The secular psychological world has observed that narcissism tends to run in families. In Biblical terms, this is referred to as the persistence of “generational sins”. God talked about it around 3500 years ago:
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
Exodus 34:6-7 (see also Exodus 20:5-6)
God does not explain how sins are transmitted from one generation to the next. For example, we observe that alcoholism runs in families, but there is no clear evidence for how that happens. In the case of narcissism, however, there is a logical sequence of how narcissistic parents could have narcissistic kids. The parent in example #1 above who puts down their child could very likely be a scoffer. The self-exalting defense of their child in the response described above would continue the pattern of insolent pride which began with the parent.
In addition, families develop their own “DNA” or family culture. This could include a scoffing, prideful approach to everyone else “out there”. Even though the children may be prompted in their heart to be kind, they choose to respond in the same self-exalting cynical manner as the parents.
However, there are also issues with this logic. For example, why are not all the children of narcissistic parents narcissistic? It still comes back to an individual’s moral heart choices on how they respond to life.
Three additional points must be mentioned:
First, generational sin is not an excuse for the child. He is ultimately responsible for himself and his own life responses before God. He cannot say, “it’s all my parents’ fault”. God makes clear that everyone is finally responsible for their own sin.
The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
The sins of the fathers become the sins of the children as the result of the child embracing the same sin for himself. Therefore, while the parent might rightly feel responsibility for getting the ball rolling, he does not have final accountability for his child’s heart response to God.
Second, this may seem like a hopeless situation, but it’s not. It is always possible to turn things around, due to God’s compassionate, forgiving nature.
Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
Jesus came to break the bonds or chains of sin, including the chains of generational sin.
the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.
I John 3:8
Third, when we talk later in the book about battling entrenched patterns, we should be aware that part of that battle includes confessing not only our own sin but also the sins of the fathers.
‘If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me…..or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.
Generational sin underscores narcissistic cultures
One logical, and Biblical, extension of the concept of generational sin has been little explored. Just as there can be narcissism / insolent pride within an individual, there can also be entire cultures and nations that have narcissist characteristics.
What is a narcissistic culture? A culture where the preponderance of the people are narcissists and act in narcissistic ways. Or a culture (or nation) where the entire group acts toward other groups with the heart and patterns of behavior of a narcissist.
Two Biblical cases were the nations of Moab and Edom. The Moabites descended from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his older daughter. The Edomites descended from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother.
Referring to Moab,
We have heard of the pride of Moab, an excessive pride;
Even of his arrogance, pride, and fury; his idle boasts are false.
“We have heard of the pride of Moab—he is very proud—
Of his haughtiness, his pride, his arrogance and his self-exaltation.
“I know his fury,” declares the Lord, “But it is futile; His idle boasts have accomplished nothing.
Referring to Edom,
“As for the terror of you [Edom], The arrogance of your heart has deceived you, O you who live in the clefts of the rock, Who occupy the height of the hill.
Though you make your nest as high as an eagle’s, I will bring you down from there,” declares the Lord.
I can think of cultures that I would consider “narcissistic”. However, a narcissistic culture does not mean that everyone in the culture is a narcissist. For example, Ruth, the god-fearing grandmother of King David, was Moabite.