Featured in a television interview was a woman named Bettina Goering. If you recognize the name, you're quite right. Bettina Goering the grand niece of Hermann Goering, one of Hitler's henchmen and a leader of the Nazi government that did so much evil during World War 2. She talked herself about being of 'the bloodline of murderers.' In some ways the tone of the documentary is optimistic, because she is engaging in conciliatory dealings with a Jewish woman, helping to undo the cruel things done by her great uncle among other. But the point that struck me was what she said about herself, being related to someone who did such evil. It was as if that reflected on her. I don't believe that is fair, when those things happened before she was even born.
It can be right to learn from the misdeeds of the past. But it can be horribly wrong to condemn whole families for them.
Where this leads for me is, blaming a person for where they come from, or any other circumstances of their conception. Years ago I heard a debate about 'termination' of pregnancies. One speaker suggested that they could understand a woman choosing it if she was pregnant as a result of rape. Now I know that I can't dictate conscience to a woman who has suffered a horror like that. I'm not going to claim that I can understand another person's situation when I've never been in it, and never can be. What I do have to say is this: you cannot blame a child for the circumstances of their conception, just as you can't blame them for their relatives.
Someone once said a thing that struck me as quite shocking at the time - but it is actually quite true.
They said that any one or all of us could be living today because of an act of rape. Any or all of us could be descended from some utter monster. In either case, we cannot be blamed, and condemned, for the ancestry we come from or any other circumstance of our conception.
Does that sound shocking? Is it an insult to our parents to suggest it? No, not necessarily. Consider this.
Any human being draws their existence and identity from EVERY ancestor we have. It works thus: Obviously if our parents had never met, or something was different in the past from what is was, we would not have been conceived. And the same applies to our grandparents, and so on back as far as the human race goes. If someone travelled in time and intervened in the life of our great-great-great grandparents, so that they did not have the child they did have, then the whole line of descent would change from there down. If you could change history back as far as Emperor Claudius of Rome, and disrupt the relationship between two people such that one of their children was not born after all, then the entire line of descent from that point down through the centuries would alter. Thousands of people who do exist would not. Others might exist in their place. And that could eliminate the existence of any one of us.
Now calculate the number of your ancestors. We have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents... and even allowing for marriage or child bearing between relatives like cousins, which can reduce the number, our ancestors number millions. To check that, simply keep multiplying two by two. Ten generations back we each have 1024 direct ancestors - and our identity comes inseparably from every one of them. Ten generations, at three or four each century, only goes back to the times of Queen Elizabeth 1 of England, William Shakespeare, the early European settlements in what was then called 'the Americas'. Now keep going back to the times of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt, Julius Caesar. The number reaches millions.
What could there be among all those ancestors who yielded our existence? If one person in every million is conceived in an act of rape, the probability is that we have several such ancestors. And what sort of people could be included among them?
This is the risk you run if you research your family tree. It's a natural thing to do; but it can turn up some things that are less than flattering. Back in the 'Dark Ages', a vile barbarian raiding a village might have committed some abomination on a female villager, and from thence came the line of descent which led to ...me? How do I know where I came from? And if it came to light that a great humanitarian, or someone you love, was descended only three generations back, from an act of rape, incest, prostitution, are you going to condemn them for that?
Now look at something that might change the whole view of it. When the Israelites were taking the city of Jericho, they had help from a woman named Rahab. Rabab was a 'harlot', a prostitute. In a city alread squalid and corrupt, she was one of the least respected. And yet it is recorded that she became an ancestress of the Messiah, in that one of His human parents descended from her.
We can't know who all our ancestors are. We can't know what unloveable acts might have led to the bloodline that we're descended from. We CAN know that we each have a human identity that comes from God.
The saying goes that "God has no grandchildren". That means we each can call ourselves His children, with no generational separation - and we have our lives from Him. We need not feel blighted by what is in our human ancestry. If it turns out to be something we can't be proud of, that shows no-one need be proud and count themselves better born that others. Our worth lies in our being beloved of God, not what we do ourselves, not the forebears we might claim. And no-one need be condemned for which humans they are descended from. God can renew any and everyone, and make them what He knows they can be.