Can a Person Be Saved Yet Still Suffer Because of 'Family Curses'?

Reasons Why Conservative Evangelical Theology May Need a New Approach on 'Generational Curses'

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I have known some families which just seem to be dogged by almost continual 'bad luck' ('luck' may not be the best of expressions among Christians, just substitute 'bad breaks' if the use of 'luck' offends you). You, the reader, probably also know of such families. Why is this? What are the causes of these things?

A Curse?
Once we understand that numerous charismatic "deliverance leaders" are misunderstanding that word 'curse,' we can see that some of their highly extreme measures to "bind the devil" in order to remove generational curses, are also in error...

As an example, in certain families there almost seems to be some sort of a 'jinx' (for the want of a better word) of untimely and sudden deaths - even stretching back a few hundred years. In other families, poverty seems to continually stalk even within prosperous countries and where people are not lazy and genuinely want to better themselves. I recently heard about one family which has tended to have various occultic involvements going back even several hundred years; even those family members who have personally rejected occultic involvement seemed to have found it exceptionally hard to prosper as one might have expected.

In many African countries, genuinely hard-working and thrifty people often have to suffer unreasonable poverty because of factors which are completely outside the control of such people. These factors can only be traced back to their family and national origins. One African gentleman that I was acquainted with a few years ago, was quite insistent that his part of that great continent was effectively 'accursed' because of the worship of spirits by countless earlier generations within his land. I should stress that I am not personally asserting this, it was his own comment and conclusion as an African Christian, and who of us can say that he was entirely wrong?

It is probably because we are all well aware of such families, and such factors, that - during the last few years - a new teaching on "generational curses" has come into evangelicalism, although mainly within the more extreme elements of the charismatic movement.

It is probably fair to say that this teaching is heavily based on Scriptures such as the following:

Exodus 34:6-7 - "And He [the Lord] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, 'The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.'"

Deuteronomy 11:26-28 - "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse - the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known."

Leviticus 26:39-42 - "Those of you who are left will waste away in the lands of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their fathers' sin they will waste away. But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers - their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies - then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land."

The word 'curse' in Deuteronomy 11:26 comes from the Hebrew, 'qalah,' which is itself a derivative of 'qalal,' the meaning is: to abase, to vilify, to bring into contempt, to make despicable etc. All of which is bad enough, but this does not truly amount to the concept of 'curse' which is found within witchcraft. Nevertheless, the meaning seems clear that sinful behaviour would tend to run in families in which certain sinful, or immoral practices had been tolerated by an earlier generation, or generations, within that family. One might say that such families would tend to come to 'earn' and to 'deserve' their sinfulness and the resultant suffering and lack of wholesome achievement which might otherwise have been available to them.

The overall sense seems to be that sinful acceptances of behaviour within families would tend to 'stick' - a bit like glue. In this sense, and probably in this sense only, God would 'punish the children and their children for the sins of the fathers even to the third and fourth generation.' Yes, God would allow the resultant suffering and inherited weaknesses, moral or otherwise, to reap their reward. During the present era, He would not necessarily intervene to stop this occurring. In some cases, and probably this is a very good general example of this, the venereal disease of several ancestors has sometimes caused poor and unreliable health to be passed on to numerous descendants. In that sense, the iniquity of the fathers has indeed been 'visited' upon the children.

So this is a case of families bringing suffering upon their own descendants and this sometimes even spreading across several generations. Any concept of God purposely, and by His own express intent, "cursing" later generations of a family because of the behaviour of an ancestor, or ancestors, seems to be ruled out by the following Scriptures:

Deuteronomy 24:16 - "Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin."

Ezekiel 18:20 - "The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself."

Whilst the context here is perhaps more spiritual, enough seems to said for us to conclude that God Himself hardly supports the principle of children suffering punishment because of the failures of earlier generations - No, it is more a case of God allowing sin to reap its inevitable 'harvest' within families in which nobody actively seeks God, even perhaps for several generations.

Okay. There appear to be two general approaches towards this topic within Bible-believing communities. I am going to look at both approaches, but then suggest a third approach.

