We look back on the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 and we still want someone to have to pay for them — and I believe that reflects a sense of God’s just nature in our own — but there is no one around to blame. The direct perpetrators at that time had themselves perished in the flames, and the cowards who instigated their treachery seemed to have taken their cues at stealth from termites or cockroaches. Too often, in the ten-year aftermath, we have turned on those we felt should have prevented or protected our nation from these attacks, and have savaged them with our frustrated fury.
Yes, to some degree, there were people whose jobs were to anticipate evil and take steps to prevent and protect.
At the same time, there are acts so heinous, so … may I use the word unthinkable? … that I am not sure we can hold those people responsible for not considering them a serious risk.
After all, there were acts so heinous in the history of Israel that God said regarding them, “something I did not command them, nor did it enter my mind.” Three times He repeats the phrase in Jeremiah:
They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.
They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.
They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.
Does that mean it never occurred to God that Israel could do such a thing? Obviously not, since He (again) three times specifically forbade it in Leviticus:
“‘Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death,
“Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him.
So did God contradict Himself? No; and I think there are two possibilities that explain it:
- The phrase “nor did it enter My mind” could refer specifically to the act of commanding it; it would never have entered HIS mind to command such a thing (the incident with Isaac notwithstanding; there’s no evidence He ever intended for Abraham to follow through — see the phrasing of “tested” in Hebrews 11:17).
- He perceived the possibility that Israel could sink this low … He just couldn’t imagine that they would do so, after instilling them not only with instinct of parental love but also after giving them a direct and specific command not to do such a reprehensible thing, especially in the name of faith and religion.
Either way, it was never God’s will for His children to put their own children to death in the same way that the surrounding peoples did in their worship of idol gods. In fact, preventing this kind of abomination seems to be the specific reason why God commanded the obliteration of those peoples as the Israelites moved into the land promised to them (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). It is possible that nothing else would have also obliterated those practices from the land.
The crimes against humanity that took place on 9/11/2001 are of this detestable nature: people willingly — perhaps eagerly — sacrificing their own lives in order to commit mass murder of thousands, including children, as an act of piety because some shaman in their religious structure instructed them to do so. There were Muslims who died in those attacks. There were children who died in those attacks. None of that served as a deterrent to the warped motivations of the warped individuals who masterminded and conducted the attacks.
Ten years later, we still have difficulty dealing with the reality of it.
Let’s not blame the good people we put in charge of our protection for being no more willing to believe in the likelihood of that kind of inhumanity on that kind of scale than the Lord Himself was.