Table of Contents
Part I: The Nature of Time
WHEN TIME BECAME AN ETERNITY
There are two
'schools' of thought about the best way of eating candy. They
are mostly composed of children. There are those who plop a candy
into the mouth and let the sweet juices slowly dissolve, bathing
the taste buds gently and for quite a long time. Then there are
those who find this delivery system quite
unsatisfactory. They immediately start breaking up the candy
with their molars and the enhanced flow of
sweetness which results from the greatly increased surface area
of the many smaller pieces proves far
For a while the volume of taste
is marvelous and absorbs all their attention. They stare into
occupied with delight, until suddenly they discover the candy
is all gone; the last fragment has
surreptitiously slipped down the throat with almost indecent
haste. All too soon there is nothing left:
nothing, that is, except the resolve next time to suck it more
slowly! This resolve is strengthened as the
supply of candies runs out and only becomes firm when they are
There are many of the former school,
mostly girls I suspect: but there are perhaps more of the latter,
boys I think. I always resolved to make the candy last and always
failed to keep that resolve and still do,
sixty years later.
is an analogy. Enjoyment may be mild and long, or deep and intense:
as it is with pleasure, so it is
with pain. Not infrequently we have a choice, even in
the matter of pain. We can stay away from "the house"
so that mother will not at once send us to that highly paid torturer,
the dentist. We endure the gnawing ache
until it either becomes unbearable and cannot be concealed, or
until for some reason it eases up and finally
stops altogether for a few days at least. Alternatively,
we can go home like a martyr about to be thrown to
the lions, and for a few agonizing moments we can allow some
eager dentist to probe relentlessly. He hits it
with a sledgehammer, all the while supposing he is merely tapping
it in order to identify the offending tooth
which must be obvious to anyone. And then he asks, "Does
it hurt?" while he can see we are suffering
agonies even from his mere looking at it. Then all of a sudden
he presents the offending tooth before our
eyes, and we are not even quite sure when he took it out!
So there we have a principle: the
alternative of long and mild, or short and awful. This is a principle
wide application. We meet it in our handling of criminals, for
instance. We can chop off a man's head (France
still does, I believe), or we can imprison him for twenty years.
We assume, of course, that twenty years of
imprisonment is always to be preferred by the prisoner, but we
do so only because neither he nor we can
know what a long slow painful death those twenty years are likely
to be unless, of course, there is hope of
reprieve for "good" behaviour.
Having one's head cut off or being
shot by a firing squad is at least quick, and perhaps hanging
is not much
more protracted; but given the choice, men opt for the long and
the slow rather than the quick and the short.
At least, most men do. A few very brave or perhaps strangely
misguided (?) individuals prefer the short and
the quick. But most people facing such an alternative naturally
choose the one that allows some small
chance of remission. Yet even where there is no possibility of
a reprieve, men still often choose the long and
the slow, hoping against hope.
In our society, we have now confused
the issue by supposing life to be better than death, no matter
conditions are. Even in a concentration camp only a very small
percentage of people deliberately tried to
commit suicide. It is
when all hope is gone, all hope of a foreseeable end and release,
that death seems
preferable. If, for some reason, the circumstances are such that
death cannot be embraced as a means of
release from the agony of life so that there is no hope of escape
even by this means, then the penalty
becomes utterly unbearable.
As we shall see, this was the position
that the Lord Jesus Christ was in when He became a sin-offering
us. Only when the suffering entailed in that sacrifice was paid
in full could He then embrace death and find
release. And as we shall also see, those three hours of darkness
must have been an eternity while they were
Fitting the punishment to the crime
Now the point of this preamble,
and indeed of all that has been reviewed in the previous chapters,
there is some kind of equation in the scales of justice between
punishment which is extensive and
punishment which is intensive; between punishment that,
judged by our relative standards, is long-lasting
but sufferable, and punishment which is brief but insufferable.
