Friday, May 7, 2010

A Sacrifice at Calvary

This piece was the result of a particularly disturbing thought about the nature of God's Justice as it relates to redemption in (some) Christian theology. Anyone who is easily disturbed and/or offended by this sort of subject matter really ought to avoid reading it.

The world was agony.

The muscles of His arms had gone from steady ache to a constant, screaming pain. He could barely keep Himself upright. Dinner with his disciples was a distant memory. Their time together in the garden seemed only a little more real. He remembered crying out as they waited; He remembered Peter trying to defend Him. Most of all, He remembered the loss of connection when He had finally accepted His role. He was left with a sense of dislocation so powerful that it became a kind of vertigo.

The world was torture.

The trial had been a bad joke. Then had come the scourging and the scorn, and the impossibly long walk. They had forced Him to carry the tool of His own execution, and he had done it until he stumbled. Then a man had stepped in, taking the burden - a relief made even greater because it indicated that His other half still watched over Him. He had followed, knowing the relief was only temporary.

The world was suffering and pain.

His arms would not hold Him, but when He relaxed them He could not breathe. The nails were a constant presence, holding him in place and tearing at his flesh. The wound in His side was a dull, distant throb, lost amidst the screaming of more acute pains. When He had first been placed here, there were two men beside Him: one trusted, and the other did not. Now He was alone, cut off from everything. In His suffering, He was aware only of the His body, and the cross that held it.

Something touched His lips. He flinched, expecting some fresh, new pain. Instead, a trickle of liquid filled His mouth. For a moment, He was released: the faint refreshment overrode all His aches and pains by the simple virtue of its difference. He could see the men beside Him, dead or dying; the people below, watching; the soldiers, guarding.

"Forgive them," He said. The words left His lips, but they were addressed to the greater part of Himself, now absent. "They know not what they do."

Then suffering claimed Him again, and He slumped. His strength was gone. He was dying, and He knew it. His pains were no longer distinct. He was adrift on a sea of agony.

He would die; so it was written, and so it would be. He would die, and in doing so He would pay the price of sin. Not just Adam's sin, but the sins of all men since - everything that had been made inevitable when the First Man ate the fruit of the tree.

He had suffered for them, and in return they would be redeemed.

He hung limp, no longer trying to hold Himself up. Darkness was closing in. He was sinking away from His pain, from the world... from everything. He knew that death was close.

There was no fear. After all of this, death could be nothing less than a relief. He wondered if He would still feel that way if His death served no higher purpose, and decided that He would. The knowledge that He would rise again in three days, that He would go to sit at the right hand of the Father, was barren comfort. Once He had known it. Now He only remembered.

The darkness enfolded him, soothing. For a moment everything - even His self - was gone. He would have known He had died, if there was anything of Him left to know. He might even have been relieved, if He had been aware enough to feel.

His sacrifice was through.

Redemption awaited.

Then the pain began again. It was worse than before, a thousand times worse; a thousand times worse than that. It bypassed his flesh, poured like a lake of fire on his spirit. It began, and did not end. He cried out in wordless agony and incomprehension, and for a moment the pain receded.

There was a figure beside Him. The shape was dark and indistinct, but there was no mistaking its identity - or the malicious satisfaction with which it regarded Him. "You did it," the figure said. "You gave them a way out."

"I... Come again in glory." The pain was not gone, only reduced. He had to force the words out.

The shadow shook its head. "I could almost pity you. I deserved my punishment. You asked for yours. It changes nothing: we will both be punished. Forever."

"Lies!" That word, at least, He made clear and distinct.

But the shadow only shook its head again. "It is God's justice, ineffable and unrelenting. Being perfect, He cannot tolerate imperfection. All sins are equal in His eyes. And the price of sin is eternity here. Did you think you could pay that price with a mere few hours of mortal suffering?"

"I-" He could not complete the thought. The pain had come again, devouring, consuming... eternal. Had He truly agreed to this? He had known that He must die on the cross to save them from their sins, but had that knowledge included the full price? He could no longer remember. He could no longer think. He might be a part of the Godhead, but He was separate and alone: cast off by His own willingness to submit.

The pain receded again, and He knew that His fallen companion was exercising the vestiges of its power to hold the agony back. "Now you know why I rebelled," He heard it say.

...And He knew that His damnation was complete. He was the Son, second part of the Trinity, and by that nature God Himself. He could no more rebel, or fall, than a hand could disobey its body. But in that moment, before the Adversary's power failed and the pain fell over Him again, He understood its rebellion completely.


  1. Michael, one comeback (unsatisfying comeback) is that Jesus really did endure eternal punishment. But, being God, he was able to do so within a finite period of time. It's a conundrum that simply escapes our limited understanding.

  2. That thought actually did occur to me, but I'm not aware of any Biblical support for the idea - in fact, I'm not aware of anything that even hints in that direction. But then, I'm not pushing this as any sort of serious scriptural interpretation, either; it was just a thought that came to me during the discussion of Penal Substitution.

  3. You have Isaiah 51 - 53 for support of eternal punishment.

  4. Isaiah 51-53 is certainly a powerful rebuke of Israel as it then existed, but I'm not seeing a general argument for eternal punishment there. Maybe I'm not reading it closely enough; I'll go back and give it a more thorough look, maybe compare a couple of translations. Thanks.


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