Many Africans live in a world steeped in occult beliefs and practices, believing ancestral spirits influence everyday life and convinced that whatever misfortune they experience is from an evil man or spirit. When help is sought, it invariably identifies misfortunes suspected of arising from a curse. Anything seen as hereditary seems to conclude that a generational curse is the cause.
Often, self-appointed prophets feel they can both discern a person’s past and the ability to break a curse.
Definition of a generational curse
According to Webster’s dictionary, a ‘generation’ is a ‘single step in the line of descent from an ancestor; the time between the birth of parents and the birth of their children.’ In the same source, we learn that a ‘curse’ is ‘a prayer or invocation for harm or injury to come upon one.’
Therefore, ‘generational curse’ describes the cumulative effect on a person of things that their ancestors did, believed or practised in the past, and a consequence of an ancestor’s actions, beliefs and sins being passed down.
We notice a new teaching and ministry of ‘breaking curses’ evolve. It is becoming increasingly common for Christians to suppose that they are victims of generational curses.
Generational curses teaching woven into mainstream christianity
Generational curses teaching has become very popular and accepted by many Christians. The late Derek Prince popularised this teaching, which spread rapidly through public teaching and the media. Despite his demise, his teaching continues.
The prevalent teaching is that generational curses can only be broken when all sins of ancestors and predecessors are confessed. Obviously this cannot possibly happen as no-one can remember the sins of ancestors you don’t even know.
Perhaps an obvious reason for this ‘generational curse’ concept is people’s reluctance to take blame for their wrongdoings. Psychological theories have convinced people that they are not really sinners, but victims of society and parents, in particular. Those who teach this concept claim they can break curses. In an age of instant solutions, the promise of quick moral transformation is appealing.
Does the Bible teach generational curses are a reality?
Four Old Testament passages speak of God ‘visiting the iniquity of the fathers unto the third and fourth generations of those who hate God.’ (Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18 and Deuteronomy 5:9).
Many interpret Deuteronomy 5:9 to teach ‘generational curses’. But is this the point of the passage? Does it favour such an interpretation? Whereas God’s wrath would be visited to the third and fourth generations for those who hate God, His mercy would be visited on thousands of generations for those who love God. Notice the contrast. The point of this passage is not to communicate the number of generations who will be either blessed or cursed, but rather to communicate that God’s mercy far exceeds His wrath. However, it still seems to state that the innocent could be punished for their father’s sins.
The notion and application of generational curses
There is a notion that curses are on those who hate God. However, there are two schools of thought that seem contradictory: “Why would God break a curse if we suppose that He is responsible for giving the curse?” and “to invoke God’s help in breaking this ‘supposed’ curse is asking God to will something other than what He expressly wills.”
God specifically says in Deuteronomy 34:16 that He will punish generations to come if they repeat the same sins of their forefathers, not because of the sins their forefathers committed.
In the case of the blind man, he was not blind because of any sin of his or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. His infirmity was for God’s glory.
Therefore, any other interpretation yielding a contrary notion needs to be refuted. Generational curses are a phenomenon of human nature and learnt by example and influence. Consequences, not curses, are passed on through the generations.
If a generational curse does exist, it would have been broken by Christ as we have received the mercy of God, not a curse.
Consequences of this teaching
A consequence of this teaching is that it denies Christ’s sufficiency and Covenant of Grace for the atonement of sin. It also seems to relinquish people from taking responsibility for their wrongdoings, sins and inadequacies and blaming someone else.
It breaks down the family structure and promotes individualism, while reinforcing an animistic belief system.
Lastly, religion is seen as a means of financial support.
We should never underestimate the allure and intrigue of the supernatural world. The war between good and evil is serious and we should remain firmly rooted in God and His Word.
We should never diminish the power of the Cross. As a new creation in Christ, we have no spiritual connection with our ancestors.
Finally, remember that God’s power is superior. We must steadfastly resist the devil as no practise or belief can ever exercise power over God’s plans.