As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1,2)
The other day I was involved in an impromptu worship session with a group of people from many different Christian backgrounds. While I love to fellowship with Christian brothers and sisters, there have been times where I’ve felt uncomfortable about certain things that go on in situations like this. This last time was no exception. The worship was paused for a time of prayer. Without asking for it, one woman was put on the spot by her friend saying she needed prayer. So she went to the middle of the room where people laid hands on her and one man prayed for her. Out of nowhere, this man began to pray for release from both demonic oppression and generational curses. It was at this point that I kind of just shut down emotionally from the group. Theologically I knew that I was too far apart to continue in true fellowship.
How can that be you might ask? Aren’t you being a bit extreme? Isn’t that a divisive attitude? Yes, it is divisive, but there are times in life where we need to divide, especially when the message of the gospel is concerned. Basically, because what this man was praying for was an addition to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now I cannot be sure about what he meant by demonic oppression, so I’d rather not touch on that subject here, but there is this false teaching within the church that people can be affected by generational curses. The basic idea behind a generational curse is that the sins of a father can bring a curse upon their children and grandchildren, even if these people are Christians. So in essence, a person can be a Christian, but still be cursed.
Where does this teaching come from? The proponents of this type of teaching will point people to a few different verses in the bible. (Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:6,7; Leviticus 26:39-42; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9) Each of these verses uses this phrase, or similar phrase, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Boy! That sure sounds like generational curses, doesn’t it? Now let’s read Deuteronomy 24:16. “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.”
Is there some kind of contradiction here? Do children suffer punishment for their father’s sins or don’t they? The key to solving this seeming contradiction is in the Hebrew word for “visiting”. The word is “paqad” and means “to pay attention to, attend to, to seek, muster, appoint”. This really isn’t talking about a curse or a punishment, but rather how God looks at sins that have been passed down from father to son and so forth. God will attend to these sins that have continued down the line. So there is nothing here that denotes that because a father has sinned, his son will be cursed because of that sin. Instead we read that God takes notice of how fathers teach their children to sin in the same way they do. These sins are learned sins and the people doing them have a choice to either follow God or follow the ways of their father.
Another aspect of this is the fact that many of our sins do affect our children as well. If I as a parent struggle with anger and abuse my child, then there is an immediate consequence felt by that child. This isn’t God cursing my child, but rather the fault would rest on me. We have seen plenty of cases where children suffer because of the sins of parents and grandparents. It’s not a generational curse brought upon by God, but the natural consequences of sin.
To put it bluntly, people who claim that Christians can have generational curses that need to be prayed away don’t fully understand the gospel message. They don’t understand how Jesus has lifted the curse from us when He died for our sins. Instead they are adding on an extra thing we must do to be totally free. It is a subtle form of works righteousness.
God specifically addresses this false theology in two different spots in the Bible. The first is in Ezekiel 18. (I highly recommend clicking on the link and reading the whole chapter.) Here God addresses a popular proverb of the time, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” (Ezekiel 18:2) The people of Israel are complaining that the trials and punishments they are facing are not because of their own sins, but rather they are caused by the sins of their father’s. God then commands Israel to stop using this proverb. He discusses how each one is culpable for their own sins, and not the sins of others. “The soul who sins shall die. 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.” (Ezekiel 18:20 ESV)
God is clearly communicating the opposite of generational curses. But if Ezekiel isn’t enough, I refer to John 9. Here we see a man born blind and the disciples are thinking this is caused by a generational curse. (See the verse and link at the beginning of this article.) Jesus dispels this notion. “Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” (John 9:3) Jesus refutes the idea that this man had a generational curse placed upon him. This is an amazing story of how Jesus not only gives physical sight to a man, but saving faith as well. Jesus didn’t pray against any generational curses, but only pointed to himself.
This is the problem with false teachings such as generational curses. They distract us from Jesus. They take our eyes off of God’s saving work, and instead put them on ourselves and on what we need to do. So the next time someone tells you that you need to pray against a generational curse, let that person know that you are already free from all curses through the shed blood of Jesus on the cross.