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Abstract

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Appendixes


     

Part IV: Triumph Over Death

Chapter 31

An Eternity: In Three Hours Of Darkness

It was about the sixth hour,
and there was darkness over all the earth
until the ninth hour.
And the sun was darkened.

(Luke 24:44,45)

Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying,
My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?

(Matthew 27:46)

The veil of the temple was rent in twain
from the top to the bottom.

(Matthew 27:51)

He said, "IT IS FINISHED!" *
And He bowed his head
and gave up the ghost.

(John 19:30)

     I want to establish two points in this chapter and apply them to the circumstances in which Jesus Christ was placed during the three hours of darkness on the cross.

* Literally, TETELESTAI, meaning "PAID IN FULL." (for more on this, see chapter 32, page 2).

     pg.1 of 13     


     The first point I wish to establish is that the severity of any punishment has a profound influence upon the victim's sense of time, and that if it is severe enough, it becomes experientially everlasting until it is "finished."
     The second point I wish to establish is that there is a moral equivalence, universally recognized, between intensity of punishment and its extensity, between the severity of it and the duration of it. Punishment that is brief but extreme equals punishment that is mild but prolonged. There is a certain punitive correspondence between depth and time.
     Both these principles have a terrible relevance to the Lord's experience during the three hours of darkness.

    We are almost wholly time-bound. We have difficulty in understanding what the Lord could have meant when He said, "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). We feel it necessary to interpret this by changing the tenses. To say "Before Abraham was, I was" makes perfectly good sense. Yet this is not what the Lord said. On other occasions He introduced similar contradictions into his conversation as when He said, for example, "The hour is coming and now is" (John 5:25). And as He seems to have transcended time (according to our idea of what is proper), so He transcended space. For example, He spoke of Himself as being both on earth and in heaven at the same moment (John 3:13).
     It is noteworthy that statements of this kind are characteristic of John's Gospel, and there is no doubt that the emphasis in this Gospel is upon Jesus' transcendental nature. This transcendence is reflected in Luke 4:5 where we are told that Satan showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth "in a moment of time." It seems as though He did not experience the passage of time as some kind of continuous stream of cosmic reality by which the intervals between events are precisely measured. Nor was space for Him some kind of box, with the sides knocked out and no top or bottom, within which things are positioned in the correct relationships. During the violent storm described in John 6:21 we read that when Jesus entered the disciples' ship, then "immediately ( instantly) they were at the land whither they went." Jesus' sense of both time and space was often different.
     We have come to recognize since Einstein that time is a framework of a highly elastic nature, the amount of stretch being a very personal matter. We order and structure the conscious flow of events in a way that is subjective and private. The same event may be experienced by two individuals quite differently, by one as brief and by the other as prolonged. For both parties, the actual time interval as measured by the earth's movement in relation to the sun is experientially irrelevant. Our inner clocks

     pg 2 of 13      

keep only a personal time. Consciousness is the pacemaker of experienced time for each individual. Each of us is his own point of reference both in space and in time. The rate and even the order of events seem to share in this personal experience, and if this is true of us, we may be sure that God's time is uniquely his.
     It is thus possible to say that the Lamb has been slain since the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), but also somewhere around 33 A.D. There is a contradiction here only because we try to fit the timeless consciousness of God into our own time-bound consciousness, and to view his time sense merely as an extension of ours rather than as something fundamentally different. And if we do acknowledge the difference upon occasion, we do so only by assuming his time has in some way "temporarily" departed from the normality of things as we experience them. We are time-bound because we are space-bound, for time is truly a dimension of space. God is neither time-bound nor space-bound, for He existed before the Universe existed, before the creation of space or matter or time. Einstein put the nature of the relationship between these three realities this way:
(239)

     If you don't take my words too seriously, I would say this: if we assumed that all matter disappeared from the world, then before relativity, one believed that space and time would continue to exist in an empty world. But, according to the Theory of Relativity, if matter and its motion disappeared, there would no longer be any space or time [emphasis mine].

