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The impact of our forefathers and epigenetics

  • October 6, 2018

As a child and young adult, I was fascinated with my ancestry. Mostly, my Greek ancestry. My great-grandparents came over on a boat from Greece and settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Luckily, for me, my grandparents were wise and made their way south to Charlotte, not long after getting married.  Charlotte was a new city at the time and that’s where they had and raised all five of their kids.  I’m a proud third-generation Charlottean. I say it because it’s rare.  We are often called ‘unicorns’ because to be from Charlotte is typically reserved for the kids of the folks from New Jersey and Ohio who came down in droves a few years ago to work for the banks and invited all of their friends and family along when they found out how awesome it is.

Anyways, back to that Greek thing.  I always thought it was so cool that we could trace our roots so recently to another country.  Not long after college, I got all of the paperwork together to apply for Greek citizenship because I thought it would be cool to live in Europe one day. [not sure it would have been approved….but I was able to live in Europe anyways, without any of that paperwork]  I went to Athens and a few of the islands for a few days when I lived in London. I was immediately connected to my roots when I found an accessories store that shared my last name.  I didn’t buy anything because all of it was a little “too Greek” for me, but it was still cool, so I took a selfie with the store.

Since then I’ve wondered if any of my great-great-great-etc.-grandparents were some of the first Christians. Or if they met the Apostle Paul.  I mean, how cool is that to even be a possibility?! I look forward to my days in heaven when I get to ask these types of questions.

The path my great-grandparents, grandparents and parents chose impacted my life and the opportunities and behaviors I now have. Their lives and decisions affected the blessings and curses that I experience today. In Numbers 14:18, Moses tells the Israelites, “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and fourth generation.” And similarly in Exodus 20:5-6, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love and keep my commandments.”   (See more in Exodus 34:6-7)

Essentially, what God said to the Israelites is that the behavior of the parent will affect the generations yet to come.

I’ve seen this. I’m sure you have too. It is in the modeling and mimicking of behavior from parent to child.  AND, science has caught up with theology.  It’s impacting our DNA too.

Ever heard of epigenetics?  I hadn’t before this past summer. Apparently, it’s a thing.

Here’s an excerpt from What Is Epigenetics?

“Epigenetics, affects how genes are read by cells, and subsequently how they produce proteins…..Certain circumstances in life can cause genes to be silenced or expressed over time. In other words, they can be turned off (becoming dormant) or turned on (becoming active)……What you eat, where you live, who you interact with, when you sleep, how you exercise, even aging – all of these can eventually cause chemical modifications around the genes that will turn those genes on or off over time…..Furthermore, there have been indications that some epigenetic changes can be inherited.”

The indications are from a study in mice that found that fear can be passed on to the next generation. Read more here.

That passing on of curses and blessings to the next generations?  That’s a real thing that God hardwired into our DNA.  The study of epigenetics is still very new….I look forward to learning more….as science catches up with God’s design.

‘Afflictions’ however shouldn’t be seen as punishment for the sins of a person or their parent. As Jesus explains to his disciples that an affliction is an opportunity for God’s work to be displayed in him. (See John 9:1-3, Luke 13:1-5)

So, what does all of this mean when you are interacting with kids?  I think mostly it’s to be aware and know that not only are children mimicking the behavior that they are seeing at home, but that it’s quite likely that their DNA has been impacted by what their greats, grandparents and parents experienced.  And remember, for many of these children, that includes slavery. I’m not saying that slavery was or was not a curse [that’s something I know nothing about and am not in a position to comment]….but what I am saying is that in the science of epigenetics, the impact of slavery (and so many other environmental factors) can’t be ignored.

I would love to adopt some day. I have had the heart for it since I was a child.  The more I study and the more I live and experience this wonderful life though, the more aware I am that if I am blessed with an adoptive child, I will also be impacted by the lives of that child’s forefathers. I pray that God continues to prepare me for that potential blessing.  In the meantime, I’m going to be aware of the impact of genetics and generations on the people I currently interact with.  It provides more context for me and helps me with the pity that I’ve mentioned before.

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