The Providence of Apostasy

OK, this is going to be tough for all you Christians and Jews out there. Gird your loins, and get ready to hear what YHWH says about child sacrifice among the Israelites:

Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; And I polluted them in their own [sacrificial] gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire [of the Furnace of the Belly of Moloch] all that openeth the womb [i.e., all their first born children], that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD.

– Ezekiel 20:25-26

Yeow! Right? YHWH himself gives the errant Israelites the statutes by which they err. He makes it so that it seems right to them to sacrifice their firstborn children. What is up with this? I mean, the massacre of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15) doesn’t come anywhere close to this. I don’t know of any more difficult text in the Bible. How are we to reconcile this with the Love of God, the Goodness of God?

The dire problem we apprehend when we first encounter this verse is a vestige of our wish that God might accommodate our errors. But he can’t do this, and also remain himself. It’s tough. But in the final analysis, we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Shall we unpack this?

Let’s first dispose of the horrible question of what happened to all those babies whom YHWH permitted the Israelites (and for that matter the other peoples of the ancient Near East) to sacrifice. It wasn’t their fault that their parents were morally whacked, and YHWH can’t have missed this obvious fact. So let’s just relax about that aspect of the problem. If God exists, then Earthly life is the least of our worries; it absolutely vanishes by comparison with the overwhelming beauties – or agonies – of everlasting life. So, we don’t really need to worry about the babies, when push comes to shove. God is smart enough not to take it out on them. We can trust him to do right by them. They’re doing OK.

If God exists, there is what he thinks is right – this being, to clarify, the only thing that truly is actually right – and then there are all the other ideas about what is right. All those other ideas are wrong. They are sinful; erroneous; they miss the mark. They are ordinances by which we cannot live, for the wages of sin is death.

If God exists, this is just a fact. It follows from his very existence. The only way it could be otherwise is if God did not exist as what he is. By virtue of his mere existence, God is the Law, the Logos. If we fail under the Law, then we just fail, simpliciter. There’s nothing else to it; there *can’t* be anything else to it, if there is to be anything to it at all. Either there is an order of being, or there isn’t. Right? The only way to make this different, or softer and more tolerant of error, would be to make the Law other than the Law – i.e., to make God other than God. And that would be to unmake everything.

It can’t be done. God can’t be anything but God, and the Law can’t be anything but the Law.

So if you depart from the Law, well, then, you have departed from the Law, period full stop. And if you do that, you are totally screwed.

So far as anyone knew up until the Resurrection, that was all there was to it: we were all permanently damned.

This sounds harsh, but really it is just another way of saying that our sins are, really and truly, sins. God can’t make them anything else except by changing all the basic rules of the Game, and that would be to change his own eternal nature – which, when you put it that way, is obviously impossible – logically impossible.

In giving us the option to do the right thing, God cannot but give us the option to do otherwise. If we could not choose unrighteousness, there would be no way we could choose righteousness either; and lacking any power to choose, we would lack also any independent existence. God wants us to exist – he must, because here we all are – so he wants us to have the option of sinning. It is in this sense that God provides us with the option of false statutes. If there were no false statutes, there would be no statutes at all; the “rule” would be, “whatever” (i.e., no cosmic order, ergo no cosmos). But that God lets us sin does not mean he wants us to sin, as many other passages amply attest (e.g., Jeremiah 7:31 & 32:35; Leviticus 18:21; 2 Kings 17:17; Psalm 106:38; etc.). In a way, the false statutes and the painful consequences of following them are a guide to righteousness. Thank Heaven, then, for false statutes.

A being that has so far erred as to conclude that the statutes of God are false has in so doing implicitly concluded that some false, wicked statute is true. This is what happened to the Israelites God is talking about in Ezekiel 20 – both the Israelites of the Exodus, who took up child sacrifice, and those of the Exile, to whom he is speaking through Ezekiel. They didn’t kill their children casually, but because they thought it was a truly important and righteous thing to do. They were making a terrible sacrifice, to do what they thought righteousness demanded. And such a convicted sinner is likely to continue in his error, until it produces some disaster in his career through life, which alerts him to the possibility that he has got something dreadfully wrong. At that point, he may awaken so far as to look about him with cleansed eyes, and see what he has done, and be horrified. It is when you hit bottom that your chances of deep, abiding repentance are best.

Later in the same chapter, YHWH tells Ezekiel what to say to the delegation of Israelites who had come to consult with YHWH through his prophet:

Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their abominations? For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you.

– Ezekiel 20:30-31

So in falling from the proper worship of YHWH, the Israelites necessarily fell into something horrible. And having done so, they were alienated from the very source of their being. How could it be otherwise? Were it otherwise, how could the errant Israelites ever have been alerted to their error? I mean, if they went along merrily immolating their kids, and everything worked out just fine for them, what clue would they have that they were on the wrong track?

