Generational curses and fearful Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 January 2017

In the middle of the Ten Commandments, as he warned the Hebrews away from idolatry, the LORD mentioned a little something about how children suffer consequences for their parents.

Exodus 20.5-6 NIV
5 “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Further down in Exodus, when the LORD revealed his glory to Moses, he repeated this idea of forgiving a thousand generations, yet afflicting three or four generations.

Exodus 34.6-7 NIV
6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 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 parents to the third and fourth generation.”

And in Deuteronomy Moses also forbade certain people from joining the qehal YHWH, “the LORD’s assembly.” That’d include

  • a mamzér, “mongrel,” the child of a Hebrew and a gentile, “till the 10th generation.” Dt 23.2
  • Ammonites and Moabites; 10th generation. Dt 23.3
  • Edomites; third generation. Dt 23.7

And of course there’s total depravity, the idea that humanity is innately messed up because Adam and Eve’s original sin was passed down to the rest of us, spoiling us from the moment of our birth.

In general, these ideas are the basis of the popular Christian idea there are generational curses, a problem that’s passed down from parent to child in a family for centuries. Like alcoholism, or the tendency to have heart attacks in one’s forties. Like bad genes. Only this time it’s a particular form of sin problem.

Fr’instance say your grandfather was involved in conjuring up the spirits of the dead. And whattaya know; mine was. According to generational-curse theory, that’s gonna affect me. Even though I’m Christian; even though I was Christian before Grandpa got involved in necromancy; even though Grandpa later repented and became Christian. Simply by virtue of his being my grandfather, evil spirits have been called upon to plague my grandmother’s life, my parents’ lives, my aunts’ and uncles’ lives, my siblings and their kids, my cousins and their kids. And of course me.

Gee, thanks Grandpa.

Oh, but I’m getting it from every direction. My great-grandfather was involved in the Odd Fellows, and according to generational-curse experts all the oaths he took as part of that club, now apply to my grandfather, dad, me, and all his other descendants. Thing is, the further back you go in every family, the more you’re gonna find stuff like this. Ancestors who dabbled in magic and pagan religions, who joined secret societies and clubs, who owned slaves, who committed murders and rapes and other foul deeds, who were addicted to anything and everything. ’Cause total depravity touches us all.

That’s a lot to be cursed with.

Any biblical basis to this belief system? Not really.

The LORD’s generational curses.

First lemme point out when Christians teach on “generational curses,” they aren’t talking about the generational stuff we find in the bible. They’ll quote bible—they’ll quote the very same verses I’m using in this article—but mainly they quote scripture to prove “generational curses” exist in the first place. Then they take a sharp left turn into demons and deliverance.

Hence there’s a vast difference between what God means, and what they do. Those “generational curses” they offer to help us get free from? God has nothing to do with ’em. At all.

Whereas the stuff in the scriptures? God’s involved. Often he’s behind them. You can tell from the fact he incorporates grace into them: He installs endpoints, cut-offs, boundaries, and exceptions into these “curses” which extend generations. He implements them to punish, but his purpose as usual is to stop evil and restore relationships.

First of all, the 10-generation moratorium on helf-Hebrews, Ammonites, and Moabites: That wasn’t a perpetual command for all time, where even today half-Hebrews are banned from God’s assembly. ’Cause more than one king of Israel was half-Hebrew. Like Rehoboam (whose mother was Ammonite), 1Ki 14.21 or Ahaziah and Jehoram (whose mother was Jezebel of Sidon). And of course there’s the apostle Timothy. Ac 16.1,/p>

In fact this 10-generation ban only applied to the people of the day, who’d given the Hebrews grief as they were enroute to Palestine. That generation of half-Hebrews, Ammonites, and Moabites. Starting from the time Moses handed down that command in the 15th century BC. Meant to punish the people of that day, and a few generations hence. But it didn’t prevent those people from having relationships with God in their homelands. And it had an expiration date.

