When the event is agony on the rack in a medieval castle long ago, we watch on screen at a centuries-long safe distance. Modern-day torture, however, is too close to home. It is profoundly disturbing to read in a recently published book that ordinary people, given certain circumstances, will become torturers.
The book "Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People: the Dynamics of Torture" by John Conroy looks at modern-day acts of torture and examines the people who engage in it as well as the effect it has on victims.
If it takes unblinking honesty to look a repellent topic in the face, it takes unflinching resolve to look even further, in search of lasting solutions.
The notion that ordinary people are capable of unspeakable acts of torture has a powerful counterpoint in the Scriptures. "There is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding" (Job 32:8). That's bedrock fact to what's intrinsic to our nature. It's core in shaping our inclinations to act, care, reach out to others in benign ways. Glimpse in prayer that "spirit in man," and it tends to defuse any latent capacity to harm.
Prayer is effective action. Prayer, infused with inspiration, redirects behavior along wholesome lines, even under the severest conditions.
Consider an encounter, recorded in the Scriptures, when Christ Jesus came face to face with a mob on the verge of stoning a woman (see John 8:1-11). His almost wordless response delivered him from entanglement in torturous acts, saved each member of the mob from becoming a torturer, and rescued the woman. How? What was he praying? I've always suspected that on some level the Master knew that "spirit," that "inspiration of the Almighty" lay dormant in each member of the mob. And his prayer stirred it awake, at least to a degree. The outcome? They quietly dispersed, without brutality or threat. It's neither impossible nor naive to set Jesus' example as the standard to emulate.
The Almighty is a loving God, and is described in the New Testament as Love itself. It is the spirit of Love within ourselves, and within others, that needs witnessing to in prayer. There are no conditions that could somehow make Love absent. Even the darkest places of the human heart can't forever evade Love's healing touch. The Almighty is on the scene to deliver us even from ourselves, from any hidden potential to harm. And His inspiration guides us toward our better selves.
Encoded into each of us is that spirit of Love empowering us to do unto one another acts of unspeakable kindness and extraordinary care. Divine Love inclines us to wholesome and healing deeds. But it's not enough to know that this is a spiritual fact. We must realize and practice its truth. Then, even if good inclinations don't surface right away, or if reports of horrific happenings continue, we'll be less likely to slump toward cynicism and despair. We'll be more likely to persist in prayer. Why should we? Because with every glimpse of what's spiritually native to man we move a step closer to defeating any impulses that might lure us in the wrong direction.
The founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote: "Remember, thou canst be brought into no condition, be it ever so severe, where Love has not been before thee and where its tender lesson is not awaiting thee. Therefore despair not nor murmur, for that which seeketh to save, to heal, and to deliver, will guide thee, if thou seekest this guidance" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," pgs. 149-150).
No condition makes the commission of torturous acts by ordinary people inevitable - not as we realize something of the nature and power of Love. Not as we grasp something of the spirit and inspiration of the Almighty that He has instilled in every one of us.
... thou hast in love to my
soul delivered it from
the pit of corruption.