Some Christians believe they—or someone they love—is saddled with misfortune or problems because of a forefather’s pattern of repeated sin (abuse, illness, similar tragedies). It’s true that an ancestor may begin a pattern of sin but God only holds the succeeding generations responsible if they themselves have followed him/her into sin. In other words, godly offspring do not have to fear bearing God’s wrath for the sins of the fathers:

Yet he did not put the sons of the assassins to death, in accordance with what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses where the LORD commanded: “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sins.” 2 Chronicles 14:6

At first glance, the idea of a “generational curse” which is passed down to children and grandchildren regardless of the descendants own obedience to God, seems to make sense when some OT passages are isolated. But the whole testimony of Scripture reassures us that Christianity is not voodoo; we are not doomed, hapless victims of spells cast by our forefathers’ evil, but bear our own responsibility before the Lord for good or evil. Ezekiel 18:1-23 insists God holds the guilty person accountable. He does not penalize their descendants for their ancestry.

So, what are we to make of the following passages?

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 fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:5-6

4So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the LORD had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. 5Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7maintaining 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.” Exodus 34:4-7

‘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 fathers to the third and fourth generation.’ Numbers 14:18

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 fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Deuteronomy 5:9-10

These passages mean that a wicked person is likely to perpetuate his/her wickedness in his/her offspring. Criminal parents often rear criminal children. Kids often do what they saw mom or dad do and they continue to bear the consequences of their own sin which mimics their parent/s’ sin.

So, if God’s punishment of an ancestor really did follow the children and grandchildren because they repeated his/her evil, then the way to end God’s wrath is the same as it would be even if an ancestor wasn’t evil: repent and trust in God.

Unless the Spirit specifically reveals it, it is dangerous to conclude that something happened today because of something that happened a long time ago. Jesus specifically denounced that kind of cause-and-effect blame in John 9:1-3.