Moreover, the nature or character
of the sufferer has a bearing on the matter. Consider the penalty
isolation, for example. Total isolation would do little for a
cow though being a herding animal, it would
probably get lonely now and then. But total isolation for a human
being has proved to be so severe a
punishment that it can amount to torture if it is sustained;
and the nations are near to agreeing (at least,
professedly) that it should be outlawed entirely. Such international
abhorrence will probably not put an end
to it, but at least the confession of abhorrence is itself proof
enough of the severity of isolation as a
So man suffers more than
a cow in certain situations. But it is also true that some men
suffer more than
other men. In the same situation, punishment that seems comparatively
innocuous for one may devastate
another. Thus the principle of sentencing to so many years in
prison, or to so many lashes, or to a fine of so
many dollars, on a sliding scale fixed for each offense by consent
of society, is essentially unjust because it
does not take into consideration the "sensitivity"
of the prisoner. Such sensitivity is, of course, taken into
account sometimes, though
in times of public danger these refinements are abandoned. Yet
that it should be done at all demonstrates another important
point: namely, that the capacity of the prisoner to suffer
predetermines to a large extent the severity of the penalty from
his point of view.
A hardened criminal shrugs off
a term of two or three years as merely an inconvenience. These
two or three
years can even be to his advantage. After all, he goes to 'school'
among experts in his craft and can improve
his technique while being supplied with free board and lodging
and some entertainment. The naive
individual who, though admittedly for selfish reasons, has allowed
himself to be trapped into some
skullduggery and to get caught, suffers far more from the same
sentence for a similar crime. He may not be a
criminal at all, only a spineless human being, perhaps with a
low IQ. The fitting of the punishment to the
crime depends not merely on the nature of the CRIME, but also
on the nature of the criminal.
What, then, of the suffering imposed
unjustly upon a Man who is morally perfect, who is completely
innocent, whose imaginative powers are developed to the highest
degree possible for a human being, who is without spot or blemish
in his character, and who has a capacity for suffering for others
infinitely beyond that
of the rest of men? Because of our selfishness most of us have
too little capacity for this kind of suffering, but the capacity
of the Lord Jesus for suffering with and for others was infinite.
Every one who touched Him,
expectantly, drew strength out of Him, and He was always consciously
drained by this kind of human contact
He wept at the grave of Lazarus not because Lazarus was dead,
for He knew that within a few
moments He would be raising Lazarus to life again. (2) He wept because He shared
so totally the grief of
Martha and Mary, and was overwhelmed in his spirit by the sadness
of the fact of death in the midst of life.
Because He was God-made-Man, this capacity for sharing human
suffering must have been inexhaustible:
yet it was deeply, deeply felt nevertheless. On the intensive
side of the scales, there was no imaginable
limit to what the penalty of our sins could impose upon Him in
agony of soul when He accepted responsibility
for them in our place.
1. "Jesus said, Who touched me? When
all denied, Peter said, Master, the multitude throng you and
press you, and do you ask, Who touched me? Jesus said, Somebody
has touched me, for I perceive that virtue has gone out of me."
2. For the account of the raising of Lazarus, see John 1:144.
long, then, must He actually suffer in his own body on the cross
(1 Peter 2:24(3))
in order to atone for our sins? Clearly, the answer lies in the
extent of his capacity. And that capacity was infinite. The depth
dimension in this equation reaches down so far in the infinitude
of his capacity that the length dimension,
the length of time He must suffer when measured in hours, almost
ceases to have any consequence. It is
necessary to say almost for reasons which will become apparent
in due time.
It would seem, in fact, that the
Lord Jesus could have been made a curse for us for only one second
by our clocks and still have paid in full the moral consequences
of our sins, perfectly satisfying the demands
of the law because of the intensity of that one second
of suffering. The unfathomable depth of his agony of
soul would fully have compensated for the seeming shortness of
Punishment: extensive vs. intensive
Now a diagram seems inappropriate
in such a context. Yet the significance of this tremendous truth
illuminated in some ways by such a means. Let us assume, for
instance, that the length of a man's three year
sentence is represented by a line (AB, Fig. 4) thus:
3. ". . .who his own self bore our sins
in his own body on the tree." 1 Peter 2:24.
the terms of his imprisonment are only mild, the depth of his
suffering throughout this period could be
represented by a shallow rectangle (Fig. 5) in which the dimension
AB is still the length of his sentence, butthe depth BC is the
measure of the intensity of his suffering during that period.
