FFF #36 2015–Visiting the Iniquity of the Fathers

A few days ago in seminary, we were studying the Ten Commandments when we came across this scripture:

 And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.

 And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,

 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

 And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.
Then we asked the question, “What does visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation, mean?  Why would the Lord do that?”
Some one in the class said, ‘well, maybe it is because there are consequences and we need to know how serious they are’?  At which point, another student said, “I don’t think it is so much that the Lord punishes the following generations for the sins of their fathers, as much as it is that the fathers because of their sins, cannot teach their children the right ways to do things and so the children behave in ways (wrong ways) that their fathers did, thus having the same consequences for the same behaviors because their fathers did not teach them better and it takes about three or four generations for that to change.
copyright:  Karen Larsen photography
In our family science literature, it is often discussed that behaviors for good and for ill are handed down from generation to generation.  The fathers literally teach ‘how’ to behave to their children and those children teach it to their children down through the generations.  Think back to your own families, and look at that of your spouse also.  Think of some positive traits that you exhibit in your life that have obviously come from your parents.  Are you making a conscious effort to teach those things to your children?  What are some of your flaws?  Do they come from the way you were brought up?  Are you passing those things on to your children?
I will give you a few examples to help you see and start to think about your own situation.  In my family, on my dad’s side, my grandfather was an alcoholic.  My father, though he did not drink while I was growing up (I don’t know what his habits are now), has some very alcoholic-like behaviors.  For instance, sometimes we would get into big trouble for a behavior and the next day or so we would do the same thing and he would laugh.  So as children, we never knew when we were going to get in trouble for something and when we were going to get away with it.  That is a very alcoholic behavior because usually the difference in response is accounted for by the status of the alcoholic parent (sober or intoxicated).  Even though that wasn’t the case with my dad, his learned alcoholic behavior was that parenting didn’t need to be consistent–it could depend upon his mood, and it often did, much to the confusion of the children.
Now, my grandfather also had an alcoholic father.  Of my grandfather’s children, my uncle is an alcoholic, my aunt married an alcoholic and my father struggles with his consistency in parenting.  I have one brother who started with alcohol and is now a recovering heroine addict, and another brother who struggles with his alcohol consumption and keeping a job.  Alcoholism, wet or dry, has been perpetuated down through the generations in my family.
One of my students had shared in her family, how her aunt and grandfather don’t really get along.  They took a trip together and things got a little heated between them and one of them left the other one with all of his stuff and wouldn’t return to the vehicle.  Phone calls were made home, but no one else was able to come to where they were and help them to resolve their differences.  The suggestion from the family was to pray and then to try and work things out.  Neither the father, nor the daughter thought prayer was a very good solution to their predicament, so they wouldn’t even try it.  At 15, my student knew that prayer would help her in that situation.  But her grandfather, nor her aunt did.  How could either of them teach her to use prayer in a crisis?  They couldn’t because it wasn’t something they knew, understood, or believed.  Thankfully, her mother and her grandmother felt differently and those were the voices she usually listened to.
copyright:  Karen Larsen photography
My point is, that as parents, we cannot give to our children that which we do not have.  We cannot teach them things we do not know.  I learned early on that my parents didn’t know or understand how to apply the doctrinal principles that would help me to return to my Father in Heaven.  I was going to have to learn them from someone else.  I found people who I thought knew.  I asked them questions.  I tried the things they taught me.  As my testimony grew, I learned that I could find those answers in the scriptures and through the words of the prophets and eventually through personal revelation.  I yearned to know them for myself so that I could return to live with my Father in Heaven and I have continued to learn and apply them so I can adequately teach them to my children—and to teach them in such a way, that my children can teach them to others, specifically their children.  I want those after me to know what I know and apply it because I do not want any more of the generations of my family lost to the truths and doctrines of the gospel!  True, some of them may not want them.  At those points, we will respect their agency.  However, their choices will be informed choices!  They will not be because they didn’t know or because their parents didn’t know.  It will be a willful rebellion on their part.
But thankfully, God is no respecter of persons.  In Exodus 20, where the Lord is giving the Ten Commandments, right after he talks about the principle of visiting the iniquity of the father upon the heads of the children, the next verse says:
copyright:  Karen Larsen photography
 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
The Lord will give knowledge and understanding to any who ask and are willing to do His will.  He desires all to return unto Him.  Even, and especially if, our parents cannot direct us to the way we should follow, as we are obedient to what we know and seeking after more, the Lord will provide.  He wants to provide, but we must do the work.  And if you are like I am, you are willing to do that and put forth that effort that you will be of that much more service to your family and to those around you!!
Have a great weekend!!  I am so excited for the Holidays!!  Yea!!

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