God sometimes speaks in a terrible voice. Hear this:
I the Lord thy 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.
He has spoken these words to old Israel in the Old Testament. He has spoken it to new Israel in the Doctrine and Covenants. We must believe that the words are meant. The innocent child of the innocent child, the babyâ€™s baby, is a vessel of wrath. Theodicy trembles.
Our usual approachâ€“we are all amateur apologistsâ€“ is to deny that God really meant the active voice. He is simply describing a sociological fact: unusually righteous parents give their children good teaching and good example and love. The effect is that the children flourish and in turn likely become good parents. The effect is felt for three to four generations. Unusually wicked parents also have an effect for that long. The pathologies raised by their wickedness, spitefullness, hate, abuse, misuse, and domination are not likely to breed out for three to four generations.
The usual approach may well be true. But it is cold comfort when you are a primary teacher to a sweet child who struggles to pay attention; who does not give trust easily; who feels like an outsider at church because everyone here is so different from home; who becomes defensive or skeptical when you preach love and morality. You can hardly bear the lashes scarred across their innocence.
Plus some scriptures just donâ€™t fit the â€˜sociological factâ€™ model.
Here God promises to protect the childrenâ€™s children of the man who turns away from wreaking vengeance on the agressor, if the agressor were to attack them in their turn. Itâ€™s hard to recast this protection into some sort of â€˜naturalâ€™ cause. It reads more naturally as a phenomena very much like prayer, in which God gives extra protection and help to the people the people he cares for care for.
So hereâ€™s a different approach. Call it the â€˜Savior on Mount Zionâ€™ model. Because my mind right now is full of the withering rules of habeas corpus, I canâ€™t guarantee that it will make sense. I cannot even be sure is this approach supports or contradicts the usual approach or, like those geometric lines that are neither parallel nor perpendicular, if it is simple skew to it. Here it is.
I have noticed that many of the pathologies these children suffer comes from their love for their parents. Donâ€™t get me wrong. I donâ€™t know you or love you at all, but if you belittled me, attacked me, or paraded your addictions in front of me, or made me a pawn in them, I donâ€™t claim that I would be totally unscathed. If you kept on doing it, it would bring me down. But children love their parents as I do not love you, and that love makes a difference. The betrayals, the abuse, the emotional stones where they sought for bread, are all the more disheartening.
Whatâ€™s more, I wouldnâ€™t at all feel that I was rejecting you and your relationship if I broke away from you, or rather I would feel that way and I wouldnâ€™t care. You and I are just pixels passing in the night. Kids on the other handâ€“Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve noticed thisâ€“oftentimes feel like they love their parents so much that they have to embrace their deadly influence. Itâ€™s the despair of bishops and teachers, and in some ways the delight too. You see that thereâ€™s something strong and good down there in the child, even if itâ€™s dangerous. They have a mad love, a shadow of the Love that surpasseth understanding. You just have to pray that someday the child will finally hear the voice that says, yes, breaking from your parentsâ€™ behavior and influence is breaking away from the relationship with them, canâ€™t be helped, and yes, you living cleanly and religiously is going to be an implicit judgment on them and theyâ€™re not going to like it, thatâ€™s all true and Iâ€™m sorry about it, but if you just do it for your parentsâ€™ sake, if you do it to be an example to them, or to live true to the good things that were at the heart of your relationship, even if so much evil accreted around it, why then all the pain you feel at the break-up of your relationship is pain youâ€™re feeling for their sake, which means youâ€™re standing to them like Christ stands to us and that, let me tell you now, is a fountain of love that never ends. Youâ€™re making your relationship less to make it more.
Until that someday, these children are probably wiser in their generation than we in ours. They should love their parents. They should let themselves be hurt and betrayed and led at least a little ways down dark paths. The resultant burden is salvific. Oh, I donâ€™t mean its salvific for the children, though Iâ€™m sure that it is. On earth, Carlyle noted, every noble crown is and always will be a crown of thorns. I mean that its salvific for the parents.
Thereâ€™s lots of ways that good kids save bad parents, Iâ€™m sure. I mean to discuss only one. The prophets have promised us that parents who have done their all will have all their children with them in the Kingdom. In some way that I do not purport to understand, the unclean vessels parents carry in are purified by their embrace. But I do not think the only children can be vessels and only parents can embrace. It works the other way too, I think, if only the children love their parents enough. When theyâ€™re young, that means suffering because of them. When theyâ€™re grown, that means struggling hard first to overcome, then to forgive, and then once again to embraceâ€“a spectacle that softens even justiceâ€™s heart. The pain is, throughout, the seal on the relationship. They were wounded in the house of their fathers and now by their stripes are their fathers healed.