Thus the area ABCD stands,
visually, for the total effective weight of his sentence, for
the real measure of his punishment.
Let us take the case
of another individual who has committed the same offense and ought therefore
to have the same penalty imposed upon him. However in this case, either
because he is a first offender or because of
old age or frail health, let us suppose that the judge, recognizing the
greater sensitivity of the offender,
shortens his sentence to two years instead of three. We now have a rectangle
whose long dimension (AB in
Fig. 6) is only two years but whose vertical dimension (BC) is now half
again as deep as that of the vertical
dimension in Fig. 5.
The area of this rectangle
turns out to be the same as the area of Fig.5: in fact both sentences
are the same
in their weighting, though the second individual has received
a significantly shorter sentence in terms of
years. The sensitivity of the victim, the capacity of the victim
to suffer, has been taken into account by
shortening the extensity of the sentence. The total penalty is
How far could this shortening go? How
short can the line AB become while strictly forming an equivalent
penalty if compensated by increased depth? Obviously the two
rectangles can simply be up-ended without
in any way altering their total weighting. Thus the line AB becomes
greatly abbreviated and the intensity, BC,
is greatly extended (Fig. 7), and if the proportions of these
two lines are preserved, the total area must
remain constant, and the penalty itself as imposed by the judge
We may go one step further yet.
If this tall thin column were to be narrowed still further and
accordingly, the principle would remain intact, for the rectangle
could be adjusted in depth to maintain a
constant total area. In the end the AB or horizontal or time
factor line could be almost negligible but the
depth factor BC then becomes all important. Capital punishment
represents this kind of situation: the
intensity of the punishment far outweighs its extensity. Carried
to its logical conclusion, if the intensity of the
suffering is infinite, the line AB representing the time factor
can be reduced to a point i.e., theoretically,
to no time at all. There is nothing absurd about this, for as
we have seen, there is a reality which is
He endured the cross
Thus, had the Lord Jesus Christ
been suffering only as God, the torment of the penalty would
infinite in its depth and the time element would have been reduced
to zero, since time would have been
eclipsed by eternity. But because the Son was not only God but
also Man, and because He was placed in this
position as a suffering human being, He could not altogether
escape from the bondage of our time frame. He had to remain conscious
within time and, in some sense, of time. In this
sense He endured the cross
How long, then, did He endure?
4. "Looking unto Jesus, the author and
finisher of our faith, who instead of the joy set before him,
endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the
right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:2.
history man has experienced the terror of physical torture; and
from what has been recorded of it in recent years we may learn
some things about that other kind of torture with which we are
particularly concerned in the present instance, the torture of
the soul. From personal experience Viktor Frankl had a profound
insight into the nature of suffering endured when there is no
hope of an end. Intense suffering of this kind concentrates attention
entirely upon the present moment. There is no looking to the
future in hope.
Hope is a powerful sustainer when an end is foreseen but, as
Frankl observes, a man who cannot see the end
ceases to live for the future and therefore exists altogether
This was precisely the position
in which the Lord was confined when He became a sin-offering
for us. For in the absolute condemnation
which this involved, He suffered as One from whom the termination
of his sentence was completely hidden.
He experienced total forsaking not merely by man but by his heavenly
Father whom He had never disobeyed
throughout his whole earthly life nor even displeased.(6) Because He had not the
slightest inkling of a
foreseeable end, His suffering became, in fact, an eternal punishment.(7)
Yet while He thus suffered
eternally, the soldiers who guarded Him continued to live in
time, no doubt
eagerly awaiting the end of the day when they would go off duty.
Frankl observes that the prisoners and the guards in the concentration
camps lived in entirely different worlds of time. The prisoners
such agony of soul that time ceased to have any significance
to them whatever, while their guards
continued to live entirely by the clock.
