Summary: An idea is being floated in our nation that citizens must pay for the sins of the past in something called "reparations." This message asks if this concept is biblical. Praise be to God that He does not require reparations from us!
I want to begin our message this morning by shedding some light on a real issue that we’re facing in our country right now. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, along with 23 of her colleagues, have introduced a bill called H.R. 40 to form a commission of 13 members to study reparations for slavery. The purpose of this commission is to “document the evils of slavery and discrimination, then recommend appropriate remedies, including paying money to the descendants of slaves.” Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, the Episcopal bishop of Maryland, has urged congress to pass this bill, stating that Americans must “offer atonement.” In other words, the citizens of America must pay for the nation’s sins!
The idea that’s being floated in our country right now is that Americans must pay for the sins of the past, and that certain minority groups have it so bad because of what our forefathers have done to them. So, we, the descendants, must pay for those past sins and pay for the evils and violence in how this country was founded. This idea has not only led to the notion of monetary compensation for the descendants of black slaves, buts it’s also a driving force behind the rioting and looting that we’re seeing on the streets. It’s the idea that “we’re making America pay,” and looting is “us getting our reparations.”
Now, I’m not here this morning to argue that our country hasn’t had a violent past, because it has. And I’m not here to justify slavery, or to say that white people are innocent of injustices toward African Americans; because many of us have had ancestors who have been responsible for terrible racial injustices. But I’m here to address this idea of people today paying for the sins of their forefathers; to ask if this is biblical, and to ask, “Is this how God sees things?” We know that reparations and paying for our ancestor’s crimes is what people think should happen, but what does God think? Well, let’s get started by looking at verses 1-4.
Blaming Our Problems on Our Ancestors’ Sins (vv. 1-4)
1 The word of the LORD came to me again, saying, 2 “What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge? 3 As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. 4 Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die.”
So, we see here a proverb: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” They were saying, “We’re being punished for our parents’ sins.” You could also see this as saying, “Our life is bad, because of what our ancestors did.” Is there any truth to this sour grapes proverb? Can we be punished for the sins of our forefathers? Or better yet, “Should we be punished for the sins of our forefathers?” You hear both of these notions presented in America today. On the one side, people are saying, “Our lot in life is so bad, because of what people in the past did,” and then on the flip side (let’s just change the order of the wording), “Because of what people did in the past, their descendants deserve a bad lot in life,” and “We must make sure they get what they deserve!”
Theologically speaking, can people be punished for their parents’ sins? And should they be punished for their parents’ sins? This question brings us to the doctrine of “original sin.” Original sin refers to the very first sin of the very first father in history; and that father was Adam. According to the apostle Paul, his sin somehow affected the entire human race, resulting in condemnation coming to all people. Romans 5:18 says, “Through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation.” If we view this verse alone, without looking at verse 19, then we might conclude that all people are being punished for what Adam did. I mean, how unfair! And apparently a vast majority of people understand original sin in the manner of being punished for what someone else did.
For example, there’s a CNN article referring to slavery and reparations, and it’s entitled, “Has the Time Come for America to Atone for Its Original Sin?” Also, a June 3, 2020 BBC article headlines, “U.S. Must Confront Its Original Sin to Move Forward.” So, it seems that many people understand the doctrine of original sin as being like the sour grapes proverb; that we are all suffering for what Adam did, or that we are all having a hard time in life because of the bad choices of what someone did before us. And should we assume that this is the natural order of things, then we must make sure the ancestors of slave owners pay for the crimes of the past; or that all Americans must pay, because this country was settled by a string of injustices. That’s the thought.