The sins of the fathers
Crunchy Cons, Rod has a post up linking to a rather unfunny piece by Diogenes on Catholic World Daily which is meant to mock those who have or would like others to, ask for forgiveness for the sins of our ancestors. A clip from the piece:
It’s back in style: the political fashion of issuing official “apologies” for wrongs committed by others — especially long-dead others — in order to cash-in on the compassion sweepstakes and dutch rub the opposition in the process. Australia’s Labour Government apologized to the aboriginals last month, and now Canada appears ready to follow suit. Perhaps the following Mea Culpa, first offered in response to the initial wave of vicarious mortification, might bear repeating: Bless me, Father, for my ancestors have sinned. It has been two episodes of 60 Minutes since my last confession. — My parents were unwelcoming of government mandated integration in their working class neighborhood. At least, I ‘m not absolutely sure they were unwelcoming, but they had a statue of the Sacred Heart in the parlor, and that was typical of the kind of people that put property values before justice in those days. For these and all their other sins of bigotry I ask pardon and penance.
I think it’s safe to say that our pastors are doing a really, really bad teaching the flock how God wants us to deal with the sins of our ancestors. The gap between what God calls us to do and how many Christians, even good faithful Christians, think about what is the right way to deal with the sins of our for-bearers could hardly be greater. A commentator on the Catholic World News sight where the item was put up had this to say:
Unfortunately the “apology game” has been a temptation that the Church has yielded to. The spirit of the world is too much with us. It’s one thing to acknowledge with regret unsavory things and human sinfulness in the course of history. It’s quite another to apologize for them as if there were collective guilt to be atoned for by Church or government. Good intentions do not make this work. Bad intentions like political expediency make this odious.
Hmmm . . . Now, compare that attitude with scriptures:
“Those of you who are left will waste away in the lands of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their fathers’ sins they will waste away. . . But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers – their treachery against Me and their hostility towards me which made me hostile towards them. . . I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham” Leviticus 26:39, 41-43
On the twenty fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their head. Those of Israelite decent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. . . for a forth [of the day] they confessed. Nehemiah 9:1-3
“See, it stands written before me: I will not keep silent, but will pay back in full; I will pay it back into their laps – both your sins and the sins of your fathers,” says the Lord. Isaiah 65:6-7
O Lord, in accordance with your righteous acts, let now your anger and your wrath turn away from you city of Jerusalem, your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the inequities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a reproach to all those around us. Daniel 9:16
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. . . how will you escape the sentence of Geehenna? . . Upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” Matthew 23:29-32, 35
Ouch. How can we modern Christians be so totally off track in our thinking about the need to ask for forgiveness for the sins of our forefathers? No doubt the radical independence which is the bread and butter of our culture has a lot to do with it. We like to think that we are self-contained entities who will be dealt with solely on the basis of our own actions. To a certain extent, no doubt this is true. After all, the bible also says, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sins.” Deuteronomy 24:16
Yet scripturally, God seems to expect that we will confess the sins committed by those who went before us, who we may have had nothing to do with. Why? Two reasons really.
The first and easiest to understand is because sins have consequences. And those consequences don’t go away just because the people who committed them are no longer here. And while we may not have committed the sin, we do have a duty to deal with and try to set right the consequences of the sin of our ancestors.
I think the second reason the righteousness of confessing our father’s sins is anathema to us is human pride. Quite often we indulge in our human pride by looking at those around us who are falling short. We reassure ourselves that we are good people, not only for not falling short in those particular ways, but for being brave and honest enough to see the mess around us and call it what it is.However, as anyone who has had to go through a genuine confession of sin before God and man knows, it is not enough to simply say, “sorry I did that” and move on. True repentance requires us to fully acknowledge exactly what it is we did and the pain and suffering it caused. When we know, somewhere in our hearts that our fathers’ sins had a pivotal hand in helping to create the very things we take some measure of pride in condemning, the idea of repenting for the sins of our fathers becomes even more radioactive to us. Because in order to seek forgiveness for the sins of our forefathers, we would need to trade our pride for actions, which truthfully many of us don’t want to provide because we don’t think we should have to.
Think of the story of the good Samaritan. He comes across a man, lying beaten on the road. Out of compassion for the suffering of another human being, the good Samaritan does everything in his power to set right the results of a sin which was committed by someone who had gone before him on the road. Although he did not commit the sin, he took responsibility for setting the results of the sin right. And it is this loving act which Jesus identifies as a demonstration of a man living as God would have him live.
If we think that we do not need to confess the sins of our father, we are much like the two men who had passed by the beaten man on the road without stopping to help. The priest and the Levite both had legitimate reasons for not stopping to help the beaten man. However, imagine for a moment that it had been the priest or the Levite’s father who had been prowling the dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho, robbed an innocent traveler and beat him to within an inch of his life. Imagine that somehow they knew it was their own fathers who had done this. Do you suppose that they would be able to stand before God and say, “well, that was their sin. Surely you don ‘t expect us to be responsible for the sins of someone else?”
What is so odd about this, is I had just looked up Nehemiah 9:1-3 no more than 2 minutes before going over to the Crunchy Cons sight. It was still up on another tab in my browser, as a matter of fact. I had just looked it up because I have been thinking about writing a post about the problems of race relations in this country.
While it may not be our fault, our forefathers left us a heaping, stinking pile of left over consequences to deal with when it comes to race. We like to think that we can just say, “well, we won’t do that anymore” and move on. Which would really be no different than the priest or the Levite standing over a man on the road, knowing that their fathers were responsible for beating him to a pulp and saying, “I promise I won’t beat you up like my father did. So you should be OK now.”
Perhaps we ought to take another look at how God would have us deal with our forefather’s sins and do it His way for a change. After all, if you look at all of those verses above, we find that whether we realize it or not, until we confess the sins of our fathers, God’s judgement for those sins remains upon our heads. Yet those same verses tell us that when God’s people seek forgiveness not only for their own sins, but the sins of their fathers, God is waiting eagerly to rain affection and blessings down upon us. And I think we’re in need of some affection and blessings right now – don’t you?