God has clearly taught his people to respect their parents (Exod 20:12; Eph 6:1-3; 1 Tim 5:8), and this naturally results in a respectful remembrance of those parents after they have died (Gen 35:20; 2 Tim 1:5). But no superstition is involved. The living are not able to call upon their dead ancestors for help, nor are they able to give their dead ancestors help, whether by praying to them, praying for them, or presenting offerings on their behalf. Those who die are, by their death, cut off from the world of the living. They join all their ancestors in the world of the dead (Gen 15:15; Judg 2:10; 1 Kings 1:21; 14:31; cf. 2 Sam 12:22-23).

If, generation after generation, people instruct their children in the knowledge of God, later generations will benefit from the faith and example of their ancestors. They will know the God of their fathers (Deut 6:3-7; 27:3; Ps 78:2-4; Joel 1:2-3; Luke 1:55; Acts 3:13). On the other hand, the forefathers might leave behind a bad example and a worthless manner of life for their descendants (Ezra 9:7; 1 Peter 1:18). Yet this should never be used as an excuse for wrongdoing. People are responsible for their own actions, regardless of what their ancestors might have done (Ezek 2:3; 18:1-4,19-20).

Through their wrong behaviour, people of later generations can be a disgrace to the memory of their godly ancestors. Only through complete repentance can they be united with their believing forefathers as the true children of God (Mal 4:6; Luke 1:17; John 8:39-40,56). God’s faithfulness to believing ancestors should be an encouragement (Ps 22:4; Luke 1:72-73), his punishment on unbelievers a warning (Num 32:7-8; Zech 1:4-5). Although it is true that the sinful ways of one generation can have lasting bad effects on later generations (Exod 20:5; Acts 7:51-52), it is also true that the mercy of God is constantly available to those who submit to him (Exod 20:6). The clearest expression of this mercy is in Jesus Christ. Those of a former generation cannot help those of the present, but the living Christ can help all who call on him. To those who trust in him he gives the life that even physical death cannot destroy, eternal life (John 6:48-51,58).

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