Two general approaches

1. Family 'curses' urgently need to be identified and 'lifted.'

It is probably because of a widespread feeling among Christians that there is indeed something in this general area which we do not - at present - completely understand, that extreme charismatic "deliverance"-type personalities have been able to gain an audience and a following. Specific schemes among these groups which give consideration to the various ways to 'lift' curses vary, but frequently they adopt a theological approach which cannot always be scripturally-justified - demons are seen in every 'nook and cranny' of life and the whole approach seems to be one of unreasonable fearfulness. Most such leaders and ministries are heavily legalistic and overly Old Testament focused, and when one visits their websites one usually finds great theological inconsistency and naivety.

Frequently (though not always), the teaching appears to be that a 'family curse' may only be lifted if many members of a family (that is, a family which believes itself to be 'cursed') should gather together to confess such things as: idolatry, occultic involvements, witchcraft and satanism, sexual sins, drugs and addictions (often even alcohol and pain killers are thought necessary to be "confessed"), believing Satan's lies too easily, fearfulness, unbelief and scepticism, deceit and dishonesty, pride, rebellion, anger, wishing for death (for oneself or for others), violents acts, vulgar and abusive language, bad musical tastes etc. (I took that actual list from a web page which recommends this approach). So the belief here seems to be that 'generational curses' can be lifted in such a manner where such people - as representative of an entire family as possible - come before God in earnest prayer and confession. I would not wish to be critical of such sincere behaviour and maybe much good could indeed be done in such a manner. Unfortunately, on certain such occasions, some ministries demand the presence of a loud, yelling, barely-controlled "minister" who is heavily into "deliverance ministry" and who will be seeing demons just about everywhere!

2. Such 'curses,' if they exist at all, become meaningless, or immediately overturned, in Christian conversion.

This is the more usual approach of established anti-charismatic evangelical Christianity. The reasoning here seems to be that any such family can be completely turned around by members of that family coming to Christ - end of story. This tends to be the more triumphalist view of Christian belief. Of course, apart from the triumphalism (always a very bad tendency), there is much truth in this, and yet, realistically, it is only usually comparatively few members of any particular family who are becoming Christians at the present time. But the main problem here is that most within this particular section of evangelical Christianity do not even necessarily accept the accompanying theology of 'family curses' - I know where they are coming from, but I just wonder whether we all tend to dismiss things that we do not necessarily readily understand, and which find no settled 'niche' within our perfectly-organised 'theologies,' just a little too readily?

One such conservative evangelical web page which I read on this topic stated this,

"This teaching (generational curses) suggests that salvation through Jesus Christ is not enough and that somewhere, the born-again believer needs deliverance from the generational curses of their ancestors; That receiving Jesus is not enough to be free from the curses of ages past....There is surely no such thing as a generational curse for the believer in Christ Jesus..."

The writer then goes on to quote Scriptures such as Hebrews 2:14-15, Romans 8:2, Galatians 3:26-27 and Colossians 1:12-14 to "prove" that - in Christ - we are renewed. He is, of course, perfectly correct in that. He further states that,

"...We, as true believers in Jesus cannot have generational curses present in our lives. We have a new nature. We have been bought with a price, washed in the precious Blood of the Lamb and we are God's children..."

The writer is utterly sincere, of course, but I feel that he could be seriously missing the point and I cannot help but suspect indications of triumphalism, and even perfectionism, within his comments. Fact is: 'curses,' or failings, within families perpetuated, perhaps, over several generations do not seem to be a purely spiritual matter, and do we not all still have to continue to suffer various things because of the sinful society which surrounds us even after coming to Christ?

As an example, if a Christian unreasonably suffers from arthritis because his/her grandfather had serious venereal disease, do we tell such a person that, 'there is no such thing as a generational curse or disability for the believer in Christ'? Do we not all generally accept that while our sins are completely forgiven and the 'slate' wiped clean in true Christian repentance and conversion, we will still - nevertheless - continue to be affected by many things whilst we continue to live in a God-rejecting and satanic world and age? Becoming a New Man or New Woman in Christ should not imply the concept of perfectionism during the present age. Yes, sanctification is a most vital teaching, but to become increasingly Christ-like is a lengthy process and full spiritual perfection lies beyond the grave for every one of us. But most believers see inherited family weaknesses and susceptibilities as things which we have to live with during the present age.