     Long before Einstein, Augustine * had perceived the real equation of time with matter. He saw that space and matter are co-existent, and he held that God created time when He created the Universe. Time began with the creation of matter. Of God Himself, Augustine said this: "Thy years stand together at the same time. . . . Thy years are one Day, and Thy day is not like our sequence of days but is today."
     It is extraordinary to realize that this was written over 1500 years ago. All that has been thought on the matter since has been little more than embroidery or attempted demonstration. Augustine had

239. Einstein, Albert, quoted by Philipp Frank, Einstein: His Life and Times, New York, Knopf, 1947, p.178 (chapter 8, section 5).
* Augustine, City of God, Bk. XI, chap. 6: "Beyond doubt, the World was not made in Time, but with Time." As a matter of fact, the Jews themselves anticipated Augustine, though with somewhat less precision and sophistication. [See Louis Ginsberg, Legends of the Jews, Philadelphia, Jewish PubIication Association of America, 1955, vol.V, p.6, note 14, quoting from Bereshith Rabbah 3:7 and Koheleth 3:11]. It is also noted here that the Jewish philosopher, Philo, accepted the view held by his contemporaries. He adopted the concept that time came into being when the universe was created [see Philo, On Creation, vol.1, Loeb classical Library, Harvard, 1971, p.21].
Augustine, Confessions, Bk. XI, chap. 13, § 16.

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no problem with the statement that the Lord was, as a Lamb, slain since the foundation of the world. The present position is coming very close to this view of time. It is very effectively summed up by E. A. Milne when he said, (240)

     You can say was or is at your choice. There is no difference in the two propositions until a particular observer is mentioned. . . .  The passage of time is a definite part of the experience of each individual, and from it may be constructed time measures [But] different individuals assign different spans of time . . . to the same event.

     When we speak of a long time, we are speaking relatively. When Malebranche first looked through a microscope, he is said to have exclaimed, "This is the end of size!" He was right. . . .  It is evident that there is
no absolute standard of bigness or smallness: nor is there of length of time.
     To a creature that lives for only a few hours, these few hours must stretch out before it in its infancy as a life time if it has any consciousness of time at all. Similarly, when it is dying, it may have some kind of "memory" of a long and happy past. If such a creature could contemplate the events of geology, they would appear to be virtually an infinity.
     It is probable that animals have no conscious sense of the passage of time, that they are entirely event-oriented. Everything is experienced as a present reality or it is not given a thought. In flight from a predator, the gazelle flees with every appearance of fear but quite possibly with no actual sense of fear at all. Fear is related to a foreseeable evil in the future and in all probability the gazelle simply does not anticipate the future. Its flight is triggered by instinct, not fear. When the flight ends in escape, the gazelle may have had its instincts and reflexes sharpened and may therefore to this extent be more experienced, but in the human sense it has not been made more afraid. The sense of danger which appears to be the trigger for flight is dismissed from consciousness as soon as the situation returns to normal: the animal at once begins to forage again with a peculiar indifference to the danger just escaped. Its world, and probably the world of all living creatures in Nature, is almost entirely an untroubled one because it is lived in the present. It is only man who lives in fear because he lives in the past (with its unhappy memories) or in the future (with its disturbing anticipations). The short-lived insect crowds a life-time into a few hours: the long-lived tortoise likewise crowds a life-time into a century or two. Both almost certainly live moment by moment, even as a creature that lived for 20,000 years would do, if there were such a creature. Whether the allotment of years is many or few, the actual experience of time must be much the

240. Milne, E. A., "Some Points in the Philosophy of Physics: Time, Evolution, and Creation", Smithsonian Report for 1933, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., Publication No.3265, 1955, p.236.

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same for all such creatures: it is a thing of the moment.
     Augustine pointed out that only the present really exists for any time-bound creature. As he put it, "The past is no longer and the future is not yet."* He then proceeds to ask, "If the past and the future do not exist, how long is the present?" He concludes that it has no length at all. What it does have is depth. And it appears that we mistake depth for length. This is a curious phenomenon, but quite common. One individual awaiting execution in a Spanish prison wrote:

     Time crawled through the desert of uneventful waiting as though lame on both feet. The greater the sum of blank days, the lighter their weight in the memory. The time that, when it is present, passes most slowly, passes swiftest of all in the memory. And the converse is also true. It is in flight that time leaves behind it the most visible traces. The only time that is unforgettable is that time during which one forgets that time exists.

