For Father's Sins
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"If sin cannot be passed on or inherited, then what does Lamentations 5:7 'Our fathers sinned and are no more, and we bear their punishment' mean?"
This is a question that has caused confusion for a number of people - this confusion is easy to understand when you take single verses out its context. Let's look at the fuller context of Lamentations 5:1-9:
We see here not a command or directive handed down from God but the author giving the history that lead up to the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Chaldean army.
On many occasions God told the nation of Israel that if they walked in God's ways that he would prosper them and make an incredible nation out of them and that if they walked in the ways of the Pagan nations that they would be disbanded as a nation - Lamentations is a eulogy at the funeral of the nation of Israel.
Have a look at Chapter 24 of Joshua to see this promise as given by God.
In Chapter 5 we see an acknowledgement of the sins of Israel and the punishment to God's people as a whole - this is not talking about individual people but about a nation. Israel sinned and are now being punished for that sin even though it is a generation later.
We can see that this same issue was a confusion to people in these times - have a look at the message of Ezekiel in dealing with this very same issue in Ezekiel 18:1-20:
Here Ezekiel talks about the individual - the son is not punished for the sins of the father nor is the father punished for the sins of the child.
One note does need to be made here about sin and consequences - Even though we can repent of sin and be forgiven by God there are still the consequences of sin to deal with here is a rather extreme example - A person gets really angry over some issue and stabs a person to death - they are arrested and sentenced to a long term in prison - in prison they find Jesus and become a Christian - that person will be forgiven for the sin of murder at the day of judgement but they will have to finish serving the prison sentence as a consequence for their sin.
Another example might be a father that gets drunk and shakes his baby for crying to much which leads to permanent brain damage of the baby - though the father can repent and be forgiven that child will have to live the rest of its life with the consequences of the father's sin.
This is the same case in Lamentations - Every person, whether righteous or unrighteous, who lived in Israel bore the consequences of Israel not walking with God. Though this might seem unfair it is in fact completely just - the entire nations, except for a very small remnant, walked in the path of evil and God acted as he had promised. The righteous who died in the Chaldean invasion will be vindicated at Judgement day, those who survived and held to their faith throughout the captivity returned to do remarkable things - including rebuilding Jerusalem 70 years later.
We must always remember that suffering the consequences of sin is not the same as being punished for that sin - we may be punished by men and their laws but the real punishment for sin will not be until Judgement day when all will come before God to give an account of their actions in this lifetime.