This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
RED CROSS RETURNS TO BRING OUT THE WOUNDED FROM THE SHELTERS OF HOMS
18The word of the Lord came to me:2What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?3As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel.4Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.
5 If a man is righteous and does what is lawful and right—6if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbour’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period,7does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment,8does not take advance or accrued interest, withholds his hand from iniquity, executes true justice between contending parties,9follows my statutes, and is careful to observe my ordinances, acting faithfully—such a one is righteous; he shall surely live, says the Lord God.
10 If he has a son who is violent, a shedder of blood,11who does any of these things (though his father* does none of them), who eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbour’s wife,12oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination,13takes advance or accrued interest; shall he then live? He shall not. He has done all these abominable things; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.
14 But if this man has a son who sees all the sins that his father has done, considers, and does not do likewise,15who does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbour’s wife,16does not wrong anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment,17withholds his hand from iniquity,* takes no advance or accrued interest, observes my ordinances, and follows my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live.18As for his father, because he practised extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, he dies for his iniquity.
19 Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is lawful and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live.20The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own.
21 But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die.22None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live.23Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?24But when the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do, shall they live? None of the righteous deeds that they have done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which they are guilty and the sin they have committed, they shall die.
25 Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?26When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die.27Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life.28Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die.29Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair.’ O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin.*31Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?32For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.
I guess most people now take for granted the doctrine of individual responsibility before God set out here in detail. There is another view in scripture set out for example in Exodus 20 “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing kindness to thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.” I note in passing that this situation should cause problems for those who think every word of scripture is true.
Does God punish, and if so, how?
1. I think God does punish in order that there should be justice. (Of course, in saying so I warn readers that I’m talking about God as I imagine God)
2. God punishes through the natural consequences of evil which include the degradation of the evildoer’s character and the unintended evils he may bring upon his own life and the lives of his dear ones.
3. God punishes by not forcing the evildoers to choose repentance. If the gospel of God’s love does not persuade them, they are left in the darkness they have chosen.
4. Although God delights in no man’s death, those who refuse eternal life will die.
I think we can see that with respect to natural consequences of evil, an evildoer’s children may indeed be caught up in them although they themselves have done no wrong. This expands the notion of individual punishment; and it’s easily seen that the evil of an individual may influnce a whole family or society, even from beyond the grave. German neo-nazis who worship Hitler are an example. The issue of evil and its punishment is more complex than Ezekiel allows. Jesus seems to accept some doctrine of corporate responsibility, when he castigates “this evil generation” or pronounces woes upon whole townships and religious groups, as indeed Ezekiel does when he inveighs against “the shepherds of Israel.” I consider that groups and societies “do” evil at times, and can be held responsible for the harm they have done. While we can blame Milosevic, Mladic and other leaders for the massacres in Bosnia, there is no doubt that the Serb population played a part and that the Orthodox Church in Serbia contributed by its vile teachings. We may rightly feel that we cannot determine the degree of such responsibility or dare to exact punishment for it, but I like to imagine God can.