The old saying is “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” And then there is “He’s a chip off the old block.” When I was a young man I feared these old sayings, terrified that they were right. You see, I didn’t want to be like my dad. Don’t get me wrong, my dad is a sweet man, but his choices in life have had consequences beyond just him. I guess that’s like all our lives.
But there truly is a connection between the sins of the fathers and the generations that follow them. We set patterns in our lives and, sometimes (dare I say “most of the time?”) these patterns are destructive rather than helpful or life-giving. And then there are those sons who break the pattern left for them by their fathers. They set new patterns for future generations.
Look at our lesson today in Genesis 4:16-26:
Then Cain went away from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch; and he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael the father of Methushael, and Methushael the father of Lamech. And Lamech took two wives; the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah bore Tubalcain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubalcain was Naamah. Lamech said to his wives: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, hearken to what I say: I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, for Cain slew him.” To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time men began to call upon the name of the LORD.
As we continue our look into Genesis, we come across the growing families of humanity. And these growing families are setting patterns for future generations. I guess this is why I love the Canon of St. Andrew so much. In these services of the canon, we are introduced to these names and warned either to not be like them or to adopt their pious way of life. In today’s passage, we learn more about Cain’s family and his sons and their sons are an interesting group. It seems Cain’s offspring are the fathers of many industries we admire and respect. Musicians and cattle herders, and even workers of metals; all these talents and gifts are in the offspring of the first murderer. But murder is also continued as well. Lamech commits a murder and here we see him appeal to Cain’s protection as he follows the pattern of his forefather.
The truth is, we are not bound by the sins of our fathers. Although it is difficult to break the bad habits and patterns of sins from one generation to the other, it isn’t impossible and history is filled with the stories of sons who break with the destructive patterns of their fathers and forge a new path for succeeding generations. But, how did they do it?
The answer is found in the last verse of our passage: They “began to call upon the name of the Lord.” It is in valuing the pattern of life first set in motion by my Father in heaven rather than enslaving my life to the earthly patterns of imperfect men. By choosing to use my freedom to follow God, I automatically break the power of lesser heritage to imprison me and my children to lives of notorious imperfection, sin, and rebellion.
Today, is your past a bit “checkered?” Do you look back and see a pattern in previous generations you’d rather not pass on to the next generation? Then the answer is simple. Prefer to follow the pattern of love, humility, goodness, and mercy of The Father rather than settling for the lifestyles of fathers who failed to escape the prison of the past. Being Orthodox on Purpose is a pattern generation after you will thank you forever!
P.S. Dear Lord, our past mistakes and sins really do set up a pattern that our children tend to follow. It seems impossible to overcome the patterns of living we set for our children. And yet, I am also quick to forget that my attempts to follow You faithfully also set patterns for my children. Grant me the wisdom to stay attentive to that way of life so that my children can be free from the sins of their father. For You are a good God and You love mankind. Amen.