Sins of The Father: What Should we do About an Imperfect Past?

Sins of The Father: What Should we do About an Imperfect Past? June 26, 2020

The generation introspection we are experiencing in the United States — and around the world — has reached a fever pitch.  We’re changing the names of high school mascots, buildings on college campuses and even subdivisions. We are looking at the things we once took for granted, the institutions that we have erected around us. Mountains, monuments and memories are being are being purged of the past.

Statues of the Ulysses S. Grant, Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson have fallen, as well as a bevy of Civil War figures. A statue of Abraham Lincoln erected by freed slaves is  being threatened. Splash Mountain in Disneyland is being remade because of its 1942 Song of the South theme.  Meanwhile,  a statue of Lenin still stands in Seattle.

It’s a sifting of the past, wiping away any veneration of flawed leaders or unenlightened thinking. We’re rethinking how we talk, how we do business and how we interact with each other.

Some of these changes are formulated out of thoughtful introspection and dialogue. Others are simply mob justice, vengeance against a system for perceived wrongs.

Not all of this is bad, but certainly, not all of it is good. Here’s why.

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The danger of presumptive passion

Lurking in the background is the arrogant presumption that what we know today is the correct view of history. To think that only today, after thousands of years of human history, that we are the chosen generation, should give us pause. We shouldn’t believe that we are the people with the absolute moral authority to look at generations past with a righteous judgment.

And worst yet, we want to transfer the sins of the fathers – and their friends – on to a current generation. That is a deep and dark hole to plunge, a place in which no one is safe. Taking the innocence of a modern people and swapping that for the guilt of the ancients is neither practical nor reasonable.

Someone has to pay

The Bible – that dusty old book that many don’t believe has relevance to today – actually deals with this in the simplest of ways. Jesus – in his upside-down logic – turned this very thinking on its head.

Ancient civilizations were consumed with settling scores, with eye-for-eye justice for old sins. Generational curses perpetuated wars and feuds that saw no end. And people often looked at handicaps and ailments as causations of parental or generational sins.

Photo by Delia Giandeini on Unsplash


He rejected the concept of an “eye for eye,” commanding his followers to turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile. He also upended the generation curse of sins. In John 9:1-3, Jesus passed by a man blind from birth. His disciples wanted to know – “Whose sin caused this? This man or his parents?”

Jesus simply poked a hole in their presumption. “Neither,” he said. “He is blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” He then proceeded to heal the man and gave his vision back.

The idea of personal responsibility is a key teaching throughout the New Testament, as the call for individual repentance and obedience literally is written on every page. Ezekiel 18:20 spoke of a day when “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 shall be upon himself.”

Blind Willy Johnson, the venerable bluesman of the ‘20s and ‘30s wrote a song for the ages. “Nobody’s fault but mine.” It’s true then. It’s true today.

Nobody’s Fault but Mine

There are wrongs in our world. I don’t have to enumerate them for you. Some being brought to light are exaggerated and exploited for politics or power. Other wrongs are dismissed by the voices of the day because they don’t fit a narrative. Somewhere in between, there is truth.

We don’t live in a perfect country with a perfect past. But Henry Olsen in a Wall Street Journal editorial says it best. “The American edifice that imperfect men and women have built over the past two centuries is a solid foundation for the just nation in which we live and seek to improve. We must not burn it down in the vain hope that a better future can emerge from its bonfire.”

Admittedly, there is a temporary, sweet satisfaction in calling out others, exposing their deeds, embarrassing them into compliance. But’s it is short-lived, like the fragrance a flower leaves after the heel crushes it. Romans 12:19 Is a reminder to “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Giving grace to others strains against our natural selves, but forgiveness to the stranger is a balm to the soul.

Instead of fixing all the evils around us, maybe we should start with the evil inside us. Innate racism, consuming greed, the lust for control – these are the devils that lurk in the hearts of men.

I can’t fix society with a hashtag or a screed on Facebook. But I can fix me with a humble heart and genuine repentance. I can’t shame others into genuine righteous living by exposing their deeds, but I can listen and learn to the wisdom of God and His followers.

Rather than concentrating on the sins of the fathers, maybe we should focus on the sin of the son. That’s you. That’s me.


“Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.”

Psalm 37:1-40 

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