God told Ezekiel the prophet to forbid what had become a common expression at the time:
“The word of the LORD came to me: ‘What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge'? As I live, declares the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel.’” Ezekiel 18:1–3 ESV)
This text has provoked all sorts of theological debate about eternal salvation and God’s covenant justice. People have wondered if God is announcing a new way of treating people. I highly doubt this. In fact, most discussions of this passage seem to ignore what's going on. This is actually a simple and straightforward experience that many people, including secular people, have to deal with. Furthermore, it directly applies to the temptation we face in an economy that has been damaged by forces outside our control.
Our parents spoil things for us.
In Ezekiel’s day, the land of Israel was being invaded due to God’s judgment and the Israelites were being deported. This was the end result of generations of people committing serious sins and refusing to repent when the prophets warned them of national disaster from God’s hand.
So now the generation experiencing the national disaster was blaming their parents.
Weren’t they right?
Yes, there was an element of truth in their claim. But they were using this statement to ignore the call to repent of sin. They were blaming their parents for not repenting, and yet using their ancestors’ behavior to rationalize their own refusal to repent. But, as the story and Daniel and Esther show, even the economic devastation of the exile did not end God’s mercy and love. There was still time, as long as they were living, to avert further disaster. God could preserve people through His own judgment.
So when Christians face economic catastrophe brought on by generations of bad decisions, how should they respond? Give up or get to work? I trust the answer is obvious!
It is easy for people to use real prior (or imagined!) bad behavior to rationalize further bad behavior. For example, it is easy to use economic scarcity brought on by irresponsible debt to justify more irresponsible debt. When Americans begin to believe that their generation will be worse off than the previous generation, that belief can be debilitating. It can cause paralysis, as well as justifications for that paralysis.
The Bible encourages people to trust God and correct their lives in a way that conforms to His revealed will. Assuming that it is “too late” has a false appearance of humility that covers for a desire to continue going one’s own way.
It may be too late to get the life you expected, but that is no excuse to engage in behavior that will make the future worse still. And taking such action can be an act of faith. May God grant that to us all.
Mark Horne has served as a pastor and worked as a writer. He is the author of The Victory According To Mark: An Exposition of the Second Gospel, Why Baptize Babies?,J. R. R. Tolkien, and Solomon Says: Directives for Young Men. He is the Executive Director of Logo Sapiens Communications and the writer for SolomonSays.net.