If little children are precious to God, what justification can there be for permitting some to be born into abusive circumstances?
August 1986

“If little children are precious to God, what justification can there be for permitting some to be born into abusive circumstances?” Ensign, Aug. 1986, 38–39

So many children are abused, offended, and abandoned. If little children are precious to God, what justification can there be for permitting some to be born into such circumstances?

Carlfred Broderick, professor of sociology, University of Southern California. As children of God, we have been given the great gift of choice.

We may choose to help, or we may choose to hurt. Unfortunately, as the Lord explained to Moses, the iniquities of one generation are often visited upon the heads of following generations. (See Ex. 20:5.) Anyone can see the truth of that saying by looking at many families in the world today. Often, troubled families seem to pass on their pain and darkness—virtually intact—to their children and grandchildren. The victim of one generation becomes the victimizer of the next.

On the other hand, the Lord told the prophet Ezekiel:

“What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?

“As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.

“Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezek. 18:2–4.)

This scripture suggests that children need not merely replicate the sins of their fathers, but that each generation is held accountable for its own choices.

Indeed, my experience in various church callings and in my profession as a family therapist has convinced me that God actively intervenes in some destructive lineages, assigning a valiant spirit to break the chain of destructiveness in such families. Although these children may suffer innocently as victims of violence, neglect, and exploitation, through the grace of God some find the strength to “metabolize” the poison within themselves, refusing to pass it on to future generations. Before them were generations of destructive pain; after them the line flows clear and pure. Their children and children’s children will call them blessed.

In suffering innocently that others might not suffer, such persons, in some degree, become as “saviors on Mount Zion” by helping to bring salvation to a lineage.

I have had the privilege of knowing many such individuals people whose backgrounds are full of incredible pain and humiliation. I think of a young woman who was repeatedly abused sexually by her father. When at last she gained the courage to tell her mother, the girl was angrily beaten and rejected by her.

These experiences made the girl bitter and self-doubting. Yet, despite all odds, she has made peace with God and found a trustworthy husband with whom she is raising a righteous family. Moreover, she has dedicated her energies to helping other women with similar backgrounds eliminate the poison from their own lineages.

I think of a young man whose mother died when he was twelve and whose father responded to that loss by locking his son in his room, then drinking and entertaining women in the house. When he would come to let the boy out, he would beat him senseless, sometimes breaking bones and causing concussions.

As might be expected, the young man grew up full of confusion, self-hate, and resentment. Yet the Lord did not leave him so, but provided friends and opportunities for growth. Today, through a series of spiritually healing miracles, this young man is preparing for a temple marriage to a good woman. Together they are committed to bringing children up in righteousness and gentleness and love.

In a former era, the Lord sent a flood to destroy unworthy lineages. In this generation, it is my faith that he has sent numerous choice individuals to help purify them.

In the days of Jeremiah, the Lord used some of the same language he would later use in speaking to Ezekiel:

“In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

“But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.” (Jer. 31:29–30.)

Then he went on to say of this new, covenant generation: “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:33.)

Most of us, I believe, are acquainted with one or more of these valiant, struggling spirits. In the latter stages of their progress, they are easy to recognize and appreciate. But sometimes in the early stages they are suffering so much from their terrible wounds that it takes a mature degree of spiritual sensitivity to see past the bitterness and pain to discern the purity of spirit within. It is our duty and our privilege to befriend such individuals and to provide whatever assistance and support we can in helping them to achieve their high destiny.

Others of us may be, ourselves, the suffering messengers of light. Let us be true to our divine commission, forgoing bitterness and following in our Savior’s footsteps.