’Cause in the 12th century BC, we have Ruth. She was from Moab, Ru 1.4 but left to be with her mother-in-law Naomi, and serve Naomi’s God. Ruth swore to God she’d die before leaving Naomi. Ru 1.16-17 Most folks honored her for it. We still honor her for it. And her great-grandson was King David ben Jesse Ru 4.13-17 —which would make him one-eighth Moabite, and only four generations removed from the Moabites and their “generational curse.”

Yet David was an obvious member of the LORD’s assembly. Went to tabernacle, probably regularly. Knew the head priest Ahimelech personally 1Sa 21.1-9 (and lied to him and got him killed, but still). Danced before the LORD’s ark when the tabernacle was re-stationed in Jerusalem. 2Sa 6.12-16 Not only that: David was one of the LORD’s prophets, as we see in the Psalms. Not only that: King Solomon ben David, only five generations removed from the Moabites, built the LORD’s temple 1Ki 6.1 —and from the text, it could be argued Solomon built it himself, or at least personally supervised the construction.

So what about that 10-generation ban on Moabites? Like I said, it only applied to the 15th-century Moabites. By the time Ruth was born, those 10 generations were dead and gone. (Or maybe not; maybe Ruth was part of the 11th generation.) Either way, it didn’t affect David any. Nor any of the many other righteous gentiles who put aside their homeland’s customs, and worshiped the LORD.

God’s “generational curses” have an endpoint. As do all the other “curses” God declared upon the Hebrews. The Babylonian Exile was only meant to last 70 years; then the LORD brought his people back. The kings of Israel, when they defied God, were told their dynasty would lose the throne as the consequence, though not always in their lifetime. Meaning their descendants would be overthrown, rather than them. As they were; often in nasty ways.

But if the kings or people repented and turned back to God, sometimes he undid these consequences. (Or pushed ’em back a generation, as he did with Ahab ben Omri. 1Ki 21.29) Like I said, God’s intent is to stop evil and restore relationships. If God gets his way, what point is there in keeping a curse upon anyone? Pride?—“I declared it, and I must see it through”? God doesn’t do pride. He does grace.

Demon-originated “generational curses.”

When Christians talk about “generational curses,” just about every single time, they mean the stuff we curse ourselves with. Has nothing to do with what God did. If it did, these curses would be unbreakable: If God cursed you, y’ain’t getting uncursed by any human activity whatsoever. But these Christians claim every “generational curse” is unbreakable: Just follow their directions. Take their courses. Maybe pay them a little something.

The way they imagine it works is like so: Ever notice a woman who has trouble controlling her anger? Ever notice that she’s not the only one in her family with this problem? Her kids struggle with anger issues too. Her parents are really angry people. Even her spouse might have anger problems.

This, these Christians insist, is the sure sign of a generational curse.

Me, I’d call it an obvious case of learned and reinforced behavior. Angry parents raise angry kids. Angry men and women, if they’re angry at the same things, attract one another. If they never take out their anger in destructive ways, most people (and courts) let it slide. They’re not “cursed with anger”—and who’d curse ’em with anger, of all things? “From now on, may you and all your descendants have no control over your temper.” That’s a mighty stupid curse.

But these Christians insist it is a curse. And the only reason we don’t dismiss their theory as superstitious nonsense, is because they keep pointing to the LORD’s generational curses in the Old Testament, and insist this is like that. Somehow God made things this way. Or God permits sin to work this way—to pass down to your children—because he figures you’ll wanna break the chain before your sins affect your kids. (Of course if God actually did figure this, it’d be mighty naïve of him. Sinners always think they’ll get away with it.)

So how do these “generational curses” work? I kid you not: These Christians claim it all has to do with evil spirits.