The man whose suffering is bearable
can keep his eye on the passage of time and, if he knows when
is to be, he can gain some comfort by saying to himself, "I'm
halfway through" or "It's nearly over." The
existence of hope and the sense of the passage of time run together:
and when intensity of suffering is so
5. Frankl, Viktor, Man's Search for Meaning,
New York, Simon & Schuster, 1963, pp.112, 115, 171.
6. Three times God declared He was pleased with his Son, the
Lord Jesus Christ: in his youth, "Jesus increased in wisdom
and stature, and in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:52);
at the beginning of his ministry, "And Jesus, when he was
baptized, went straightway up out of the water; and, lo, the
heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending
on him like a dove and lighting upon him, and lo, a voice from
heaven saying, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased'
(Matthew 3:16); and near the end of his ministry on the Mount
of Transfiguration, ". . .a bright cloud overshadowed them
and a voice came out of the
cloud which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased;
hear ye him" (Matthew 17:5).
7. On this see the author's Seed of the Woman, Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada, Doorway Publications, 1980, chap.31, p.396.
great that the sense
of time is lost, hope is lost. Pain is locked into the immediate
present and any comfort in the thought of an end is eclipsed.
Suffering takes on an experienced quality of endlessness. Extreme
of soul pins down all consciousness to a point in time, kaleidoscoping
both future and past and effectively
converting the momentary now into endlessness.
Because we conceive of punishment as
being much or little in terms of duration, we interpret the Scriptures
which tell us that it will be eternal (which is a more
correct translation of the original Greek) to mean
everlasting (which is probably a far less correct translation
of the original Greek). It could be that the
biblical meaning of eternal has no direct reference to duration
at all. It could conceivably be a qualitative
term rather than a quantitative one, carrying the idea of intensity
or depth rather than extensity of length
as it almost certainly does in reference to eternal life. Eternal
life is another kind of life, a quality of life, a life
of depth, a life more abundant (John 10:10(8)). The question of duration is not denied: it is simply
not at issue.
Perhaps eternal punishment really means punishment whose intensity
cannot actually be conveyed to our
time-bound minds except by saying that it will be experienced
with an intensity that will make it effectively
interminable while it lasts.
In some unfathomable way,
the Lord Jesus Christ as our substitute must have experienced
punishment. One has to ask then, How does this quality of eternity
relate to the three hours of darkness on
the cross? Was this experienced by the Lord as three hours, or
was this just the time period accounted for by
the guards on duty who had some kind of candle or water clock
to keep a record of their time? Did the
supernatural darkness of those hours actually signify (among
other things) that the one agency of God's economy in the heavens
by which our time is regulated had been "stopped" for
that interval? I do not mean
to suggest that it was literally stopped in its passage but effectively
stopped because its movement could no
longer be seen. The Lord Himself was thus left on the
cross without a clock.
Did time then stop for Him?
Did He experience such a sense of timeless-ness that what was
endured did not contribute in any way towards the reduction of
what remained yet to be endured in order to fulfill the total
penalty which must be paid? Was this a form of endless
punishment with no foreseeable
8. "I am come that they might have life,
and that they might have it more abundantly." John 10:10.
when it was over it had occupied only three hours by our clocks?
Do we not in fact have here a case of truly eternal torment
which had, nevertheless, been fulfilled in a period of three
He descended into hell
Can we have even the remotest conception
of what it would mean for One who was morally perfect, pure
in spirit in the absolute sense, without the slightest taint
of guilt in any form and altogether sinless, to be
suddenly held responsible for the appalling record of crime and
injustice and brutality and hatred and insane cruelty that marks
the frightful record of human history from the murder of Abel
to the extermination
centres and labour camps of today? What would it mean to be so
accounted guilty that the Father Himself
turned away from his beloved Son as One who now, as the sin-bearer,
was abhorrent in his sight?
