The Scriptures say that the Lord is merciful and forgiving, yet “will by no means clear the guilty.” In some ways this is very comforting, but can you please explain what it means when it says that the Lord will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation? I am living the gospel to the very best of my ability, but my parents fought as hard as they could against the church. How will their actions affect me and my children?
I talked about the 3rd and 4th generation principle in a previous answer entitled What does D&C 121:21 mean regarding the Priesthood.
In essence, this is a natural social law. Just as your children bear a striking physical resemblance to you, they will also share many of your values. I’m sure you find many similarities between yourself and your parents.
What this means for you and your children is that you have the opportunity to be the branch in your family tree that maintains the positive that’s already established in your roots, while establishing fresh traditions in the restored gospel. There is no need to wholly abandon your family morals, as I’m sure you will find many aspects that are sound principles in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is these values that you will pass on to your children and your children’s children as part of their family legacy.
You should read about another righteous woman who found herself at generational crossroads. When Ruth’s husband died, she could have returned to the customs and land of her nativity. Instead she chose to stay in the faith of her new family. She told her mother-in-law, Naomi,
“whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16)
Her faith and influence reached generations. You may recognize her great-grandson David – the same David who was king over united Israel and served as a type and progenitor of the Messiah.