     I do not know the writer's name but it sounds very much like something Arthur Koestler would have written, looking back upon his prison experience in Spain as a man condemned to death. In any case, it is a sensitive observation, and it shows how flexible time-consciousness can be. We do not know whether animals experience this strange elasticity of time. It may, in fact, be a uniquely human capacity.
     There is therefore for man a certain form of psychological temporality which is indeed relative and capable of expansion or contraction. If, for any reason, the mind or heart is disturbed, so is the time sense distorted. The more intense the disturbance, the greater is the distortion of time. If suffering is great enough, man's consciousness slips into a state of timelessness even though an observer's clock shows that it was really quite momentary. We recognize that there is a difference between suffering that is intense and suffering that is bearable, but it has always been difficult to find a definition for "intensity" in this context which would satisfy every observer. It may be that for the sufferer himself intensity is merely another way of measuring the degree to which the conscious passage of time is distorted.
     To the extent that a man's time sense is eclipsed, to that extent is experience intense; and as it approaches the unbearable it approaches interminability. There are probably limitations to man's capacity for suffering and therefore his time sense may never be absolutely destroyed, except when he passes into a state of unconsciousness. Man still

* Augustine, Confessions, XI. xiv-xviii, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Buffalo, Christian Literature Co., 1886, vol.1, p.168, 169.

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does not have sufficient capacity for suffering to turn his sense of time into an experience of eternity: but God, made man, did have.
     He who shared his Father's glory in all eternity was Himself only subject to time in so far as He chose to limit Himself as Man to our experience of space. To the extent that He became space-bound by incarnation, to that extent He became time-bound. According to his divine nature, suffering as Man could be a timeless experience and therefore everlasting even though our clocks deceptively measured only a few hours. During these three hours the sun was eclipsed. Undoubtedly this was a historical event, yet it had far more significance than merely being an astronomical phenomenon. It was also symbolic, because the sun is our time-piece and, for the Lord on the cross, when the sun was eclipsed time was also eclipsed. In the agony of his soul, He had no other reference point, no other clock. Time slipped into eternity.
     The factor which converts protracted suffering into endless suffering is the absence of any available time marker. A time marker provides a yardstick, a gauge of "how much longer." And such a gauge provides hope, even if it is far in the distance. The prisoner who is sure of reprieve after a given number of years has hope, and hope is sufficient to make many kinds of suffering endurable. When suffering is sufficiently intense however, the sense of future disappears and everything becomes present, NOW. With the disappearance of the future goes also hope.
     One of the things learned by survivors of concentration camps in World War II was that without hope of some kind a man dies. In recounting his experience at Auschwitz, Viktor Frankl wrote in retrospect:* "What matters is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment" [emphasis mine]. In prospect and in retrospect we may think that hope would sustain us, but experience shows that if the agony is great enough so that life contracts to the moment, then hope simply disappears. As Frankl put it, "It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future." Thus when the suffering of the present shuts out all vision of the future end, that suffering becomes effectively endless, everlasting. The man who can no longer see the end ceases to live for future release and dies in the very now-ness of despair.

      All this must have been true of the Lord Jesus as He passed into the agony of being held responsible for all the sins of mankind all the cruelty, hatred, viciousness, selfishness, violence, filthiness of mind  

* Frankl, Viktor, Man's Search for Meaning, N.Y., Simon & Schuster, 1963, p. 112, 115, 171. 

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and wickedness of spirit that men have ever exhibited throughout history. The tally is appalling. We catch a glimpse of it occasionally when we read of some incident that makes us physically ill just to think about it. All this was "laid upon Him" (Isaiah 53:6): for all this He assumed responsibility and blame. And just as the more debased a man is the less is his spirit burdened by blame for his wickedness, so the purer a man is the greater is the burden upon his spirit of the wickedness of other men. Jesus Christ was morally perfect, utterly without sin, entirely blameless as no other man has ever been. Yet God made Him responsible for our sins and punished Him by the searing of his conscience and by turning away from Him as from an evil and contaminated thing of wickedness. He was sent as a scapegoat, condemned, into utter banishment, into an outer darkness of such an appalling nature that hope ceased because time stood still. The only clock which might have kept hope alive was blacked out.
     What, then, is the significance of three hours? Have three hours any meaning in such a situation? If unredeemed man is to suffer eternal punishment, did Jesus Christ suffer eternal punishment in these three hours? Should those hours have been much longer? Could they have been far shorter and still satisfied the demands of justice?
     This brings us to the second point posed in this chapter, namely, the actual amount of time required to fulfill an eternity of penalty on our behalf. And here, at the risk of seeming insensitive to the seriousness of the question, I want to use a simile that may appear to be frivolous. But I believe it will help to establish this second point, which is that there is an equivalence between length and depth of penalty where depth of suffering can be such as to make length unimportant.