I know a former Christian missionary - completely un-charismatic in theology - who, after spending several years in Africa, no longer rejects the concept of 'generational curses.' He even came to believe that certain places were accursed and he kept away from them while in Africa. Again, this man is no heretic and he is still no charismatic but certain things which he has seen and experienced have caused him to re-think this area, a section of teaching in which, he now feels, the older conservative evangelical theology does not have a full understanding! Interesting.

3. A new, open and better approach to 'generational curses.'

So I want to propose a new approach to this subject. The very first thing which we need to understand here is that 'curse' is - biblically - not the witchcraft sense of 'curse,' We don't have here people wandering around able to place 'curses' on people that they don't like! And yet, once we have correctly established this point, I do not think that 'curse' is such a bad term.

So the concept which we are dealing with here is that individuals, but especially large groups of individuals, can bring serious and, to a degree, accumulative suffering upon their own extended families of later generations because of their own serious behavioural failings; failings which had been accepted and tolerated; these failings could be moral, religious or physical. If the failings are physical, we are usually quicker to speak of family weaknesses due to heredity factors. Actually, I say "we speak," but, as a doctor recently complained to me, "Such things are now rarely mentioned because of political correctness and the refusal of modern liberals to appear 'judgmental.'" This same doctor also said, "We now simply cannot tell people that they, and other members of their family, probably suffer from certain major weaknesses because their ancestors probably did this or did that. It sounds too condemnatory! So we just say, 'Heredity probably plays a part,' but I would like to tell my patients more."

So generational inheritances of this sort are far from uncommon. A friend of mine who has travelled extensively (which I have not) tells me that such problems within families are especially common in the non-Christian world (very interesting), and seem to be especially common in Africa, parts of south America and in the eastern hemisphere world. I have also heard (I cannot corroborate this) of an island in the Indian Ocean where free sexual love was once widely practiced. As the generations passed, serious illness and disease set in, and the island community started to die out. Finally, only a few people were left - they left for Africa and took disease to an area which had once been healthy. This is an extreme example and I obviously don't have all the facts but this example, if correct, provides a very clear illustration of how the 'sins of the fathers can be visited upon the children, even to the third and fourth generations.'

Once we understand that numerous charismatic "deliverance leaders" are probably misunderstanding that word 'curse,' we can see that some of their highly extreme measures to "bind the devil" in order to remove generational curses, are also in error. We begin to see that while it could indeed be very wise for any families who might believe themselves to be affected in such a manner to gather together for deep prayer over this matter (Leviticus 26, as quoted above, is partly speaking of this matter when it suggests, "But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers..."), this could be an area where we just have to accept that none of us can be totally unaffected while living in a fallen society.

But I cannot deny that certain of my opening examples (and others which one could probably think of) are probably not fully explained in the manner which I have been outlining. Why, for example, in the family in which many - in earlier generations - had occultic involvements do those who now firmly reject the occult still somehow not prosper? Why do certain families seem to be dogged by sudden and untimely deaths? If some of those deaths are violent, it is hardly heredity. This is why my proposal is for an 'open' approach, whilst firmly holding to a sure theological foundation; because there may well be areas here that we do not completely understand at present. If that is so, I don't think we should be reluctant to acknowledge it.

Charismatic theology does provide "explanations" but some of those 'explanations' do seem to be theologically 'all at sea,' so the answer is not to jump into the charismatic camp. The usual answer of established evangelical theology that 'generational' problems of the sort which we have considered may be banished in Christ is not, of course, entirely wrong but it does seem to be answering the wrong question! Truth is that while living in such a world we cannot - even as true believers in the Christ - be wholly unaffected by the world. So we see that a true Christian believer could, indeed, come from a family which is still be affected by various long-term inherited and family-related problems; if such problems are very obvious and marked then prayer can only be recommended as the best way forward.
Robin A. Brace, 2008.








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