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Mable could not stop gushing about how happy she was. God was amazing, and she was living in sustained happiness. Her prayer life was fulfilling. Her Bible reading was alive, and her ministry opportunities were plenteous. The more she talked, the more I wondered why she was seeing me for counseling. She spoke without interruption for thirty minutes about the goodness, bigness, and kindness of God.
I was perplexed. It appeared Mable was the first counselee to ever come to me because she was too happy. At some point during her joy-filled monologue, she inserted that she was also on medication. It was a passing comment with no elaboration. Mable continued to talk for another thirty minutes, and her statement about medicine meandered to the bottom of her joy-filled blather.
After she left, my “counselor-in-training” asked if I heard her say that she was on meds. I said that I had, but it got lost in her “happy-talk-wind-machine.” We both agreed it would be wise to bring her back for another appointment and ask her about the medications. So the following week, she came in, and I popped the question: “Last week, you said you were on medications. Will you tell me more about that?” That was it. Nothing more. It was a simple question. What followed was stunning.
Mable interpreted my question as an attempt to take away her medications. So she doubled down. She said her grandmother and mother were on the same drugs. Mable “tipped her hand.” She believed in generational curses. Though there was no objective evidence to support her “curse claim,” she thought it was God’s will for her life, and I was the bad guy attempting to take her medications away from her. I was only asking a question; I said nothing about stopping her drug use.
I do not ask folks to stop taking medications, but she did not know this. Her “self-generated faith” in medicine was so strong that a suggestion (or implication) to the contrary was an insult. From her perspective, it was like pushing her out of an airplane without a parachute. From Mable’s view, God was not helping her overcome her problems. The Spirit was not empowering her through the many sanctification issues. The grace of God was not working either.
The meds were sustaining her, and I was the meanie who was taking them away from her. This puzzle was a faith issue for her. Her faith in God was not in a grace-giving Savior but a med-giving one. Like Lieutenant Dan from the movie Forrest Gump, this was her destiny. She was in the “generational line” of a bunch of cursed people. Though there can be value in some medications, she was not coming at her problems from a biblical perspective. She believed she was cursed.
Similar to generational curses is another line of thinking called genetic determinism. There is merit in thinking about genetic determinism if you’re talking about a person’s total depravity and unique fallenness. Additionally, from a medical perspective, you can objectively prove some individuals should be on medication for specific biological problems. Without question, because of the fall of Adam, sin has corrupted our genetic makeup, and we do have physical issues that can be detrimental to our health.
The End of the Story – Though every person does not come off medication through ongoing counseling, Mable did stop her medication usage, which is something she and her doctor decided was the best course of action. Mable’s problems were not medically, biologically related but tied to her poor theology. Sadly, Mable had thought she lived under a generational curse for many years because she read about them in the Bible. The idea came from the sermon from Moses when he gave us the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) on Mount Sinai.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:4-6).
In Exodus 34, you read the retelling of the event where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. The wording about generational curses is different in Exodus 34, but the idea is the same: if you sin, there will be a curse on you, your children, and your children’s children. It’s essential to read both passages in context to get the whole meaning. It’s also vital not to take these verses out of context and make an application to yourself that the Bible does not make.
Too often, people will read something in the Old Testament and assume that God is talking to them and what God said back then stretches forward to all people, to all times, with no exceptions, and it never changes. This worldview is an improper way of interpreting the Bible. Though God is immutable (unchanging), the way He interacts with His people does change. We see this in the first three chapters of the Bible. Our “unchanging God” engaged with “an ever-changing man” in different ways.
In the beginning, everything was calm, and God, Adam, and Eve had an incredible time together. Then, turning the page to chapter three, Adam and Eve decided they wanted to go another way, to do their own thing—they sinned (Genesis 3:6). God did not change, but His creation did. And because they decided to go their way, they entered into another kind of relationship with the Lord. Generational curses are not so much about what God will do as it is about what people do.
Think about it this way: suppose God was like a big house and in that house were many rooms. The house and the rooms never change. They are what they are, and there is nothing you can do about it. Let’s say one of those rooms was the “I hate God” room. According to what God said through Moses, there will be a curse if you go into that room. If you have children, they will be affected adversely too. And if they have children, those children will be under the curse.
I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me (Exodus 20:5).
Believe me: if you hate God, there will be a curse, and if you bear children who are like you, they will come under a similar condemnation (Romans 5:12). The Lord will not change on this matter. It is the law of sowing and reaping.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life (Galatians 6:7-8).
