:::Ask the Alliance #9::: Does God permit torture?
Question submitted by Jason: Is there any circumstance under which God would approve of torturing a person, such as if a terrorist is being interrogated?
Jason, thank you for your question. Here are some responses from The Christian Apologetics Alliance:
This is not an easy question – and hence I suspect there will be a wide range of answers.
I think there is a need to define terms carefully:
(A) What do you mean by torture? Torture, in the conventional sense, is the gratuitous inflicting of suffering on someone in order to derive pleasure.
(B) What do you mean by permit? Just because God permits something does not mean that something in itself is good. E.g, That God permits evil and suffering in this world does not entail that God agrees with evil and suffering- merely, that God permits them for a greater good.
Because if the terms are not defined properly, one could say “yes” or “no” without morality being part of the equation. For example I can say “God permits torture” in the sense that, as a Molinist, I affirm libertarian free will and that God permits us to use our freedom to do as we will. It does not, however, mean inflicting suffering is in itself a good or bad thing.
Furthermore, in order to answer your question, there are needs to answer further question pertinent to it:
– What makes a method good or evil? Suffering in itself does not make something good or evil. CS Lewis aptly pointed out, someone who thinks that one should not be afraid of God because they know that God is good should bear in mind the last time they went to the dentist. Romans 5:3-5: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” So the key thing here, is that inflicting of suffering in itself does not make something good or evil. IF someone says it does, then there is a need to discuss what is the meaning of existence and whether God plays a role in it.
– How important is the consideration of human essence in light of justice? In both the OT and the NT, God does not let human essence get in the way of justice and holiness (e.g. Ananias and Sapphira). This does not mean however we ignore human essence (e.g. Jonah and the Ninevites, the 400 years between Abraham and the land of Canaan).
– Most important of all: how do you balance the need to protect the innocent, the need for justice and the same time the Biblical exhortation to overcome “evil with love” (Romans 12:21)?
I think the discussion is further compounded by the fact that the silent professionals who are directly connected to the military and security agencies are bound by oath and law to not discuss the reality in their business – and while one may be aware of the abuse, one also cannot be naive to ignore that some of the terrorists today genuinely have the face of evil who truly want those who disagree with them dead.
Ultimately, with all the considerations that have been outlined, I don’t think a glib “yes” or “no” answer is available especially once you consider there are semantics that are attached with the word “permit” and “torture” . As with the abortion issue, I think that sanctity and essence of human life is at stake and the general rule of thumb is to say “no” for the sake of due process and protecting of human essence. But as with complex Biblical moral topics such as the killings of the Canaanites, there is a need to be careful of the nuance and how that affects our lives as salt out of the saltshaker.
Above all, we need to be careful to have the conviction to be faithful to what we preach and be accountable to everything that we say. There is at least a well-known Christian apologist who had come out defending the use of enhanced interrogation in order to get to the truth; then was himself embroiled in scandals where he was accused of not being faithful to truth and marriage. The validity of our Gospel message hinges upon our character.
Chris Lee offers:
Tough question, because it’s a long answer. Torture.
Definition of torture and what that means is important. Of course this may be a bit subjective or depends on the circumstances. That agents of authority (e.g., police) detain people, sometimes seemingly for long periods of time and/or not allowing communication could be interpreted as torture. I would propose we limit torture to strictly use of violence or pain, or depriving someone of basic human needs specifically of food, water, and sleep (and possibly including administering drugs, e.g., sodium thiopental/pentobarbital). I would not include detention in a definition of torture. Water-boarding seems to be a bit of controversial topic regarding whether this is torture or not.
