You see, back in the Ten Commandments, when God declares the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” God also says, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” For much of the history of Israel, it was understood that to follow the Torah, or not, was to have consequences not just for the one who kept the Law, or not, but for later generations as well. As people who belong to a culture that is almost exclusively centered on the individual, we might find the notion that subsequent generations pay for the sins of former sins incredibly offensive. Nonetheless there is the reality that there are ways that sin is communal. Precisely as fathers form their children, sin can be formed in successive generations. We know that there are genetic patterns that can be passed down from father to child in things like addictions. Destructive and abusive behaviors can be passed down just through repeated behavior. But also, we see that some things that are begun decades before can have devastating consequences for later generations. When we understand ourselves to be part of a community extended through time, this perspective is not all that difficult.
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