Monday, June 9, 2008

Is God a torturer?

Is the God who sends people to Hell a divine torturer? That is a very difficult question to answer but the more pressing question for me is this:

Is the God of the evangelical universalism that I defend a torturer?

Why think that he would be? Well, one might suppose that he is tormenting people with dreadful agonies until they choose to accept him. In other words, he torturing them into getting saved. He stands over those he is punishing saying, 'Love me and all your pain will stop!'

Am I proposing a deity specializing in well intentioned but indefensible human rights violations?

I have some thoughts about that but for now I thought I would simply pose the problem to get reflections on it from guests. What do you think?


Mike H said...

Isn't it about choice? Those in hell are receiving the full consequences of their sinful choices. God does not willingly send anyone to hell - people refuse to accept God's way out through Christ. The "horribleness" of the situation is not God as a torturer, but the awful nature of sin - now fully exposed in hell, which I'm sure our calvinistic friends would agree with.
No doubt there are several different views on this, and I may have missed something obvious, but this is just my quick initial thoughts.

Don said...

The mystery of the methodology of ultimate reconciliation is a tough one for me. Sometimes I lean toward a purgatorial view with consequences and some discomfort. At other times I see it as a loss of benefits in both time and future rewards, as many say, the rebellious dead will not be raised at the same time nor enjoy the glories to the degree as those who lived for him and suffered with Him. ....So delighted your blogging.

Don H

Anonymous said...

As I see it, we shouldn´t think that God is actively punishing people. God´s discipline is God´s partial withdrawal of God´s presence. To be disciplined is to be (temporarily) shut out from the kingdom. God is not a torturer, God is the God of Jesus.
/Jonas Lundström

Jason Pratt said...

I think we have to take seriously the scriptural testimony to the effect that God does in fact actively punish people, and that the punishment while varying in degrees could potentially be pretty harsh (even if we're seeing poetic hyperbole in the descriptions to emphasize the importance.)

After all, there are obvious connections (once a commonly mis-translated word is translated more accurately) between RevJohn 19 and Psalm 23 (the famous Shepherd's Psalm), and even that Psalm isn't quite as warm and fuzzy as we often make it out to be. The wrath of God, even in love, is supposed to be scary; as the old saying goes, the wrath of a righteous man is far more frightening than the wrath of the unrighteous.

That being said: I also think it's too easy to devolve ideas of hell into a sort of divine version of "the Village" in The Prisoner where people are coerced and tortured into unquestioning obedience of authority.

I also think it's worth keeping in mind that whatever suffering may be inflicted by God upon those in Gehenna, it isn't a suffering that He exempts Himself from, but which He eternally shares with them in solidarity with them and in hope that they will be free of their sins and their sinning someday. That's part of what the death on the cross is about.

I think it also helps if we minimize the temptation to overly divide between 'us' and 'them' in this process. We all will be salted with the everlasting fire that burns in Gehenna. (And for some of us, such as myself, the salting kicks off earlier than for others. {s})


Anonymous said...

Jason. Well, I might agree depending of how we use the notion of "punishment". In our society, we tend to think of this in terms of courts, prisons, wars etc. It is retribution and has to do with "justice". I think the main biblical notion of punishment is more relational and comes closer to "discipline". God is our mother and father (Hebr 12), and God is always love, so everything God does is out of love for us. God doesn´t need to punish us for some abstract notion of justice.

Jason Pratt said...


The only disagreement I would have with you there, is actually an agreement in disguise I expect. {s} Specifically, in our society, and in many theologies, "retribution" typically doesn't mean "re-tribution" at all; and "justice" has nothing necessarily to do with achieving real re-tribution. (Ditto re-probation. {g})

I refuse to even use those words anymore outside their proper meaning, for fear of being immediately misunderstood. Similarly, when I speak about 'atonement' I have to emphasize that I'm talking about at-one-ment (which means something supremely important), not a-tone-ment (which doesn't mean much of anything.)


Anonymous said...

If hell (as understood) existed, then God would be a torturer. But since there is not one (as understood) we come to understand that the holy fire of God will purify us. Some sooner, some later.

Gregory MacDonald said...

Thank you for these suggestive comments