The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation. – Numbers 14:18
What the heck does that mean?
I have always thought this verse seemed a little unfair to be quite frank. I didn’t really understand it, and probably still don’t. But I think I have an idea.
When I was growing up we went to a lot of different churches. A LOT. Name a denomination, I have probably been in that type of church. From the Lutheran church to house churches we would try one, just start to integrate, and then something would be WRONG. They were too worldly. They were too pentecostal. The kids in the youth group were too liberal. The pastor committed a sin. There was always someone or something that caused us to leave, severing any ties or relationships we might have formed.
When I was a teenager we stayed with one church for several years – a record. I formed relationships, became involved, got baptized, and put down roots. Then my mom got divorced. People started talking. Taking sides. Then I got pregnant “out of wedlock” (man I hate that term). The mob and their pitchforks may have been metaphorical, but their message was loud and clear.
I didn’t attend church for over a decade. As a matter of fact I wanted nothing to do with it. Church had been one bad experience after another for me. I was cool with God and all, but who wanted anything to do with Christians?
About 5 years ago a series of events led to me tentatively trying church again. And then something crazy happened – one day when the pastor was praying a prayer of salvation I shut my eyes and prayed along. The feeling of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ was like nothing I had ever experienced. I devoured my Bible, it was like the words were coming alive and jumping off the page. I was desperate to get involved in ministry, but no real opportunities presented themselves at my church. As a matter of fact, trying to get involved was something like banging my head against a brick wall.
And then it happened. A major falling out in the church. It split in half, and I was caught in the fallout. Relationships ended, feelings were hurt, and I was disillusioned all over again.
We tried a few different churches but didn’t feel at home anywhere. We resorted to watching church online. When new leadership was placed in our old church, we considered going back, but were put off my stories from our friends and family. We eventually went back to try it. There was tension.
We waffled between going back to our old church, and just not going at all. There were still issues there, but we desperately wanted to find a church to call home.
One Sunday my husband and I went to a different service than our family attends. We sat alone, surrounded by people who were unfamiliar to us. The tension wasn’t as thick.The worship seemed more meaningful. I think I even raised my hand a little. Suddenly I realized I had been viewing the church through other people’s eyes. I had allowed gossip and the deep seated issues of others to cloud my view of the church, and members I didn’t even know.
The attitudes modeled to me as a child – no matter how much I resented them – had tainted my attitude towards the church as an adult. I had taken them on as my own. I hated the way the behavior of the generation before me had damaged so many areas of my childhood, but I was acting the same way. It seems silly that it took my 34 years to realize that. Something was WRONG. The legacy passed down to me was one of judgement and belligerence. Self-righteousness.
Our church is far from perfect. But so am I. And I believe that our God is big enough to use a room full of extremely imperfect people for His glory. He has planted us there for a reason.
I think I am going to sit by myself a little more often. And look at people and situations with new eyes. I think it is finally time to begin a new legacy.
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. – John 9:1-3