I was reading at Mattins the other day a passage from "the terrible" Ezekiel (as Dom Guéranger termed him) – when I reached the twenty-fifth verse and following of the twentieth chapter, what I read struck me with horror! In the words of the Revised Standard Version:
Moreover I gave them statutes that were not good and ordinances by which they could not have life; and I defiled them through their very gifts in making them offer by fire all their first-born, that I might horrify them; I did it that they might know that I am the LORD.
The reader will no doubt exclaim with me, What! is Marcion right? - can this be the God of Israel admitting to telling the people to obey harmful laws, and to follow murderous practices? But as St Paul would immediately say, Mē genoito, By no means, may it not be, perish the thought, God forbid! Therefore this passage needs careful interpretation, that God's honour be vindicated, that the faithful not be scandalized by this darksome word, lest scoffers blaspheme the Lord. But I will declare forthrightly, to begin with, that I take a rightly Augustinian stand on matters concerning theodicy: God is just, and man is not.
In context, the Lord God by the Prophet Ezekiel proclaims that the people of Israel had profaned His Sabbaths and rejected His righteous laws: therefore, the Lord gave them up to follow evil laws and to practise abominations. It is a figure of Hebrew speech and thought to attribute all things to the Lord: so, as when King Saul in a foul mood threw a spear at David, it is said that an evil spirit from the Lord moved him to act (I Samuel 18:10-11); and likewise when David, having become king in his turn, ordered a census, the Lord is said in one place (II Samuel 24:1) to have stirred him up to do so, while in another (I Chronicles 21:1), this same census (which the Lord viewed as a sinful act) is attributed instead to a suggestion of Satan. Hence, this arresting passage in Ezekiel may be interpreted in a like manner: the Lord permitted rather than enjoined the sinful Israelites to follow laws that were not good, and to offer up unacceptable sacrifices, even offering their children to Moloch, that detestable Canaanite idol or rather demon, by passing them through fire, slaying them. God himself upbraided sinful Jerusalem for practising such horrors, as is written only four chapters earlier, in Ezekiel 16:20-21, so it cannot be in any sense that He made them do so; but rather He gave themselves up to the foul evils that they craved to commit.
The old King James Version (whose phraseology descends to us in the R.S.V.; and which sometime relied upon the Douay, though without admitting to it) rendered these verses as follows:
Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; and I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD.
I read somewhere that "give" may mean "permit": this helps render the sense less shocking.
The Douay version of this worrisome passage reads thus:
Therefore I also gave them statutes that were not good*, and judgments, in which they shall not live. And I polluted them† in their own gifts, when they offered all that opened the womb, for their offences: and they shall know that I am the Lord.
The commentary printed with it suggests the following interpretation of these verses:
* Statutes that were not good: Viz., the laws and ordinances of their enemies; or those imposed upon them by that cruel tyrant the devil, to whose power they were delivered up for their sins.
† I polluted them: That is, I gave them up to such blindness in punishment of their offences, as to pollute themselves with the blood of all their firstborn, whom they offered up to their idols in compliance with their wicked devices.
Having got over my initial shock at reading these verses, I come to reflect that God has done just this to we miserable offenders, the peoples of Australia and many other proud Western countries, luxuriating in riches and power surpassing even kings of old, forgetful of religion and the very law of nature: for we have given to ourselves laws different to those that come from the Lord, and slay very many unborns every day. The Lord has given, that is, permitted, perhaps even in His Providence allowed it to happen that our nations make laws that are not good, pretending to equate sodomitical pseudogamy with marriage; tolerating, nay, encouraging, divorce, remarriage, fornication, living in sin, unnatural acts, contraception, and above all the sin of abortion – which, being in essence murder, is (like the sin of Sodom) a crime crying to Heaven for vengeance. We, too, pass little children through fire.
Even reason teaches that to destroy the fabric of society by breaking up the family unit through all these perversions and deformations is to bring about the destruction of our people: it is hardly surprising that, surfeited by pleasure, we yet give birth to too few of the next generation (rather preferring them dead). Disastrous demographic decline looms ahead for the West.
God teaches us even when he permits us to give way to our temptations and to sin without let or hindrance: for sin is its own punishment. God is not the author of sin – God forbid! – but we are: in following our own hearts' lusts, we walk the broad way that leads to destruction. Whether we will or nill, we will be bound, whether in this life or the next, to learn the bitter lesson of our crimes, and either all unworthy receive the grace of conversion from our merciful Father, or too-deservedly merit the sentence of damnation pronounced upon the reprobate by our most just Judge.
Lord, do not give us up utterly! For without the grace of repentance, we are foredoomed to destruction. As the Lord spoke by the prophet Hosea, so it applies to us also, we who have turned away from Christ and God, back to idols and paganism: "Destruction is thy own, O Israel: thy hope is only in Me." (Hosea 13:9, Douay Rheims)