     There are two schools of candy-eaters. Both schools are composed mostly of children. There is the youngster who plops a candy into his mouth and lets the sweet juices slowly dissolve, bathing the taste buds gently and for quite a long time. Then there is the youngster who finds this gentle slow delivery system quite unsatisfactory. He starts immediately breaking up the candy with his molars so that the flow of sweetness which results from the greatly increased surface area of the many smaller pieces proves much more exciting. For a while the volume of taste is marvellous and it absorbs all his attention. He stares into space wholly occupied with delight until suddenly he discovers 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 to next time suck it much more slowly! There are many in the first school mostly girls I suspect; but there are perhaps more in the second school mostly

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boys, I think. I always resolved to make the candy last, but always failed to keep the resolve and still do, sixty years later.
     Herein is a parable. Enjoyment may be prolonged but mild, or brief but intense: and so it is also 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; and as a consequence suffer a gnawing ache until it becomes unbearable and cannot be concealed, or until it eases up and finally stops altogether for a while. Alternatively we can go home like a martyr about to be thrown to the lions and in due course for a few agonizing moments allow some eager dentist to probe relentlessly, all the time asking, "Does that hurt?" when he can see that we are suffering agonies even from his mere looking at us.
     So there we have the principle: long and mild, or short and awful. And it is a principle of very wide application. We can chop a man's head off (in France they still do) or imprison him for twenty years.
(241) We assume, of course, that twenty years of imprisonment is to be preferred by the prisoner, but we do so because neither he nor we can truly anticipate what a long slow painful death these twenty years are likely to be. Being shot by a firing squad is quick, and perhaps hanging is not much more protracted, but given the choice men opt for the long and the mild rather than the short and sharp except for a few brave or perhaps strangely misguided (?) individuals.
     If such alternatives exist, if length of suffering can be replaced by depth, then clearly the capacity for experiencing this depth of suffering will determine whether a penalty that is to be endured will continue for a long time or a short time. Presumably if that capacity was infinite, the penalty could conceivably be applied with such intensity that it would not occupy time at all. But there is a principle in law very widely recognized which holds that justice must not only be done but that it must also be seen to be done. The question then arises, Could the time factor in the Lord's bearing of our sins have been eliminated entirely? I think the answer to this must be, No.
     It is not possible for us, as mere human beings, to recognize the reality of suffering, no matter how intense it is, unless it also bears some relationship to duration. All our suffering involves time. We would have difficulty recognizing as an adequate penalty a kind of one dimensional suffering which does not occupy any time at all. Intensity would not therefore alone suffice to compensate for extension of suffering demanded by the offense, even if there was some way of demonstrating adequately afterwards that a real satisfaction had been effected.
     For the God-Man who lived both inside and outside our time frame (and who still so lives) there was undoubtedly no need for that

241. See Notes at the end of this chapter (page 13).

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three hours of darkness. It was in part an accommodation to our powers of comprehension, our sense of the oughtness of things. It is quite possible that in those three hours from twelve noon to three in the afternoon, time was converted from endless length (everlasting punishment) into unfathomable depth of nowness * (eternal punishment).
     Yet the time component could not be reduced to a single instant of infinite depth because the Lord Jesus suffered as Man, and therefore, as Man, had to experience some time component, even while his agony of soul must have plumbed the depths of eternity in a way which only his deity could make possible. Some compromise was necessary, some stretching of instantaneity to meet the limits of our comprehension, lest we should be misled into supposing that because his agony lacked the dimension of time it was not really a sufficient sacrifice at all.
     We are not altogether without some helpful analogies in the face of this mystery. Viktor Frankl writes eloquently of the kind of torture that was the daily experience of men in the Nazi concentration camps whose position at the time seemed so utterly without hope. As he put it:

     In Camp, a small time unit, a day for example, was filled with hourly tortures, and fatigue appeared endless. A larger time unit, perhaps a week, seemed to pass very quickly. My comrades agreed when I said that in Camp a day lasted longer than a week [emphasis mine].

