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.
Larry, Thank you for addressing this issue. These are more or less the same conclusions I arrived at but to hear them from a more authoritative source than myself really helps to build my faith. One other thing I had wondered about was the idea that torture is also an act of idolatry because in commiting the act of torture, one elevated their own will above that of God which is the very same sin that got Adam and Eve expelled from from the garden of Eden to begin with. -Jason
I leave those matters up to people who are in charge of those things and pray for our leaders, and let the rest go. We don’t need to carry those burdens. J
Agree with all that has been written. On the other side, Jesus mentions hell as the place of torture as the reason why we should not sin, saying it would be better to cut off your hand and foot and eye rather than be thrown into hell,”where their worm never dies and the fire is not quenched.” Whether you take that literally or figuratively, it is a place of misery. My followup question is when it is right for a Christian today to take up arms in the light of the reasons given why we should love our enemies and not torture? Should we be Quakers and pacifists, or fight according to the principles of a just war? To make it more specific, there are two current ongoing situations in Africa where Christians are being attacked and killed in Africa by Muslims. In northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has attacked Christian villages trying to establish a Muslim state, and since 1999 are responsible for over 14,000 deaths according to the US government. The pastors there have told the believers that they should not take revenge,and for the most part have been successful however the government has not been able to stop the attacks and villages are still being attacked. In Central African Republic, a country that is 76% Christian, a Muslim rebel group deposed the president and militias went out killing Christians. There Christians formed their own militias and the chaos and cycle of violence now happening in the CAR makes it impossible to distinguish Christian from Muslim. Which is the better way, or more importantly, which way is according to Christ? If Jesus was drafted, would he pick up a gun for his country, or refuse as a conscientious objector and go to jail? For my part, have come to the conclusion (for now) that if my family was in Nigeria, that if I was attacked personally that I should turn the other cheek, but if my wife and kids were attacked that I would do what I need to do to defend them, even if it took arms to do that. I think this would be the right thing to do, but I can feel the inconsistency. It is the same thing I felt when I heard Christian leaders defend the use of torture.
Jesus wasn’t a pacifist. I too would use violence to defend my family, in fact scripture even tells us that he who does not provide for his family is an infidel and is worse than an unbeliever. Part of providing for one’s family means providing defense against aggression. So pacifism is not God’s will, or so it appears to me. At the same time, torture is not justifiable as a means of defense. Inflicting suffering on somebody who is already under your control is not an act of defense, it is a calculated act of evil. As far as hell is concerned, and the tortures involved in that, I think that this is a judgement that is reserved exclusively for God alone and no human has the authority to impose this on another human. This brings me back to my earlier statement in which I posit that torture is a form of idolatry. In the act of torture, the torturer is arrogating to themselves the authority of God, which is just another way of making oneself equal to God. That’s the same sin that got Lucifer kicked out of heaven in the first place. I think that in the end, the people who torture terrorists are going to find themselves in hell right beside those very same terrorists, as are the church goers and pastors who rally in support of torture. 2 John 1: 11 says “For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds”. Granted, that scripture is referring specifically to people who do not bear the doctrine of Christ (probably meaning Jewish zealots), but the principle of the scripture is obvious, God says that if you bless somebody who is committing a sin, you become a participant in that sin.
Jason & Alan – let’s not get confused here. Providing for one’s own family is NOT the same as using violence to protect one’s own family or loved ones. The simple answer is that it is okay to take up arms in a war when a Biblical principal takes us there. I’ve written & taught a curriculum on conflict – and while there’s not room to publish it here right now – the short answer is that PRAYER should be our first response to conflict. So, for example, if I had been President of the U.S. on 9/11, I would have called the nation to prayer and asked the Lord how He would want us to respond to those circumstances. Alan, I don’t find any basis in Scripture for being a “conscientious objector” and refusing to fight on the principal of war. On the other hand, I believe that if the Lord does call Christians into battle – we should look for His victory in that battle.
“Providing for one’s own family is NOT the same as using violence to protect one’s own family or loved ones.” It’s not? Uh-oh. Where am I going wrong with this idea and what do I do if my family is confronted by violence? I can’t just stand by and do nothing.
