Have you ever noticed how some patterns of living seem to follow a family down through generations? The pattern may be nothing more than how one makes spaghetti sauce, or it may be a sinful method of dealing with conflict, or an entire outlook on life, or a religious tradition. How many people are Catholic because their family was Catholic? Or Lutheran or atheistic or wealthy or poor or Democrat or Republican? For whatever reason, it seems that many lifestyle choices carry on from one generation to the next.
Jesus said something along this line to the Pharisees and lawyers: "Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs" (Luke 11:47-48). In numerous places, the Bible points out sins of the fathers carrying on to the next generation.
So does this mean you're doomed to repeat all the mistakes of your parents? Are you forever cursed by the choices made decades before you were even born? Can the generational curse be broken? Yes. It can. I'll give you an example.
In the days of Joshua, God worked mightily to judge the Canaanites and give their land to Israel. But Joshua and his generation eventually got old and died. What happened then? Did Israel continue the work of Joshua? Hardly. "And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger" (Judges 2:10-12).
It can be seen in the above text that folks aren't doomed to follow in their fathers' footsteps. The next generation of Israelites after Joshua turned completely away from the God of their fathers. While this text is sad, it is also very hope-giving. If the next generation can fall away from a godly pattern of life in just one generation, then the next generation could also leave behind ungodly patterns of life in just one generation. However, there is a difference.
Truth and godliness are not the default positions of fallen man. Error and rebellion are. That's why we speak of falling into error. Truth must be gained and maintained. Rebellion is floating, godliness is swimming upstream. Error is easy, truth is tough. So it was probably pretty easy for sinful men and women to fall away from God in one generation once their parents were all dead. They were naturally bent that way. What is more difficult is to make the conscious decision to live godly, in spite of how they were raised. That is tough!
Marriage provides an excellent way to break the generational curse. When a couple marries, they have the ability to build a godly life and a godly posterity. Married couples don't begin their life together on a blank slate. The husband and the wife bring presuppositions and traditions and worldviews and family ties into the their marriage. They do this naturally. So if the couple doesn't deliberately decide to pattern their life after godliness, in the image of Christ, then they will float along in the same patterns of thought that plagued their parents.
Perhaps a couple examples will bring to light what I'm saying. Let's take that jolly, beneficent, rotund friend - Santa. I was raised to believe in a fat man who slides down a chimney, even in houses without one, in order to give toys to boys and girls who never caused trouble for their parents. This charade went on for the better part of a decade of my life. Eventually, the plausibility of such a ludicrous notion broke, and the gig was up.
When Amanda and I got married, we were deliberate about each aspect of our marriage. We didn't just float through life, carrying on the patterns of thought and traditions instilled in us by our parents. We had to decide if we were going to do the "Santa thing" or not. We decided against it, to the chagrin of many friends. We decided it wasn't good to lie to our children. In the end, there is no such thing as a harmless lie. All lies are error. Error is the opposite of truth. Love rejoices in the truth, not error (1 Corinthians 13:6). Therefore, to lie to our children about Santa is unloving, and therefore ungodly. It's not fantasy, like Harry Potter. Parents don't tell their children, "Let's pretend this fat, red-suited man slides down the chimney and gives you toys." They say, "Santa is real. You have to believe in him. The toys on Christmas morning are the proof." When questioned, parents don't budge, they insist more strongly, prolonging the day of disclosure. Amanda and I decided we wanted no part of such dishonest nonsense.
Amanda and I are Christians. We are deliberately Christians. We strive to live our lives according to the clear teachings of the Bible. Where the Bible seems to be a little sketchy, we don't make hard rules. But where the Bible seems clear to us, we hold to it with ferocity. Santa isn't compatible with Scripture, no matter how emotionally attached everyone is to the made-up man. So we hold onto our conviction in that area.
Another example. Because we're Christians, we want our children to come to a knowledge of the truth. We want them to come to this knowledge in their own hearts. We don't want them to carry Christianity into their marriage someday because that's what Mom and Dad are. We want them to be Christians out of Holy Spirit wrought conviction. So rather than just teaching our children what to think, we're trying to teach them how to think for themselves. If their convictions from the Bible are nothing more than their parents' brainwashing, then they'll fall away. But if their views are deliberately brought forth from the Bible, and they love what they're reading, then they'll carry those truths as convictions the rest of their lives.
Much could be said on this topic. It gets to the heart of worldviews. It's up to each of us to deliberately base our marriage on Scripture. Every aspect of it. How we handle conflict, to how we run our household, to how we discipline children, to how we educate them, to how we manage our finances, to where we go to church, to what is acceptable entertainment, to how often we have sex, to what priorities will receive our ambition. Every aspect of marriage must be deliberately decided upon through biblically-inspired convictions. The danger of drifting is too great. The generational curse lurks in the shadows. Only through the light of Scripture can it be broken.