My grandfather, fr’instance. He dabbled in talking to the dead. Basically evil spirits conned him into thinking he really was talking to the dead. So he let ’em in his life. Let ’em hang around. And if any other pagans were around, these critters might’ve tried to get at them too. My great-grandfather might come over for dinner, and bam, an evil spirit jumps him and he’s got one. My uncle comes for a visit, and bam, and evil spirit turned him Fundamentalist. I stay there on summer vacation, and one of ’em might’ve wormed into me when I wasn’t looking.

Does this mean I’m possessed?

Well no. ’Cause once the Holy Spirit moves in, we Christians can’t be possessed. But we can still be tempted by evil spirits, right? And these folks insist the evil spirits which’re behind “generational curses” are a type of spirit which tempts us in a more profound way than usual. One which really gets under our skin. One which can’t be got rid of by mere resistance. Unlike the devil. Jm 4.7 Apparently the devil’s weaker than these critters.

The only way to be rid of them is through a sorta-but-not-really-exorcism: You find a “deliverance ministry,” and these people will help you undergo some ritual where you denounce the sin which is holding you in bondage. Meanwhile they pray and drive the evil spirits away.

And then, every time you’re suffering from some other “generational curse,” you come back to the ministry and get rid of those evil spirits:

  • First time, you get rid of the spirit of alcoholism.
  • Next month, spirit of anger.
  • Next month, spirit of depression.
  • Next week, spirit of gluttony.
  • Maybe a year later, spirit of getting hooked on telenovelas.
  • Maybe two years later, you found out your great-great-grandfather was in the Masons, and got involved in all their weird rituals, and you have no idea if he cursed himself with anything, but you still wanna be rid of the spirit of Masonry.
  • Next week, you get rid of the spirit of anger again, ’cause I guess it came back.

And so on. These folks are pretty sure there’s a spirit of everything—and they can help you get rid of it. Don’t have to exercise self-control; just have to get delivered.

Of course once you’ve been “delivered,” they don’t expect those spirits to come back. If you have to return to re-remove the “spirit of anger,” they’re gonna insist you already did remove the spirit of anger. The only bondage you’re suffering from is ignorance. Start believing really hard you’ve been set free indeed, Jn 8.31-36 and that’ll break your bad behavior.

Yeah, it’s all rubbish.

Let me make it clear I do believe in legitimate exorcisms. Pagans can be possessed by evil spirits, and sometimes they are. Some of ’em think they’re Christian, and even bring their critters to church with them, just like that demoniac in Jesus’s synagogue. So this is a real issue for Christians to deal with. It’s why deliverance ministries need to exist.

But whenever deliverance ministries broaden their mandate, and decide they also need to kick evil spirits out of Christians, they’ve leapt off the deep end.

I tend to outrage my fellow Pentecostals when I say this. Some of them are really sold on the idea of getting these evil spirits knocked out of them. But there’s no scriptural basis for the idea of devil-possessed believers. Once the Spirit enters your life, there’s no longer room for evil spirits. We all know this, which is why some of the folks who teach on “generational curses” insist these spirits aren’t in you like a tapeworm, but on you like a leech. Meh; parasites are parasites. The Spirit scrapes them all away. Light eradicates darkness both inside you, and out.

Why do I figure these folks are all wet? Well, there’s the bible. Consequences might affect multiple generations, because that’s the messed-up world we live in. But when it comes to sin, God’s intent is to hold everyone accountable for their own sins.

Deuteronomy 24.16 NIV
Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.
Ezekiel 18.20 KWL
“The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.”

As expressed by his prophets Moses and Ezekiel, God holds everyone guilty of their own sins. And no one else. Not their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, second great-grandparents, third great-grandparents, and so on back; not their kids, grandkids, great-grandkids, and so on forward.

Adam and Eve’s sin affected the world I live in, and the species I was born into. Ro 5.12 Thanks to them I’m born with a bent towards sin. That’s the “generational curse,” so to speak. But am I condemned for their sin? No; I earn my own death with my own sins. Ro 6.23 And if I follow Jesus and resist temptation, resist sin, I don’t have to follow their curse, nor suffer from it. God plans to undo it, and in the meanwhile he can help me break it.