     In such a situation the sufferer and the observers (the guards) lived in entirely different worlds of time: the former in a time-frame distorted by expansion or contraction to the extent that suffering was painful or bearable; the latter went by a clock that was mechanical. For the sufferer, the more painful the experience the less did he measure time as the observer did. Within certain limits of suffering the future can still offer hope of an end, and some assessment of the passage of time is then possible. One can say to oneself, "I'm halfway through" or "It's nearly over, soon I shall reach the end." The existence of hope and the sense of the passage of time run together. As the suffering intensifies, the ability to escape into the future (or to retreat into the past) diminishes until extreme agony pins down all consciousness to the unbearable present, eclipsing both future and past and converting the momentary now into an eternity. Suffering takes on a conscious quality of endlessness and soon there is no time

* Luther defined eternity as the nowness of God's consciousness,. He called eternity "total simultaneity" (totum simul).
Frankl, Viktor, Man's Search for Meaning, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1963, p.1l2.

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sense whatever.
    We are told in Scripture that punishment will be eternal. Because we tend to think of the severity of punishment in terms of its duration, we assume this word is equivalent to everlasting.
(242) But it is possible that the word eternal (aionios in the Greek) has to do with depth not length, with intensity not extensity.

     In some unfathomable way the Lord Jesus Christ as our substitute must similarly have experienced eternal punishment and 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 and by the others present? Is it possible that the supernatural darkness of those hours actually signified, among other things, that the one agency in God's economy by which our sense of time is regulated, namely the sun, had been "stopped"* for that interval? Did time stop for the Lord? Did He experience a present appalling reality in which there was no passage of time, no moments past with less moments yet to be endured? Was his agony so intense that it was, in fact, eternal?
     Was this, then, a form of eternal punishment, an experience of awful isolation and total separation from his Father, the only total loneliness He had ever known, now experienced for ever? His soul was made a scapegoat when there was laid upon Him the full responsibility for every evil, every wickedness, all the poison of human hatred, and the total horror of man's inhumanity to man since Adam fell. In becoming responsible (and there is a sense in which there was justice in this, for did He not in the first place create man with such capabilities?) He could no longer pray, "Father forgive them": rather it might now have been time to pray, Father, forgive ME. But there was no ground of forgiveness for Him. He became unforgivably wicked: and even God turned from Him. All He could cry was "My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
     Of course, He had known this had to be. But anticipating that a fearful agony is to be borne even though, in prospect, we know that it must come to an end (for He told his disciples that He would rise again), is a different thing from experiencing that agony with such intensity that it becomes effectively endless. In anticipation He knew what was to come: and while I do not believe He had a fear of it, He must have had a horror of what it would entail. His prayer in Gethsemane bears this out. But when the blow fell. . . .  Who can

242. See Notes at the end of this chapter (page 13).
* I don't suggest literally stopped: but effectively stopped because its movement could no longer be seen. The Lord was, in experience, left on the cross without a clock.

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possibly know what He endured in that eternity in order that our eternity of punishment might be commuted to total blamelessness because He had experienced it in our place.
     John Taylor has eloquently expressed something of the way in which the Lord Jesus Christ identified Himself with man in his fallen condition:*

     The vicarious suffering of Christ was not, as it has sometimes been represented, a sort of legal fiction; "in all their affliction He was afflicted" was quite literally true through the imaginative sensitiveness of his perfect Manhood. In a limitless compassion He Himself knew what was in man. He groped in the darkness of blind Bartimaeus, and was filled with the self-loathing of the leper; his soul was sick with the Magdalene's sin, and was lost in the tortuous suspicions of Judas.

