“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Numbers 14:18)
The past several days, I’ve been reflecting on generational sin – in my own family and in the lives of others. You can debate the theology that under-girds the reality, but it is hard to deny that certain damaging and destructive “predispositions”, “attitudes”, and “behaviors” are passed on from one generation to the next.
One man turns to alcohol, neglects his wife and children and becomes divorced and remarries.
His son pledges never to be like his father, yet uses marijuana to escape harsh realities, his wife divorces him and he engages in serial relationships (at the expense of his children).
This man’s daughter marries young, hoping to be cared for by a “father-figure” who ultimately abuses her, introduces her to illicit drugs and theft. She is so afraid of losing companionship, she follows along.
This story, and others like it, could be my own – or yours. It is a tragic reality for so many who battle addictions, abuse, and attitudes that de-humanize others (or themselves).
Racism is one of the generational sins that has been passed on for ages. This morning I read a very compelling post called – “Accidental Empathy: An Open Letter to Brad Paisley and LL Cool J” by rodelina. In it, she commends the song and its makers, but takes exception with one line –
“I try to put myself in your shoes, and that’s a good place to begin, but it ain’t like I can walk a mile in another man’s skin.” -Brad Paisley, Accidental Racist
Rodelina goes on to write (as if to Paisley)
Maybe you don’t have time to read much…
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Maybe reading is the place where empathy is incubated. I know, for me, as a child reading about the lives of Laura Ingalls, Jo March, Max, and Pooh and Piglet, and that tree that loved so selflessly, I found myself taking their struggles and triumphs in and holding them like treasures. Scary beasts like the Grinch and Boo Radley somehow acquired three dimensions complete with hurt but beating hearts in the pages of the worlds in which brilliant authors had created for them.
I had kids of my own, and we’ve come to know others so unlike ourselves, and yet so deeply human-so much like ourselves, that our hearts seem melded to theirs as we have sat together reading aloud their stories. Cassy, Frodo, Jiro, Ralph, Tien Pao, Estaban, and Buran, among a host of others, have shown us that while our geography, our faith, our politics, and our history may differ, the human heart is a thing worth treasuring and nurturing, regardless of the shell it in which it resides.
By reading quality literature as a child, I think an accidental empathy for people is developed, and I am watching that empathy arise in my own children. Whatever else they learn in our home, it is my hope that that empathy will under-gird their decisions, and help them become more human human-beings.
Reading great literature may not be the complete solution to resolving generational sin such as racism, but it is a tremendous start. Rodalena offers a wealth of great characters and stories that inspire “accidental empathy”. I would add to these such Biblical stories and characters such as Esther, Ruth, the Good Samaritan, and the Father of the Prodigal Son (just to name a few).
The Bible is so much more than a guilt-induced rule book to be avoided in order to achieve optimum mental health (as some would say). It is, in addition to being God’s Word, a fantastic story book that can motivate us to do our best – in relationships with others and with God. Through the ages, it has inspired authors as diverse as William Shakespeare, Fyodor Doestoevsky, Flannery O’Connor, and many others to produce volumes of more great literature which helps us better understand our humanity so we can respond in more Christ-like ways.
photo “Brad Paisley Defends ‘Accidental Racist’ Duet with LL Cool J” from ExtraTV onto Extra! Extra!