God wants the Israelites to get a clue. He wants them to remember that he is God. He wants them to come home to him, his own sons and daughters, and live where they were always meant to live. To do that, they must be awakened from the sleep of sin and death. And for that to happen, they must hit bottom. So, God wants his children to be desolate. He *wants* us to go through the dark night of the soul.

And this is why he allows so many of us to afflict ourselves with false dogmas, by which one cannot live.

It is a commonplace in the wider orthosphere to remark that things are getting worse and worse, compounding more and more rapidly toward a huge crisis. Let it be so. We needn’t worry, after all, about the hundreds of millions of babies whom we have fed into the belly of Moloch. God Bless them, they are doing alright. It’s their parents who are in deep, deep trouble.

YHWH himself gives the errant men of the West the statutes by which they err. He so makes them, and their world, that it can seem right to them to sacrifice their firstborn children. He wants them to know in their horror at their apostasy that he is God.

Even the extreme moral depravation that now afflicts the West, then, is an instrument of Divine Providence. Perhaps, when we have been captured and find ourselves in Exile on Babylon’s strand, excluded from the counsels of Zion, we shall at last awaken and begin working our way back to the house of our Father.

++++++++++++++++++++++

PS A word of caution: let us tradents never ourselves fall prey to the cocksure notion that we, unlike the self-righteous PC Pharisee congratulating himself over there, are not afflicted with false teachings. Let us eagerly seek our own dark night of the soul, when all our fond notions shall crash down in a foul leprous heap at our feet. Let not our search for the light become itself our scandal. The first and most important target of Ezekiel’s critique was Ezekiel.

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7 thoughts on “The Providence of Apostasy

  1. I can’t tell what I think just now because the essay is a bit overwhelming. It does seem to condemn the legalism of the modern Church/Synagog.

    However, thank you for the link.

  2. In Romans, God gives people over to sin because they suppressed the truth. In Thessalonians God sends a powerful delusion to people who hate truth. The way I see it, if you are opposed to God he lets you have what you want, good and hard. I am of the belief this is how Pharoah’s heart was hardened.

  3. I am not sure I understand. It is one thing that LORD lets people wallow in their wrong dogmas and it is quite another when He Himself gives them wrong statutes.

    Perhaps what Ezekiel 20:25-26 means that He gave them over to the false statutes. Not that He gave them the false statutes.

    In such doubtful places, one really needs the Hebrew and Septuagint versions. English alone is insufficient and liable to be misunderstood.

    • Believe me, I checked. I have no Greek or Hebrew to speak of, but I dug into the various English translations of this passage, including that from the LXX, and the translation of the KJV is actually rather soft compared to some other translations. Biblical scholar Mark S. Smith translates it, “I made them” sacrifice their sons. Checking back through Strong’s for the meanings of the Hebrew words, I come up with the same thing: one way or another, God gave the evil statutes to the Israelites.

      Prima facie, what you say – “It is one thing that LORD lets people wallow in their wrong dogmas and it is quite another when He Himself gives them wrong statutes” – makes perfect sense. The only problem is that the passage is using the latter sort of locution. That’s what prompted me to dig into this in the first place. The extremely difficult thing to take in is that simply by virtue of being himself, God ipso facto provides the Way to him, *and also* all the ways to sin. These are all just given, metaphysically, by the fact of the actual existence of the divine Nature.

      So God’s gift of the wicked statutes was integral with his gift of creaturely existence; all God’s acts are integral, for he is a single pure act. Thus to say “God’s gift of the wicked statutes was integral with his gift of creaturely existence” is only another way of saying “the option to wickedness is metaphysically integral with creaturely existence per se.”

      Thus the divine provision of the statute requiring child sacrifice was not special to the Israelites and their neighbours in the ancient Near East. It was not as though God said to himself, “Hm, I think I am going to plant this evil seed in the minds of these people, just to show them who is boss.” No; on the contrary, the evil was there from all eternity as a real potentiality for some creature (it had to have been, in order for any creature ever to have realized that potentiality in the actual world), and the peoples of the ancient Near East stumbled upon it by way of some defective moral reasoning that had some true and excellent stuff at the back of it – namely, the logic of sin and sacrifice.

    • I’m not enough of a Biblical scholar even to know where to look. I read through a bunch of the commentaries by venerable authorities, and they all say, in essence, “When YHWH says, ‘I gave them wicked statutes,’ that really means, ‘I abandoned them to their wicked statutes.'” But while I don’t disagree that YHWH did indeed abandon them to their wicked statutes – i.e., let them have what they wanted, as the Continental Op puts it above, and as CS Lewis also argued – that interpretation doesn’t seem to me to cover the plain sense of the words.

      The deeper problem is how YHWH can be – as he several times insists that he is – the ultimate author of both good and evil. It was this difficulty that I was trying to get at in this post.

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