's fault. But I was quite capable of creating much more evil than the situation could have caused as a reasonable direct reaction to the situation.

    And the real problem was how I was a selfish screwball who did not know how to relate in love with people. And so I was going to dogs for attention and approval :doh:

    I was a perpetual bully. I found it delightfully entertaining to be able to make unpopular kids cry.

    But . . . note how I was feeding on how my victims were not popular. So, cultural surroundings to some extent could have been helping me to do what I did. I even supposed that if the kids were not well-liked, then I could gain approval by attacking ones not popular.

    Plus, my parents were white upper-middle class and Ivy League educated. And they could talk down, criticizing culturally lower people. That gave me conceit to feed on so I could likewise look down on kids not popular . . . I can see now. But I went a lot further than only talking down about certain people. But I can see that my parents' conceit helped to prime me. And other students' ways not loving any and all people also helped, I can see.

    So, ones doing things like the Vegas thing could be at the tip of an iceberg of an unloving culture. In the United States culture, ones can get away with killing unborn people, plus spreading lethal diseases in their caring only about getting the pleasure and lives they prefer. And on we could go, about how it is ok to push for and compete to get what we selfishly want, as a culture not being loving and caring about any and all people. And this all could help to feed people to become uncaring enough to become mass predators.

    So, yes they choose between who is going to feed them, I dare consider.

    But there are people who only act nice. And others might soon discover that following their example does not bring them into love which makes them deeply sound against all the cruelties spiritual and outward of this world. While living nicely mainly or only outwardly, they can be broken easily by horrible or just minor incidents.

    Only God's love has made me so that really nasty and negative and dominating emotional stuff can't get me under its power. And I still need to grow in this, in Jesus.

    Plus, I have had to pray and seek much correction so I could be able to detect who are my really Christian role models. I have needed a lot of make-over correction, like I think Hebrews 12:4-11 means, just so I can connect with real example people, and I needed to see how I have been my real main problem . . . in how I can see things and take things.
  5. Mark Corbett

    Mark Corbett Well-Known Member Supporter

    United States
    Yes, it is God's love experienced in Christ that allows us to get free from both the evil we experience and the evil we ourselves have done.
  6. FreeinChrist

    FreeinChrist CF Advisory team Staff Member Site Advisor Supporter


    Moved to General Theology. Threads in Current News & Events needs to have a credible news source.
  7. Francis Drake

    Francis Drake Returning adventurer.

    United Kingdom
    One unmentioned aspect of generational curse comes in connection with the year of Jubilee.

    Ex34.................But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers' wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.

    I'm not talking about sin here, but the consequences of sin.
    The Lord commanded that the land be divided by lot and distributed around the tribes according to number.
    The Law of Moses was also quite specific that the land was to remain with the allotted tribes and the allotted families in perpetuity.
    However, the land could be temporally leased out to other people, as long as the title was always returned back to the original owner on the year of Jubilee.

    The year of Jubilee, occurring every 50 years, demonstrates the wonderful kindness of God towards his people in ensuring that family misfortune did not continue indefinitely. It would always end at the Jubilee when all slaves were set free and blessings would return.

    If a family was impoverished and unable to feed itself, the man could rent his land for a period of time which the law states must end at the next jubilee, no matter what.
    Thus if the Jubilee was last week, you would be able to obtain the highest rental value possible on a 50 year lease.
    However, if the year of Jubilee occurred next year, the short tenancy period would only give a minimum rental return for that one year. The property must then be returned to your family.

    You might well ask what the connection to the thread is?
    Well if your father had entered into sin, which had ended up bringing a curse down and severely impoverishing the family, he might well have been forced to sell off the family farm and enter into a bond slave status with the new owner.
    If his children were born at the start of that curse, and then grew and produced their own (second generation) offspring at say 18 years, and 18 years later that was repeated (third generation), by the time of the fourth generation we are at 54 years and have just gone through the Jubilee and had our family prosperity handed back to us!
    We can either make Godly use of that land, or sell it off for another 50 years and go on a spending spree!

    As far as I can see, the side effects of the sins of their fathers would always come to an end by the third or fourth generation.
  8. Mark Corbett

    Mark Corbett Well-Known Member Supporter

    United States
    Thank you for sharing this. I can see how laws for Jubilee reflect God's grace in limiting the long term damage done to generations through sin. Good insight!
  9. 1213

    1213 Disciple of Jesus

    The person was found dead in the room. It is possible that he is framed, therefore I think people shouldn’t judge before he can really be proven guilty.