This is the fifth post of a weekly series on immoral passages of the Bible. You can find the collection page here, with links to every post in the series.
Today we focus on God’s love of torture. Believers in God often claim that he loves everyone, but that seems unlikely given how much he relishes each and every opportunity he gets to torture people, including many innocent people. Seriously, God makes the Saw movies look quaint and wholesome by comparison. As with the other posts in this series, we are looking at only a sampling here, there are many more examples in the Bible of God’s hard on for torture porn.
The story of Job, from the Book of Job, is a famous example of God’s insane love of torture in the Bible. In the story, Satan thinks that Job is only faithful because he has wealth and a happy family. God makes a bet with Satan and then begins torturing Job to win the bet. Job’s crops fail, he loses all his wealth, all of his children die when a house collapses, and he eventually becomes a homeless beggar covered in painful sores. But that’s all OK, right, Job? God has to win his completely unnecessary wager, after all.
In Exodus, God speaks to Moses from a burning bush and tells Moses that he will “harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you.” (Exodus 7:3-4 NIV) The significance here is that God wants the Jews to leave Egypt, but he is here promising Moses that he will make the Pharaoh ignore Moses’ pleas to free the Jews so that God has an excuse to torture the people of Egypt with his plagues. Why would he intentionally make Pharaoh unwilling to acquiesce to Moses’ pleading just so he can torture everyone?
Jesus, of course, gets tortured and crucified just so God can forgive everyone’s sins. The logic of that all does not make a whole lot of sense, but Jesus’ death was an allegory for the Jewish blood sacrifice rituals of Passover and Yom Kippur. The Jews, and by extension the Christians, are really professing a belief in blood magic. The torture that Jesus endures is part of his sacrifice. How an immortal being dying temporarily is really a sacrifice is never explained, however, but most Christians just overlook that part.
Outside of the crucifixion, Jesus was in fact a fan of torture, and preached about it to his followers. For example, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus uses a parable to teach his followers about how God, his father, will torture them if they do not forgive others from the bottom of their heart. (Matthew 18:21-35) While being able to forgive others can be a noble virtue, why does it all have to come back to torture as a means of enforcement? If Jesus is such a loving person, why not focus on rewards, or other benefits of being kind towards others?
So why does God, and Jesus, exhibit such a fondness for torture? It is because God and Jesus, as fictional, literary constructs are the products of the cultures that created them. The Bible, a collection of dozens of texts written over hundreds of years, contains conflictual, and barbaric, notions of “God’s love” precisely because when each of the texts were written they were beholden to the current socio-political climate of the author. It comes as little surprise that, for example, the Book of Ezekiel, which was supposedly written in the 6th century BCE during the Babylonian exile, may contradict what was written by Jews founding a new sect in Palestine in the 1st century ACE. Once you read the texts without the biases of faith, it becomes the obvious invention of ancient superstitious people, and not at all divinely inspired.