I have spoken to many Christians (some of them pastors) and they have told me that torturing enemy prisoners is morally acceptable on the grounds that it saves innocent lives. I find this difficult to accept at face value. What does the Bible say about the subject of torture? Does God condone torture? If so, under what circumstances? Thank you for your time in responding.
The fact is that the Bible doesn’t specifically address everything that we might encounter in life. So often we have to look for Biblical principles that are applicable. Torture is one of those subjects that aren’t specifically addressed in the Bible as to whether it’s okay or not. But it’s fairly easy to look at the applicable Biblical principles and draw some conclusions. Let’s look for some clues in those Biblical principles.
Jesus said that we are to love our enemies and do good to them.
1. The only examples of torture that we see anywhere in the Bible are when evil people tortured righteous people. And the most famous example is the torture of Jesus. There are no examples of where righteous people tortured anyone for any reason. (So that’s our first clue.)
2. Jesus said that we are to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40) In fact, Jesus said in this passage that loving God and loving others as we ourselves would like to be loved are the very foundations of all other Scripture. (This is our second clue.)
3. Christians are required to see Christ in our fellow man. (Matthew 25:34-46) Jesus explained in this passage that however we treat others is tantamount to how we treat Him. So doing good … or doing bad to our fellow man, is the same as doing good … or doing bad to Jesus Christ.
4. Jesus said that we are to love our enemies and do good to them. (Luke 6:27 & 35) In context, how we treat our enemies is a reflection of who we are in Christ. In fact, in Luke 6:35, He explained that the Lord Himself is kind to those who are ungrateful and wicked! (Our fourth clue.)
5. God’s people have always been called to forgive those who offend us and hurt us. (Matthew 6:14) In fact, Jesus explained that if we do not forgive those who hurt us, God will not forgive us! (Matthew 6:15) Moreover, we are to honor everyone (1 Peter 2:17) – which we do when we value all human life. (A fifth clue.)
6. The Apostle Paul taught that God wants us to not only forgive our enemies, but he went on to spell out what Jesus meant when He told us to do good to them. Paul explained that if our enemy needs food, we are to feed them. If they need water, we should give them water. Our position with evil should always be to overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21) (A final clue.)(Our third clue.)
Our position with evil should always be to overcome evil with good.
Are you starting to get the picture here? There is no place in either the Old or New Testament where torture of any kind is condoned. Not mental torture, not physical torture. There are numerous examples of where God enabled His people to kill their evil enemies — but even then, only when it was a matter of their own survival and God knew that they would never repent. (So we could rationally conclude here that God would rather see us kill our enemies than torture them.)
I am aware that many Americans who call themselves Christians believe that torture is justified. (Former President George W. Bush appears to be one of them.) But there is no support for such a position in Scripture.
Why then do otherwise seemingly good people come to the wrong conclusion that torture can be justified? I believe it is because they are afraid and they are angry. It is human nature to fear that which we cannot control, especially when it threatens to harm us. It is also human nature to get angry over injustices that our enemies may inflict upon us or anyone else. But the fact is that God calls His people to overcome their human nature. He calls his people to stand against their popular culture.
Let’s look at a couple more Biblical principles that should guide our response to evil in our enemies:
• We should not make fear-based decisions. The Lord has commanded His people to “be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) God has not given us a spirit of fear, but rather “He has given us a spirit of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Every single book in the Bible, throughout the Old and New Testaments, is specific that God’s people are not to fear. Every single book! And the fact that God does not give anyone fear tells us where fear does come from … the devil! So any time that we make a decision based on our fears, we are making a decision using the wrong criteria. To clarify that point, making fear-based decisions is evil.
• We should not act on our anger over injustice that is done to us. Jesus said that we should “not resist the one who is evil” and that we should learn to “turn the other cheek” when we are wronged. (Matthew 5:38-39) The Apostle Paul taught that we should “never avenge ourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.” (Romans 12:19) Paul further explained that we should “never sin in our anger” (Ephesians 4:26-27) and that we should “see that no one ever repays evil for evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
We are to pray for our enemies.
So the picture is clear that when we are attacked by an evil enemy, we are to set aside our hurt, our fear and our indignation. Instead, we are to first trust in the Lord. We are to forgive. We are to pray for our enemies. We are to turn the other cheek. We are to do good to our enemies. (I don’t know about you, but I see a strong case for diplomacy here!)
So let’s be clear. Torture cannot be Biblically justified under any circumstances.