In these three hours the
Lord Jesus was made a sin-offering; that is to say He became
effectively the doer of this frightfulness not only in the sight
of man, but in the sight of God and the whole host of heaven.
was Himself blameless assumed full responsibility and was to
blame. He who was pure was made vile. He
who was holy was made unholy with the leprosy of our sin. He
who was the very expression of love became
as hateful as sin itself. He who was without spot was infected
with the cancer of our wickedness. He who
knew no sin was actually made sinful by identification.(10)
9. Some time after completing this chapter,
I acquired a copy of A Body of Divinity by John Gill (16971771)
and came across, to my delight, the following (I have taken the
liberty of re-phrasing his sentences slightly in order to make
his meaning clearer but reference to the original will
show that I have not betrayed his meaning in any way). He wrote
"When He (Christ) was made
sin and a curse. . . it was tantamount to an eternal death, or
the suffering of the wicked in hell. For though the two kinds
of suffering differ as to circumstances of time and place, the
persons being different, the one finite and the other infinite,
yet as to the essence of these sufferings, they were the same.
Eternal death consists in two things: punishment in the form
of deprivation, and punishment in the form of actual affliction.
The former lies in an eternal separation from God, or a deprivation
of his presence forever: and the latter lies in an everlasting
affliction in the everlasting fire of God's wrath.
"Now Christ endured
what was answerable to both of these. . . . Eternity is not the
essence of punishment but it is consequent of the fact that the
sufferer cannot all at once bear the whole -- being finite as
sinful man is finite. And as it cannot be borne all at once it
is continued ad infinitum. But Christ, being an infinite
Person, was able to bear the whole at once and the infinity of
his Person abundantly compensates for the eternity of the punishment."
[A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity,
vol. 1, Grand Rapids, Baker reprint, 1978, p.574.]
10. Scripture seems to go out of its way to make it very clear
that Jesus was indeed sinless. Paul, the intellectual, declared
"[God] has made him [Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew
no sin. . . ." (2 Corinthians 5:2); Peter, the activist,
said "who did no sin" (2 Peter 2:22); and John,
the spiritual one, observed that "in him is no sin"
(1 John 3:5) [my emphasis].
descended into hell, into the utter solitude that on the Day
of Atonement was symbolized by the sending forth of the scapegoat
into an uninhabited desert of evil marked by the absence of all
other relationships. Itwas not for a few hours only that this
terrible penalty was imposed upon Him but in his experience
for ever: He could not know in his darkness how
long it would take to pay the price. Nor could He have any
anticipation of when the price had been paid in full until, at
last, He became aware once more of his Father's
presence. He could not anticipate the end, and with no anticipation
of the end, his suffering became infinite.
He could not cry out, "Father,
forgive Me!" He could not cry, "God, have mercy upon
Me!" On what grounds could mercy be extended to HIM? On
no ground, except the completion of his sacrifice, could any
mercy be extended to any one. On what basis could his
reprieve be granted -- except all others forfeit the forgiveness
He had come to guarantee them? For on the fullness of his sacrifice
depended all other forgiveness.
He could atone for the sins of
others and pray the Father to forgive them (Luke 23:34(11)) but there was no
way in which He could save Himself if He was to save us. They
were right who mocked Him thus (Matthew
Gethsemane He had said to his disciples, "Could ye not watch
with Me for one hour?"
Here He could only say, "My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken
Of course, He had known this had
to be. But anticipating that a fearful agony is to be borne,
even though He knew in prospect that it must come to an end since
He had told his disciples He would rise again, such
knowledge did not serve to ameliorate it when the intensity of
that agony fell upon Him. I cannot believe He
had a fear of it as He foresaw what was to happen, but He must
have had an awful horror of what it would
entail. His prayer in Gethsemane bears this out. And when the
blow fell who can possibly know what He
11. "Then Jesus said, Father forgive
them, for they know not what they do." Luke 23:34.
12. "He saved others: himself he cannot save. If he be the
king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we
will believe him." Matthew 27:42.
13. "He came to his disciples and, finding them asleep,
said to Peter, What, could you not watch with me one hour?"
14. "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice,
saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, "My
God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Matthew 27:46.
endured in that eternity
in order that our eternity of punishment might be commuted to
total blamelessness because He for an eternity had borne the
penalty for us.