     All this was part of the price that had to be paid. But there was something more than mere identity with man's unhappy lot. On the cross, as Albertus Pieters puts it, He took upon Himself as the eternal Son of God the responsibility for human sins.* In human terms, when a man takes the responsibility for the misbehaviour of another, he says in effect, "I did it." And the law punishes him as the actual offender. Dare we suppose that the Lord Jesus Christ, whose moral purity shines forth with the brightness of the sun and whose flawlessness of character even his worst enemies have been forced to praise unstintingly, was actually counted as the perpetrator of all man's wickedness? Was He really numbered among the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12)?
     Was He then accounted guilty of rape and murder, of the appalling cruelty of a Nero who lighted his gardens with Christians burnt on stakes like torches, of the utter ruthlessness of an oriental despot who piled up the severed heads of his victims into a pyramid outside the city walls in short, of the veritable mountain of wickedness that has characterized the history of mankind from the murder of Abel to the atrocities of guerrilla tactics in the troubled spots of the world or the vendettas of our cities? Was He accounted to have been, in effect, the perpetrator of all this because He was responsible for the creation of man with all of his potential? I do not see that we really have any alternative than to believe that in those three hours of darkness this is what came to pass.
    Because He was God, his capacity for suffering was infinite. And we must suppose, I think, that it could have been over in no time at all. But

* Taylor, John, Man in the Midst, London, Highway Press, 1955, p 49.
Pieters, Albertus, Divine Lord and Saviour, New York, Revell, 1949, p.116.

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because He was Man, the time factor could not altogether be dispensed with, and even by our clocks that "moment of time" had to be stretched into hours.
     But at last the sun burst forth once more, re-establishing the sense of time, thus signaling the end of an eternity of suffering, and restoring the fellowship once again between the Father and the Son. A full, perfect, and sufficient satisfaction against man's unrighteousness had been effected in the sight of God. It was not merely the suffering of sympathy: it was the agony of blame and assumed responsibility. That we might be truly saved, the Man Jesus Christ was actually lost. Here, surely, He descended into hell. . . .  If we are permitted some freedom in paraphrase, Isaiah 53:10 and 11 sums up this transaction by saying:

     It pleased the Father to bruise the Son,
     The Father hath put Him to grief. . . .
     The Father shall see the travail of the soul of the Son
     and shall be satisfied.

 

     The three hours of darkness which covered an eternity of suffering were an essential part of the price which must be paid. And this satisfaction for our sins would not have been possible in any other form of execution. Manifestly, all other forms of execution involve sudden death, or very nearly so. Beheading is instantaneous, stoning extends the time of reprieve by only a few minutes, and burning by very little more. Crucifixion alone of all forms of execution delays death not merely for minutes or hours but even for days. The cross thus provided a stage upon which this aspect of man's redemption could be wrought out so publicly that an historical record was made which satisfies the requirement that justice is seen to have been done. Crucifixion as the form of execution in this case was no historical accident: it was all part of the Plan of Redemption.
     But the end is not even yet. The Lord Jesus had, as a scapegoat, suffered under the divine wrath of God for our SINS. One more penalty yet remained: He must take the sting out of death itself as a SIN-offering. 

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NOTES

241. (See page 8) Karl Menninger observed: "The Quakers thought they were acting in a humane and Christian way when in 1789 they sought to substitute quiet (solitary) incarceration for the floggings, brandings, tongue slicings, ear amputations, and the uncomfortable and humiliating stocks. But these old-time punishments while painful were public and relatively brief. intentionally fearful hardships of incarceration were gradually added and the duration of the imprisonment became longer and longer. Six months was once considered a very long sentence. All American sentences are far greater than in English and Continental practice. An adolescent was recently sentenced by a Texas judge to thirty years' imprisonment for possessing two marihuana cigarettes, presumably for sale" [Whatever Became of Sin, New York, Hawthorne Books, 1975, p.62]. This only shows how the substitution of duration for intensity can lead to absurdity.

242. (See page 10) Elsewhere in the Bible we seem to be presented with another alternative, the alternative of intensity: "few stripes or many" (Luke 12:47, 48), according to the offense. It could be, then, that the biblical term which we have rendered eternal or sometimes everlasting may not really signify duration at all. It could conceivably be a qualitative term which carries rather the idea of intensity or depth, as it most certainly does in reference to eternal life. Eternal life is a different kind of life, a life with a different kind of intensity, a life more abundant (John 10:10), a life that does not lack the component of endless duration but whose distinguishing character is not so much endlessness as depth. 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 as though it were endless.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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