The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Is God a torturer?

Monday, June 9, 2008

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?
Posted by Gregory MacDonald at 12:15 PM
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.

June 9, 2008 9:13 PM
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

June 9, 2008 9:54 PM
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

June 10, 2008 2:42 AM
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})


June 10, 2008 8:47 AM
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.

June 10, 2008 10:17 AM
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.)


June 10, 2008 4:10 PM
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.

June 11, 2008 12:06 AM
Gregory MacDonald said…
Thank you for these suggestive comments

June 11, 2008 12:39 PM

How could a father be a torturer? “…if you fathers being evil, (in comparison to the Heavenly Father) know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give…”

We do allow our children to experience (suffer?) the consequences of their actions, then don’t we lovingly guide our children to understanding. We are all born into this life “spiritually brain damaged” without understanding, of course we fail to live up to being sons of God. We are contaminated with sin and evil in this evil and sinful world, wouldn’t it be more Godlike or Heavenly Father like, for Him to lift us up and to lovingly and gingerly remove the contamination and give us understanding?

Some receive this in this life, others seem to be in too much darkness, of heritage and culture, to “see” in this physical life. Therefore, must receive a crash course “…when they see Him…”? Some of my thoughts on this subject, still need fleshing out. :slight_smile: :bulb:

Corrrection can feel like torture, but the the benefits outweigh the pain. Just as any earthly trial or tribulation is not enjoyable( 1 Peter 1:7), the out come brings about a purified nature and removes the impurities ( Isa 1:25) . Causing us to grow in love and having the mind of Christ ( Eph 1:10 ).

As a physician, I have to point out here that any real healing process involves pain or discomfort of some kind for a time. Not to mention nearly any process that produces results that are worthwhile, such as exercise.

This is a very interesting question, because we don’t even have to look at UR to see the troubling aspects. Why did God put Abraham to the test with Isaac (what a foreign idea to our western minds!)? And of course, the glaring example is Jesus! Why did God choose to brutally kill his own son?! Nevermind the question of why the shedding of blood (death) is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, but why in such a violent manner? God is certainly far more mysterious than most Christians are willing to recognize. There is something scary about God, something that goes beyond our natural intellect and common sense. For some reason, God set up the scenario of pain and suffering (whether physical, emotional, etc.) for his own purposes, and ours. It somehow yields character in us that could not be done any other way. But why?

The event that started this whole thing keeps being refreshed in my mind and it scares the hell out of me. I keep having this semi-conscious dream that I am totally and utterly alone in total darkness, kinda like what being buried alive might feel like.
God is not doing anything to me. The punishment is being without any part of His presence. I would do anything to not be in that situiation. Initally I couldn’t imagine God doing this to anyone which led me to UR. Now I’m not so sure.

Really appreciate your honesty, Justin. In response to your question, not every Christian believes that God chose to brutally kill His own son. The Christus Victor, and other nonviolent atonement motifs, reject penal substitutionary atonement. There are those who suggest Jesus got killed for His radical actions, and that God did not send him with the express purpose of getting killed, but rather to show us what the Kingdom of God looks like. Because that is so radically different than the kingdom of Caesar, he was bound to get killed. The “violence” on the cross was man-made, not God-ordained. Of course, this runs counter to some Scripture which appears to teach otherwise. In order to gravitate towards this line of thinking (and remove the “torture factor”) you must be willing to give up the inerrant, God-inspired view of Scripture. You can still hold a high view of Scripture, but would have to be willing to concede that certain books of the Bible were written strictly from man’s point of view, and may have been inspired, but not the same as the words of God being breathed through man as a vessel of communication

This view would also go against the canonized gospels themselves–the most accurate info. we have regarding the life and death of Jesus; as well as the crux of Paul’s gospel. I suppose we can hold on to this view, but then we must reject the majority of the New Testament (how would we even know the gospel if it were not for the NT?).


It may help to be more specific about what interpretations of the cross in the N.T. you find indisputable. In my “Penal Substitution” thread (under Soteriology), James Goetz and I (unlike F & B) both assume the N.T. is fully authoritative. But I argue that P.S. is a late and unbiblical interpretation of the cross, and that God is not a champiion of violence.

Possibly, it comes down to whether the N.T.‘s assurances that Jesus’ death was part of God’s plan or purpose is equivalent to saying that God himself is the one doing the violent killing. The question may be beyond my insight, but it appears to me that Scripture can suggest even sin, and hardened sinners, are part of God’s program, and yet distance God from being the sinner, and even assign responsibility for sin to man rather than God.

Bob Wilson (Auggy’s father-in-law)

I’m not sure where I said that my comments were my own personal thoughts, rather my point was that sober-minded Christians have had a high view of Scripture but have rejected the author’s ideas (the book of Hebrews, for instance) that the atonement is best understood through a retributive lens. I know my comments seemed like my own, but they are one point of view that I respect, even if I disagree. I struggle w/ PSA, but haven’t written it off. I still cling (however feebly) to that doctrine.

As far as the atonement, I believe God, in Christ Jesus, stooped and became man’s scapegoat. By His atonement, He not only becomes our scapegoat but He says, “blame Me.”

It is God that placed man in sinful flesh. He is responsible for the purpose and plan to humble man by such. By God in Christ, suffering the cross, not only does He say, “blame me”, but He tells us, “I humble My own self and suffer with you.”

Oh, what a Saviour, what a God, is our Kinsman Redeemer!


Paul says Jesus was made sin for our benefit. If Jesus were not the once, for all sacrifice for sin (according to Paul and the rest of the NT’s writers) then the early Jewish Christians would have continued in the sacrificial system. And we can’t argue that this was some unnecessary result, for the gospels are clear that Jesus’ suffering, death , burial, and resurrection were “according to the Scriptures.” It was God’s plan, even though people participated in it.

Here is a powerful message where the hardest query is posed at the very end.

Blessings and peace to you,