Your ancestors were pagans. (Go back far enough, everybody’s ancestors were pagans.) But it doesn’t matter how long that string of pagans was. If you embrace Christ Jesus, none of your ancestors’ practices apply to you any longer. None of their oaths, spells, blessings or curses, promises, predictions, nothing. They were broken the instant the Holy Spirit took up residence in you. You’re his. Sin has no more claim on you.

Y’see, God’s followers are curse-proof. You can’t curse someone God’s blessed; Nu 22.12, 23.8 he’ll just undo your curses. Does this apply to generational curses too? Well duh; of course they do.

The other reason: I’ve met way too many Christians who were “delivered from generational sins,” but weren’t really. Now they’re in therapy, or 12-step recovery groups, getting real help. (Although some of ’em now think since “deliverance” is hogwash, so’s the rest of Christianity, so they’re not going to church anymore. Hopefully they’ll come back around.)

See, if you think you’ve been “delivered,” you won’t bother to do the real work of changing your habits and behaviors, resisting temptation, seeking accountability partners, confessing your sins… and where appropriate, seeking medical and psychological help. Instead you figure the deliverance stuff should’ve worked, and the only reason it’s not is because of your own lack of faith.

In other words, your habitual sins used to be the fault of curses and evil spirits. Now they’re your fault. But rather than seek help, most Christians simply pretend it’s all good, and become just another Christian hypocrite who’s still as angry as before, as addicted as before; but in serious denial, and hiding their struggles. They won’t be better, but worse.

But they insist it’s not rubbish…

Here’s the problem: Humans suffer from irrational fear. Blind, stupid, crazy worry. We don’t know why, so we look for reasons. But if it had a legitimate reason, it wouldn’t be irrational, right?

Christians sometimes suffer from it too. Even though Jesus orders us not to worry, Mt 6.25-34 we just do. And as we’re casting about for something to worry about, sometimes it’ll be the worry there’s something amiss about our relationship with God. If we’re not having the sort of luck, good fortune, or prosperity we expect… well, certain Christians are gonna say it’s the karmic consequence of something we’ve done wrong, or left undone. Some generational curse we know nothing about.

So, gotta hunt it down. Gotta name it, rebuke it, and repent of it. Go visit the deliverance ministry of your church, and get it exorcised.

But if it were a legitimate sin, we don’t have to hunt anything down. We’d already know it. Or the Holy Spirit will point us directly to it. And it wouldn’t be our parents’ sin, or the family sin, but our own. Like Thomas Jefferson’s descendants, who for the longest time refused to acknowledge they had black relatives. Jefferson’s sin of slavery wasn’t the problem; their sin of denial was. The only “family curse” was this generation’s refusal to address the truth. Their sin, not their ancestor’s.

Irrational, unplaced fear isn’t an unconscious suspicion we’ve sinned, or are cursed. If that’s the conclusion we jump to, the real problem is we doubt God’s grace and forgiveness. That’s a whole other problem we need to deal with. Having someone exorcise imaginary spirits off you might make you feel better temporarily, but don’t deal with the real problem. You need to sit down with God and talk it out. Or a therapist.

Generational sin, and deliverance ministries which indulge this idea, are simply a way for Christians to avoid doing any such thing and get a spiritual-feeling quick fix. If they’ve went to get “the spirit of depression” removed, instead of seeing a doctor, they’re gonna want to justify this idea rather than admit they were wrong. If they’re the one casting demons out of phony Christians, or phony demons out of Spirit-filled believers, they’re gonna want to justify their practice rather than admit they were wrong. And if they’re an evil spirit who wants Christians spinning our wheels in this practice instead of really getting cured, treated, or freed… well, Grandpa is far from the only person they’ve conned.