The news each day is filled with accounts detailing the suffering of children because of the parents. A parent hacks off the arms of a little baby. A parent throws an infant against the wall because he soiled his pants. A boyfriend kills an infant while the mother goes shopping. The boyfriend was abusing the baby even as she left. Two cases of mothers drowning their children have occurred within the last several months, no doubt inspired by a highly publicized case of the same thing over to years ago. But that’s not all.
Swaziland, a sub-Saharan, landlocked African nation of one million, has over 15,000 children infected with HIV most of whom were born with the virus. This is also happening worldwide, even in countries we consider enlightened. Perhaps these are the most visible illustrations of how children suffer for the actions of their parents. It was stated in the Old Testament that children would suffer for the iniquity of the parents. “…I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing loving kindness unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5,6. Also see Ex. 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 5:9).
This passage, and similar ones, requires a comparison with other scriptures. It could not mean that the guilt of sin is passed from parent to child because it is otherwise stated in other passages. For instance: “Now if he (the robber, murderer, etc.) begat a son that seeth all his father’s sins…and doeth not such like; that hath not eaten upon the mountains, neither hath lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, hath not defiled his neighbor’s wife, neither hath wronged any, hath not taken ought to pledge, neither hath taken by robbery, but hath given his bread to the hungry, and covered the naked with a garment; that hath withdrawn his hand from the poor, that hath not received interest nor increase, hath executed mine ordinances, hath walked in my statutes; he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, he shall surely live. As for his father…behold he shall die in his iniquity.” (Ezekiel 18:14-18, note that I have left out some of the lists of sin for the sake of space as indicated by the three successive dots. D.G. See also Ezek. 18:1-4)
The conclusion that allows these passages to harmonize is that children suffer because of the sins of the parents, but the guilt of sin is not inherited by the children.
The spiritual implications are important. Parents who show little respect for God are creating an influence that will affect their children. The only way we can be fair to our children is to set a godly example which will influence them to become faithful Christians with the aim of making heaven their eternal home. They will not lose their souls because of the guilt of our sin but they may because of the example.