“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.” Ezekiel 18:30 (NIV)
This morning as I read today’s chapter I was reminded of a story shared with me by a man raised in a very conservative, religious family. In his youth, the man had been a real hellion, getting involved in all sorts of unhealthy behaviors and rebelliously acting out against his parents. Because of his rebellious reputation, the elders of the religiously constipated church paid weekly visits to his father, shaming him for not being able to control his son. In turn, the son seemed to carry a sense of guilt and shame for what he put his parents through.
In a land and culture of rugged individualism and personal freedom, I think it’s hard for most of us to fully grasp the social realities of living in a staunch, patriarchal society like that of Israel in Ezekiel’s day. While there are still pockets of it as in the example I shared, I think most of fail to fully appreciate how power, wealth, and position flowed from father to eldest son or male relative. From a societal perspective, shame and guilt was shared in the same way. A father’s shameful acts tainted the son’s reputation. A son’s shameful acts tainted the father’s reputation and ability to control his family.
I have observed that in these types of patriarchal sub-cultures the truths of God get easily and confusedly mixed up with the cultural rules and power plays of the local authority figures (family fathers, church elders, town council, secret cabals of local businessmen, and etc.). So it was in Ezekiel’s day, and in today’s chapter God attempts to set the record straight through Ezekiel.
A child is not guilty for the sins of his or her parent and a parent is not guilty for the sins of his or her rebellious child. Each person must stand in judgment before God for his or her own actions. Period.
“Every subject’s duty is the King’s, but every subject’s soul is his own.”
– Shakespeare (Henry V, Act 4, Scene 1)
Today, I am thinking about ways I may have mindlessly allowed one person’s actions or reputation taint my feelings or actions towards that person’s other family members. And, I’m determining to change my way of thinking.