Deuteronomy 24:16 – Letting Your Circumstances Define You or Propel You

Posted: April 6, 2017 in 05-Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy 24:16

Parents and Children


You hear it so often these days that a person blames his or her environment, his or her upbringing by their parents as the reason they committed crimes. We blame our environment and/or our parents for why we are who we are and why we do what we do. To a certain extent that is true, but, ultimately, we are responsible for who we are and the actions that we take. We may have to overcome our environment, our past, our parents, or whatever our circumstances are but we should not let these things define us.


My ex-wife, Lisa (God rest her soul), is an example of letting your past define and overwhelm you. Lisa had a difficult first two decades to her life. At age 3, her dad, her mother, her brother and she were in a horrific head-on car accident. The driver of the other car, coming home from work after working third shift at the local textile mill in Travelers Rest, fell asleep behind the wheel. He crossed the center line and hit Lisa’s family (who were on their way to church) in a horrible head-on collision. The impact so damaged the body of Lisa’s dad that he died either at the scene or on the way to the hospital. Lisa’s mother would survive the accident after several days in the hospital but was paralyzed and relegated to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Although she would gain the use of her legs again, the wreck affected the brain’s center of equilibrium so she could never again stand on her own. The children had cuts and bruises. Lisa’s older brother, Lex, had a concussion. But other than these ill effects the children survived that horrific accident very well. Lisa’s mother raised these children from a wheelchair the rest of her life.


Although, people were well meaning in their care for Lisa’s family and particularly her as little girl. They ended up making exceptions for Lisa because of her environment. She grew up spoiled in many ways. Even though she did not have a father anymore and her mom was in a wheelchair, life insurance and family property on which to build a home and being shrewd about investments, her mother was able to provide for Lisa and Lex very well even though she was in a wheelchair. And other folks, well, they made exceptions for Lisa’s headstrong nature. People would say never mind, you know, she has grown up without a dad and her mom is in a wheelchair. She was often never checked on bad behavior. Her mom could only do so much to punish her from her wheelchair. Needless to say, the combination of a strong-willed child, people making exceptions for her, and her mom’s limited ability to enforce punishment led to a very obstinate and defiant nature in Lisa.


Then, two weeks before our wedding day, Lisa’s brother, Lex, was also killed in a car accident on June 28, 1980. That accident changed Lisa. Although she was an obstinate and defiant person as an adult, she was very driven in her career who became charge nurse for a wing of the nursing home where she worked within two years after graduating from nursing school. But, when Lex was taken suddenly in that accident, it changed her. She began to let it define her. She descended into dark spiritual places from which she would never emerge, truly. She began a maddening 8 year descent into drug addiction (with one brief 9 months of a break while she was pregnant with our oldest child). She got clean in rehab but the damage was done to our marriage. We had a second child because I thought that would make our marriage better. However, all the personality conflicts, the money problems, her affair in 1987, and just the history of cleaning up her messes wore me out on the marriage. I was easy prey for a change. Ultimately in 1993 we divorced because I had started a relationship with a woman who would become my second wife (we married in 1995).


Lisa spent the next years of her life blaming me for her lot in life and became even more headstrong and obstinate. She was vindictive and let our divorce consume her. Those first three years after we broke up were a living hell because of her vindictiveness. She became so consumed by our divorce that she was unable to work which further exacerbated her obsession with the divorce. It was not until her remarriage in 1996 that she began to gain somewhat of a sense of sanity. She became more of mother than she ever had been but as time wore on and my oldest daughter grew older and less robotically compliant, the old nature returned. To the point that my oldest daughter left her as well and came to live with me in 2001. Over the years, Lisa had managed to drive pretty much every friend she ever had out of her life with the exception of her husband and my youngest daughter. Whatever hope that we had of Lisa returning to the mainstream of life ended when her wheelchair bound mother passed away in August 2004. Lisa was all that was left of her immediate family at that point. After that, she became a recluse and excluded anyone from her life that did not view life from her encamped mentality. So much was this everyone’s either for me or against me mentality, she refused to bury the hatchet with her oldest child and did not participate or attend her own oldest daughter’s wedding in June 2009. Only her husband and my youngest daughter remained with her until her death in July 2015.


Over the years, my anger toward Lisa subsided and was replaced with a sadness that the young charge nurse that I knew from way back when had allowed herself to become defined by her circumstances and how she let it defeat and consume her. The sad part of it all was that she could never see that. She drove must people away with this you are for me or against me attitude toward life and this vindictive nature. It was sad that she let it become this way to the point that she was a recluse. We can let our circumstances of life define us or we can overcome them. How we handle our upbringing or our life circumstances or our sins will define our families for generations.


That’s the thing I thought of this morning as I read this one verse passage, Deuteronomy 24:16. I thought about how we handle life, how we handle our sins, how we react to the sins of others, speaks to the generations ahead of us. Yet, ultimately, we must answer for ourselves to God and not blame others.


16 Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin.


This law was enforced during the time of Amaziah when he executed the assassins of his father, Joash, but not their children (2 Kings 14:5-6). Ezekiel stresses the same principle in Ezekiel 18:1-4. This law is not to be viewed as being in conflict with the statement that God punishes the children for the sins of their parents (Deuteronomy 5:9). This law is a legal injunction that we must abide by whereas the other is simply cause and effect of our behavior. What God really means by Deuteronomy 5:9 is that God knows that the consequences of our own sin not only effects our future but that of our family for generations. Even after we accept Christ as our Savior and we are forgiven our sins, we may continue to live with the consequences of our sins before salvation. As well, this passage teaches us that we are responsible for our own sins and will be judged accordingly. Inherent in this statement is that even though each of us dies for our own sin, it will indeed effect our family for generations.


These are the things that I take away this morning. First, we are responsible for our own lives and our own sins. We cannot blame our parents, our circumstances. We must decide to let our circumstances be the thing that propels us to change or we can let them run over us and start playing the blame game. We can see ourselves as responsible for our own life or we can let our circumstances be our excuse and our definition. Second, how we handle our circumstances, whether we let them define us or propel us, will speak for generations to come. How you handle your life will be how your children and your children’s children will look at life. Let us be an example of letting our circumstances propel us. Let us be an example of one’s who take ownership of our mistakes and not blame others. Let us take ownership of our circumstances rather than deferring to our circumstances owning us. Ultimately, we must account for our own behavior before God.


Thank God that He does not define us by our circumstances. Thank God He does not define us by our past. Through Jesus Christ, we become a new creature no longer defined by our past. We rise above our sins and our past through Jesus Christ. May we live in the newness of Christ and not wallow in the past. May we see our past as that we gives us thanks for what Christ has done. May that thankfulness propel us forward into doing great things for Christ.


Amen and Amen.




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