Part IV: Triumph Over Death
An Eternity: In Three Hours Of
It was about the sixth hour,
and there was darkness over all the earth
until the ninth hour.
And the sun was darkened.
Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying,
My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?
The veil of the temple was rent in twain
from the top to the bottom.
He said, "IT IS FINISHED!" *
And He bowed his head
and gave up the ghost.
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
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
Both these principles have a terrible
relevance to the Lord's experience during the three hours of
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).
2 of 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
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].
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,
† Augustine, Confessions, Bk. XI, chap. 13,
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
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.
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
Confessions, XI. xiv-xviii, Nicene and Post-Nicene
Fathers, Buffalo, Christian Literature Co., 1886, vol.1,
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.
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
* Frankl, Viktor, Man's Search for Meaning,
N.Y., Simon & Schuster, 1963, p. 112, 115, 171.
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
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
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
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
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
* Luther defined eternity as the nowness of
God's consciousness,. He called eternity "total simultaneity"
† Frankl, Viktor, Man's Search for Meaning, New
York, Simon & Schuster, 1963, p.1l2.
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
* 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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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