Are Generational Curses Real Today?
- Jessica Brodie Award-winning Christian Novelist and Journalist
- Updated Oct 06, 2020
We hear it from time to time: “Don’t get involved with him — that family is cursed with laziness.” Or maybe we’ve found ourselves following in our parents’ or grandparents’ footsteps, repeating some of their same bad behaviors, and think we can’t possibly change.
We believe, perhaps, that we’re held captive by a generational curse through no fault of our own, destined to make the same mistakes they did.
But there is good news: For Christians, there is no such thing as a generational curse. By dying on the cross, Jesus paid our sin debt and created a new covenant, one of forgiveness, and a fresh start.
Still, many people wonder: Are generational curses real today? Are they biblical? And what can I do if I feel my family has one?
What Is a Generational Curse?
A generational curse is also known as a family curse, an ancestral curse, or a hereditary curse. It is a curse on a family based on the sins, misdeeds, or other actions of a relative long departed and passed on for generations.
Many religions believe in generational curses, and they are also mentioned in the Bible.
Is the Concept of a Generational Curse Biblical?
Generational curses are talked about a number of times in the Old Testament. Our very first ancestors, Adam and Eve, are to thank for the concept. God commanded the first man and woman not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17), but the serpent tempted Eve to do so, anyway. Eve then gave some to Adam, and he ate, too.
Their actions weren’t just bad behavior — this was a sin, a direct disobedience to a command of God the Father, Creator of the Universe.
Because of their disobedience, the Bible tells us, God cursed human beings and drove them out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23). It is why — apart from Christ — sin still separates us from God today.
While some men and women were clearly faithful and beloved by God and enjoyed a special relationship with Him, it is clear from the Bible that humans can never work hard enough or be good enough to earn their way back to full harmony with God. Our sin, both individual and as a group, separates us from the Lord and introduces death.
And no one is immune to this. Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist, yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).
The Apostle Paul described the long-lasting impact of this “original sin” in his letter to the early Christians in Rome. Paul wrote,
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned — To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come (Romans 5:12-14).
And there are grave consequences to sin. In Exodus, when God gives His people the Ten Commandments, He declares, “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” (Exodus 20:5).
Moses repeats this in Numbers 14:18, “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
And, lest God’s people forget, Moses says it again in Deuteronomy 5:9, “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.”
How Did God’s People Escape Generational Curses in the Old Testament?
The Israelites weren’t entirely destined for doom. God did offer hope throughout the Old Testament along with the wrath He promised would befall children whose mothers and fathers sinned.
In His Ten Commandments, while God did claim His jealousy and willingness to make three and four future generations pay for the sins of their parents, He did say He would show “love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:6).
In Leviticus, through Moses, God told the people if they truly repent and try to make their wrongs right, He will turn His heart toward them once again. He says,
But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors — their unfaithfulness 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 (Leviticus 26:40-42).
Other times, after the people had sinned deeply and God seemed determined to be done with them forever, a good and worthy person pleaded with God to show mercy, and He did. For instance, the Bible recounts a time God was frustrated and clearly angry with the people for their disbelief and disobedience as they stood at the border to the Promised Land. But Moses and Aaron begged Him for mercy.
In response, the Lord replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked” (Numbers 14:20) — though He refused to let any but a handful of the faithful, namely Joshua and Caleb, ever enter the Promised Land.
Does Christ Cancel the Generational Curse?
Even deeper and farther-reaching than the above, though, is the wildly compassionate and grace-filled gift God offers us through His Son, Jesus.
When we accept Christ as our savior, this breaks the generational curse, because we are under a new covenant.
Jesus tells us in John 8:34-36, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
The prophet Jeremiah shared this Good News of Christ hundreds of years before Christ’s birth. Jeremiah wrote, predicting the days to come through a vision from God,
In those days people will no longer say, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes — their own teeth will be set on edge. “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:29-31).
And later, the prophet Ezekiel revealed that the Word of God had come to Him, refuting that same sour-grapes proverb.
What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? “As surely as I live,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child — both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:2-4).
Bible scholars tell us both of these forecast the salvation we are given through God’s mercy in Christ.
Indeed, God promises not to revisit the sins of the parent upon the child. In Christ, we are a new creation, entirely set free.
The Apostle Paul offers these encouraging words in his letter to the Romans, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
We are “set free from sin” through our faith in Christ (Romans 6:20-22), Paul elaborates.
What about Issues That ‘Run’ in Families, Such as Alcoholism?
There are things that do seem to carry from one generation to another. Beyond family traits such as skin, hair, and eye color, there are other things, like mental illness or alcohol and drug addiction, that pass from parent to child and beyond.
Science indicates there are certain genetic predispositions that carry from family member to family member, not to mention things such as abuse or a penchant for anger or gambling that are environmental influences.
But these are consequences and genes, not curses. While our genetics might make us predisposed to cancer, addiction, or depression, that is not necessarily our destiny or our own doing.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the early church in Corinth that we are a “new creation” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We take our troubles to the cross, ask Christ to heal us, and earnestly work with Him — along with other gifts of God, such as medication and mental health counselors — to seek spiritual deliverance.
For Jesus Christ is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Every one who repents and calls upon the name of the Lord is free, reconciled to God for eternity.
So, the next time you find yourself worrying about a “generational curse,” take heart. Drag your sin to the cross, turn your heart and your life toward Jesus, and rest secure in the knowledge that for Christians, there is no such thing as a curse.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Kuzmichstudio
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Her newest release is an Advent daily devotional for those seeking true closeness with God, which you can find at https://www.jessicabrodie.
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