Larry, thanks for your post and if you have taught on it, you have thought more deeply about it. I have more questions than answers. In the current situations in Nigeria and CAR where Christians are under similar threats but have responded in opposite ways, which way is according to Christ? Would Jesus join or lead a militia in CAR, or bear the injustice like Christians in Nigeria? Or, is there another way? With regard to conscientious objectors, not sure if there is not a place for this. The people of God now are not based on nationality but scattered thru all nations, and when nations fight against nations, it will be true that Christians kill Christians. When the people of God were together as the nation of Israel, you find warrant in the OT for the destruction of nations who are ungodly. But all that seems to go with the New Testament, and altho under an oppressive Roman empire, the words and actions of Jesus are to love your enemies not take up arms. As the US becomes more secular and Christianity becomes more marginalized or opposed (i.e. gay marriage) there may come a time when American Christians are called to arms for an unjust war. If memory serves, Frances Schaeffer in “A Christian Manifesto” calls for nonviolent noncompliance to an unjust government. Some years ago, Bartolome Blanco Marquez was ordered to destroy Catholic Churches and kill the priests by the right wing Franco government. Rather than follow, he refused the orders, was arrested, convicted and killed by firing squad. When he was being led to the firing squad, he insisted on going barefooted “in order to be more conformed to Christ.” He insisted on facing the firing squad, saying that “whoever dies for Christ should do so standing straight and facing forward.” He cried out “Long live Christ the King” as he was shot. Agree that prayer should precede and there are no easy answers or ones that apply to all situations. But thinking about how Biblical principles apply in current situations can be helpful in sorting things out.
Um..I don’t know why that last post says Anonymous, it’s my post.
Jason, let’s look at Jesus’ response to the violence that was inflicted on Him. He sought His Father’s will. And then He did it. I believe any Christ-follower should do the same. Quite possibly God will tell you to fight. But possibly He will not. Jesus knew they were going to kill Him. God said He should let them. If I felt someone was going to kill me and prayed about it, would I be willing to let them kill me if God said so? That is really the question here. Our human instinct is to fight. But we are called to rise above our human instincts — and seek God’s will first and foremost.
Alan, I agree with your thinking. I also think you answer your own question in telling the story of Bartolome Blanco Marquez. He was willing to die. He could have joined (or started) a militia and fought against an unjust govt. He chose not to. I believe that reflects the character of Christ. I know that here in the U.S. we have many gun-toting Christians who are ready to fight against an unjust govt. or any evil. But I’m reminded of the fact that to live is Christ, but to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). So I would rather be killed than kill.
Larry, You stated “if I had been President of the U.S. on 9/11, I would have called the nation to prayer and asked the Lord how He would want us to respond to those circumstances.” Do you have any “proof” that Bush did not pray and receive God’s answer” Also in your article you stated “In fact, in Luke 6:35, He explained that the Lord Himself is kind to those who are ungrateful and wicked!” But you failed to point out the many times the Lord himself was not kind to those who are ungrateful and wicked. The Lord is a kind and loving Lord, a Lord of peace, but also a Lord that is easy to anger. We were created in Lord’s image. We are not to seek revenge, for that is the Lord’s responsibility, but I have not found a scripture that instructs us not to defend ourselves, or family if attacked. Lord gave us the gift of life and should, as in all blessings, respect, and defend the life given to us. “The simple answer is that it is okay to take up arms in a war when a Biblical principal takes us there” What good does it do to take up arms in a Biblical war, only to allow anyone with evil intent during a time of peace to kill me or my family without me defending me or my family? I believe the Lord would want us to defend our family, ourselves, our nation when attacked. I do not believe the Lord would want us to kill, or torture innocent people who have no intent on causing us harm.
