“The Lord passed before him [Moses] and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.'” (Exodus 34:6-7, emphasis mine)
Have you heard this passage before? Or maybe just that last part–about the iniquity of the fathers?
How many times have we witnessed this truth, though? Children suffer, and we see the consequences of their parents’ sin, the consequences of their parents’ wrong actons playing out in the lives of the most vulnerable. A child chooses to follow his father’s footsteps toward a life of crime and ends up in prison. A child mimics the abusive behavior he sees between his father and mother and is expelled from school. A child whose father was more interested in beatings than bed-time stories chooses to abuse his own children. It’s easy to see how parents’ bad actions can influence their children. And that’s without mentioning the consequences these children may face at no fault of their own: being behind in school, failing to achieve career or relationship success, inescapable poverty, dependency issues. The list of serious negative sin-consequences is, sadly, inexhaustable.
And if we believe that all people are born with a sinful nature, that our very hearts bend us toward evil (Matthew 15:19), then how can we possibly escape the double whammy of our own sin and the sins passed down from our parents, even if we have been blessed with “good” homes and generally positive role models?
How can our children have any hope of peace beyond the consequences sure to be visited upon them for our sins, not to mention the sins of our parents, and even of our grandparents?
Is there any way to break this cycle?
I’ve been thinking about these questions, and I believe the answers lie in an understanding of adoption. Specifically, of adoption laws in Roman times.
John Wesley Valnes writes that “in [Roman] adoption, a person had to pass . . . out of the possession and control of one father into the equally absolute control and possession of another father.”
Adoption in Roman times was a serious matter, with four major consequences:
- An adoptee lost all rights in his original family, but gained all the rights of his new family. He received a new name and a new family.
- An adoptee became heir to his new father’s estate–even if that father previously or later had biological children.
- An adoptee’s old life was completely wiped out. He was regarded as a new person entering a new life, and the past had nothing to do with his present or future. This included the removal of any debts or obligations connected with the adoptee’s previous family.
- In the eyes of the law, an adoptee was seen as the absolute child of the new father.
So why is Roman adoption so important?
Because this explains how Paul, a Roman citizen, would have understood the term “adoption” when he wrote his letter to the Romans:
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness that we are children of God.” (Romans 8: 14-16, emphasis mine)
If the sins of the fathers are visited on the children . . .
And if God is our Father by adoption . . .
Then I submit that there can be no sins of the father visited upon us.
What freedom. What joy. And what hope for us in this life.
Praise God, who made a way for us to find freedom from our debts, and freedom from the debts of our families. Praise God, who loved us enough to make a place for us in his family, to include us as his heirs.
Have you been adopted into God’s family? If so, how has your life been changed?