Why the three hours
Because He was God, his
capacity for suffering was infinite. And we must suppose that
with this capacity
there need have been no time dimension at all. But because He
was Man, the time factor could not altogether be dispensed
with, and by our clocks that moment of time was stretched into
hours. Justice must
not only be done: it must also be seen to be done. Had the Lord
fulfilled the requirements of the penalty in
such depth as to make its duration in time a matter only of moments,
we should never have been fully
persuaded that He really did suffer for us sufficiently to write
"paid in full" across our debt. His triumphant
cry, "It is finished!" (tetelestai, John 19:30(15)) is now known to have
been, in Greek and Roman times, what
was officially stamped as an acknowledgment of receipt on all
bills: "PAID IN FULL!"(16)
In point of fact, the hours
of which we have a record bear virtually no relevance to his
sacrifice as a
sin-offering for our sins. It seems clear to me that all that
was accomplished on the cross could indeed have
been fulfilled in a moment of our time. Did not Satan show Him
all the glories of the world's kingdoms in "a
moment of time" (Luke 4:5(17))? Then, having fulfilled his role as the Lamb of
God, He might in a few moments or even instantly have dismissed
his life and terminated the whole ordeal in triumph. But to us,
constituted as we are, there would have been an apparent falling
short of justice.
Perhaps it was extended chiefly
to satisfy our sense of justice; but it was also because He suffered
that the time element had to be introduced as it was and
set on record as it has been. The three hours of
our clocks were an eternity to his soul. It was an eclipse of
time, timeless-ness within time.
Did the Father also suffer?
There remains one final thought.
Did the Father also suffer for an eternity in the loss of his
Son? It seems
15. "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar,
he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost."
16. See J. H. Moulton and G. Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek
Testament, Grand Rapids, Eerdman's, 1972, p. 630 under ""
17. "And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, showed unto
him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time." Luke 4:5.
that this could have
been so. The Father could foresee the end of his Son's exile
and rejoice in anticipation of his return to his Bosom, even
as the Son must have done so in prospect and given his disciples
accordingly. But I think that something of the agony of soul
which the Lord Jesus suffered as our sin-offering
must have been shared in some way by the Father in heaven, when
his Son ceased to be an object of joy and
became a thing abhorrent and contaminated with our sin. The sacrifice
which the Father made was thus as
great an exhibition of love for mankind as the sacrifice which
the Son made. It is not merely that the Son lost
the Father: the Father lost the Son. The sacrifice of separation
must have been felt both ways. Could it be truly
said otherwise that God gave his Son as a proof of his love?
For God not only "gave his
only begotten Son" (John 3:16(18)) but He "laid on Him the iniquity of us all"
so that the Lord was literally "smitten of God" (Isaiah
53:4(20)). In this
sense the Son was punished by the Father, and that the Father
should do this to his beloved Son -- sparing nothing of the punishment
which sin deserved must surely have been an agony for Himself
18. "For God so loved the world, that
he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should
not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16.
19. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned
every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity
of us all." Isaiah 53:6.
20. "Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:
yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted."
21. When God "gave" his only-begotten Son He did so
in the most literal sense. He lost Him, in those hours of darkness
as He had lost his first created son in the Garden of Eden
after the Fall, when He called out to Adam "Where are you?"
(Genesis 3:9) The rupture between the Father and the Son was
a rupture of an eternal fellowship. It was, of necessity, an
eternal rupture, a rupture for eternity while it lasted.
It was experienced as unending in some real sense by both parties.
For man, who lives in time, all parting has some hope of an end.
For God who 'inhabits eternity' (Isaiah 57:15*) the situation
was awesomely different.
* "For thus says the high and lofty
One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the
high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and
humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive
the heart of the contrite ones." Isaiah 57:15.
was the love of God Father and Son alike made manifest
towards us. "Herein is love; not that we loved God, but
that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for
our sins" (l John 4:10).
But how impossible it is to write
worthily of such an event as this. . . .
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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