Maria Schaefer says
Alan, I understood that once we have the enemy in our hands, captured, we should not practice torture. Is that right? You were not talking about war but of torture. You said that Jesus was tortured. He had to allowed it to happen so the price on sin would be pay by his blood. Through the gospels learn that following Christ means to do as he did. He even taught those who follow him will be prosecuted. We learn that early, early Christians were committed not to forsake God and Christ. This means all___ the family. The Roman spare the children from torture. Now when the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt they experienced extreme bad treatment almost torture. Some of them had exchanged their way to live by for the ways of the Egyptians. When Moses delivered them, he found with people were very hard head. Moses and elders put the way they live by as law. Then there are other times when Israel’s people became prisoners and they were carry out to become slaves. God did not forget them like they did to him. At these times they were not tortured and they were even allowed to practice their own religion. I agree with you. Once more, torture is used on a prisoner. There are other ways to get information war and terrorist prisoners. To use torture is to become like them. Two wrongs don’t made a right. Besides I think God’s view on this, will hurt Him. Beside this, as for anger, we are not to go to bed with it. The only time Jesus was angry was at the temple when people were using temple for business. He was justify. As for God’s wrath is usually on His elected people because they worship idols. Remember Nineveh received a warning that God will destroy them. They did not believe in the God of Israel. However all repented and even the animals wore sackcloth and ashes. I am not scholar of God’s word but read the Bible.
Hey Maria, I agree with Larry that even with war we should still follow the Spirit even it means we will die 0r suffer. I didn’t see it but the film Hacksaw Ridge is the true story of a man whose fighting in war took the form of saving others on the front line; he refused to use a gun. But yeah, don’t get the justifications for torture. I’ve heard it said that in the presence of immanent threats that torture is justified to save lives. But maybe the real threat isn’t the loss of life but the loss of soul. Resorting to it is an implicit admission that God will not work to accomplish His will. Nowadays, even war is hardly ever good vs evil, but the fallen self-interest of nations. And in the case of chemical weapons, torture is a means of war.
Today we hear reports from Christian missionary organizations about how Jesus is working in third world countries. Some of these reports detail the goings-on in some of the most horrible prisons that you can imagine, and many of the inmates were well and truly guilty and deserved to be there. Many of such people really are murderers and terrorists. From these prisons we consistently hear the same version of events: “They used to torture us, but since God’s Word came to us, the torture stopped”. Have you ever noticed that you never hear the opposite? There is not even one report from anywhere telling of how the Gospel was preached, people got saved, and then then a program of torture began. It seems like most Christians would interpret this as a clue about God’s will concerning torture. I guess not though. Many Christians with ThD degrees seem not to notice this.
Hey Jason, maybe not torture but suffering will increase when the gospel is preached and Christians are being like Jesus in this world. Earlier this year, Petr Jasek was released from a Sudanese prison for helping Christians in Darfur. Part of his time was living in a small cell with ISIS followers. “When he turned his attention to God and to others, praying for them, it changed his perspective. It also kicked the spiritual warfare up a notch. Nettleton says the ISIS fighters Jasek shared a cell with were incensed. “In fact, they threatened to kill him. God protected him from that.” . . . What he soon discovered was peace and joy that comforted him through the darkest time he spent in the unknown of Sudan’s prison cell.” Google his name for more of his story. Persecution always seems to follow the gospel in dark places but when believers are faithful even thru suffering then what follows is blessed. Jesus said as much, “…when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word.” You could check out the book or DVD “The Insanity of God” or here’s the story from India of the story behind the hymn “I have decided to follow Jesus” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KOBSu_A4LU Their stories are why the cross has no place in the prosperity gospel preached here and there’s no life if it’s comfort in this world that the heart is set on.
Most everything you posted shows how utterly sickening and contradictory this God of the Bible truly is, and how people like you continue to make excuses for his crimes against humanity on a daily basis. This being is vicious, ever heard the phrase actions speak louder than words? You must think it doesn’t have to be true when it comes to God. No matter what bullshit empty phrase is written in the Bible, it means absolutely nothing if reality itself prove the opposite. I gave myself for 30 years trusting this being and all I got in the end turned out to be his cursing and continual vicious unrelenting torture of my mind, body and soul.
pff – you sound like someone who could use a loving friend to talk to. I’d love to hear your story and help you examine what might have really happened. I doubt very seriously that God has tortured you. I don’t doubt your experience, but the alleged cause doesn’t sound like it came from the God I worship. Feel free to reach me a larrywalkersarasota.com.