Use of force (even torture) seems to tie in with one’s view of war as well as the responsibility of governments vs. individuals. Early Christians would rather be beaten and even killed than retaliate or defend themselves (i.e., they would have no involvement in any form of killing) but we should also remember they were largely not in roles or positions where they were in power. They might draw on texts such as Matthew 5:21, 5:38-42 (“go the extra mile”), and Luke 6:27-36 (“love for enemies”, “turn other cheek”, “give all,” “repay good for evil”). Other texts include Joel 3:10, Micah 4:3, and Isa. 2:4. The early Christians would not resist evil, and would gladly take any violence done them, as a witness for their faith. This is also detailed in Justin Martyr’s account. They viewed it that they would ultimately be united with Christ, should they lose their lives, which was better than causing the unbeliever’s untimely death. The early Christians would die for their faith, and “endure everything for the incorruptible crown.” Athenagoras was one who noted that the early Christians valued human life, and refused to murder. Cyprian also coined a phrase that “man was designed for tilling, not for killing.”
Augustine, advocating just war in Romans 13:1-6, would allow for wars of self-defense and also wars of defending one’s neighbor as they were (especially unjustly) attacked as a demonstration of love for one’s neighbor. Those who advocate for self-defense or defense of neighbor would allow for the use of force as a deterrent and to the degree of force necessary to restoring peace, although the use of force must be done in a loving manner (if that is possible). Augustine would allow for ambush or guerrilla warfare. However, I don’t think Augustine would condone any practice of torture above to even elicit information even of an imminent attack. I might see that it is justified if one believes in holy war, but holy war is not the mode of the church.
Davis’ Evangelical Ethics points out that the Bible never calls for torture of criminals (p. 213) and condemns excessive punishment on p. 236, quoting Mott: “Torture is one of the surest indications of the denial of justice by a regime.” (Stephen Mott, Biblical Ethics and Social Change, p. 162)
Governments also act differently than individuals. Governments are supposed to mete judgment to the criminals, uphold order, and protect their citizens. Supposing a Christian leader found out that an allied nation were going to be attacked by a rebel group (i.e., credible threat), or he found credible information on an imminent attack on domestic soil? Not being in a position of power, I would speculate certainly detention is an option, as with setting up ambushes or traps to catch those who might wish harm — incapacitating those who may wish harm onto others. But incapacitation should not mean torture; incapacitation could include detention or disarmament. Incapacitation only should include dismemberment or bodily harm to the instigator or taking a life if absolutely necessary as a deterrent to those who wish harm (e.g., using weapons of mass destruction). It may be difficult to catch one or some of a group without “tipping one’s hand.”
But back to the above definition, torture as using violence or pain, depriving basic human needs of food, water, and/or sleep — this would not be justified by the Christian.
Robert Vroom suggests:
This is a difficult question, which is the main reason I voted for it. I have ideas about this issue, but am very torn regarding it. On one side, I do not think that God would approve of torture any more than he approves of murder or theft. On the other hand, however, if you are responsible for ensuring the safety of a city or a nation, your responsibilities may require torture, in the same way that it may require you to kill human beings.
When soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do, he said “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (John 3:14) He did not say they should throw away their weapons. It seems fair to say that John recognized that the soldiers’ responsibility to protect people might require that they kill at some point.
Bringing things to 2014… If an FBI agent has evidence that a person knows about a terrorist attack, he has a responsibility to do what he can to stop that attack. It may be that the only way to fulfill this responsibility is to torture the information out of that person. If the agent did not use torture and 100 people died because the attack was not stopped, I would think that the agent had failed in his duty.
Matt Fig and Bernie McGuire have similar thoughts:
Bernie says, “Depending on how you define torture, the first example that comes to mind – His Son. Seems like there was at least one case in which torture was approved and even required,” and Matt agrees, “The death of Christ by crucifixion was torture.” The author of this post asks both of them: Does God approve of abandoning your friend in his lowest moment, or betraying him to his enemies? Matt alone answers that question with, “I was answering the question simpliciter. I really have no comment on Jason’s example or a general principle.” The author of this post thinks the three answers above from Damoksa, Chris, and Robert did this question justice.
What does the Bible say about torture? (GotQuestions.org)
We thank you for asking, Jason! We hope the discussion continues in the comments.
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