Some things are unalterable; the consequences of hating God are one of those things. There is no grace or mercy for an individual who hates God. But you may ask, “Why does it go to the third and fourth generation?” It will go farther than that. The third and fourth generation is not a magic stopping point, and it was not the point the Lord was making. Hating God has gone through every generation since Adam first hated Him in the garden of Eden. The third and fourth generation is a way of saying the curse is unending. Every generation is under the curse of God since that dark day in Genesis.
If you read Exodus 20:5 as though it ended at a point in time and did not run on into verse 6, I suppose you could do some biblical gymnastics and conjure up an idea of generational curses.
But showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments (Exodus 20:6).
But if you read the passage in context, you find it in line with the entire Bible, as well as the God we know and love. God has never changed. He said in the beginning, if you sin, there will be a curse.
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).
He will not go back on His Word. What He said in the beginning, He says in the Decalogue. You sin, you die. If your children sin, they will be under the curse too, and that will never stop no matter how many generations choose to hate Him. But Moses did not stop with our “curse problem.” He kept on talking because there was more to say. There is another teaching in Scripture; it is the “generational curse-breaking teaching,” or what we call the gospel.
God did not end the sentence in verse five. He continued with His thought. The Lord said that if anyone chose to love Him and keep His commandments, that person would experience the tremendous steadfast love of God. The Lord would later reveal how that could happen for you as He “fleshed it out” in the New Testament when Jesus came in the form of a man.
The reason the gospel is so vital to your understanding is some folks will read Exodus 20:5-6 and say, “I can’t keep His commandments, though I love Him. Does this mean I’m cursed?” No, it does not. What it means is you must read the Bible as one book and take it all in context. While it is true that God will only love those who keep His commandments, it is also accurate that nobody can keep His commandments, which is why He sent His Son.
Christ came to entirely and perfectly fulfill the Old Testament laws, and the only way you can “keep” those laws is by trusting Him alone. The bottom line is that if a person chooses to reject Christ, he will experience a curse now and throughout eternity. And that curse is currently on any person who denies God, and it is a curse that will never expire. Rejecting the Lord will take them into a permanent curse in hell.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (John 3:36).
The term “generational curse” is a bad term. It is not a biblical one but a human-made concept. God only said that He would curse the generations who hate Him. Individuals took His words and turned them into generational curses that run along the line of “bad luck.” People made it say something that God did not say while also cutting the term from His grace.
Typically when a person talks about generational curses, they talk about it negatively and don’t talk about God’s grace as the triumphal answer to the curse. It’s like they cut the sentence off in Exodus 20:5 and forget there is more optimism about the sentence than negative. Grace is always more positive than sin, and grace should consume more for our thoughts than whatever our sins are.
If you put the period in the wrong place, your mind will go to the wrong place, and you will miss all that God is and what He can do in your life. The whole point of the Decalogue is to reveal our need for Christ and how a gracious God can reverse the curse upon Adam and Eve.
If Christ is not your Savior, you are under an eternal curse from which you cannot extricate yourself. My father was a God-rejector. Because he lived in the southern part of the United States and was affected by Christianity, he would never say that he hated God. But his actions spoke louder than his words. You can try to trim the badness from his evil life and not say that he hated God and feel better about him, but you would only be playing games. There are no shades of gray here. You either hate or love, and he did not love God.
My father was under a curse, and I was cursed too. My parents reared me in a weed-smoking, beer-drinking, verbally and physically abusive home. My father spread his curse just like God said would happen to any person who rejected Him. But God, for reasons that I don’t understand, interjected Himself into my life when I was twenty-five years old. God reversed the curse. It’s been many years since He saved me, and it has never occurred to me since salvation that I was under a curse. I was under one given by my daddy, but the grace of God lifted that curse.
If you struggle with this concept of generational sins, may I suggest you retrain your mind to focus less on who you are and more on who Christ is and what He does for fallen individuals? Focusing on generational curses is the product of self-centered, problem-centered thinking. It is not Christ-centered thinking, and it brings shame to the work of our Lord. It marginalizes His life while undervaluing His death.
I recommend that you spend your time reading, studying, praying, reflecting, and talking to others about the gospel and what its powerful impact should be on you. Be blessed. Christ lifted the curse. Practice rejoicing for God’s good work in your life.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).