A feeble attempt to calculate hell

By Tom Quiner

The Passion of the Christ

What’s it like to watch a man die by crucifixion?

Find out. Join me at a place called Golgotha in 33 A.D.

The scene is described in meticulous detail by writer Jim Bishop in his 1954 novel, “The Day Christ Died:”

“Like the others, his head at times was lowered, with chin touching chest. Again, moved by sudden spasms, his head tossed from one shoulder to the other and his eyes looked directly up into the sun as his lips moved. When his body sagged, in fatigue, its weight hung on the nails in his wrists and his knees bent far forward.

His arms were now in a V position, and Jesus became conscious of two unendurable circumstances: the first was that the pain in his wrists was beyond bearing, and that muscle cramps knotted his forearms and upper arms and the pads of his shoulders; the second was that his pectoral muscles at the sides of his chest were momentarily paralyzed. This induced in him an involuntary panic; for he found that while he could draw air into his lungs, he was powerless to exhale.

At once, Jesus raised himself on his bleeding feet. As the weight of his body came down on the insteps, the single nail pressed hard against the top of the wound. Slowly, steadily, Jesus was forced to raise himself higher until, for the moment, his head hid the sign which told of his crime. When his shoulders were on a level with his hands, breathing was rapid and easier. Like the other two, he fought the pain in his feet in order to breathe rapidly for a few moments. Then, unable to bear the pain below, which cramped legs and thighs and wrung moans from the strongest, he let his torso sag lower and lower, and his knees projected a little at a time until, with a deep sigh, he felt himself to be hanging by the wrists. And this process must have been repeated again and again.”

The Romans worked hard to perfect the art of torture. Crucifixion was the dubious, crowning achievement of their creativity. The victim died slowly in excruciating agony. To prolong one’s life with another breath necessitated subjecting oneself to a level of pain beyond comprehension.

Those of us standing on the ground watching and jeering the spectacle can try to imagine the agony, but it is impossible. Our imaginations aren’t that fertile.

If we were to switch places with Jesus on the cross for, let’s say, sixty seconds, we’d have an opportunity to try to take about a dozen breaths.

Every single one would be a living hell.

We would experience hell a dozen times … in just that minute.

Jesus hung on the cross for 360 minutes. He might have taken some 4320 breaths.

What we can’t calculate is the hell he went through so you and I wouldn’t have to.


  1. Karen Quiner on March 28, 2013 at 7:48 am

    And to think He could have come down at any moment but chose not to out of love! And to think that if I had been the only person in the world He would have still hung there for me.

    Why people would turn away from that love still today is beyond comprehension. There are the honest seekers and the lovers who haven’t found Him yet, and there are the people who have slammed the door shut, locked it, and thrown away the key. God doesn’t send those people to Hell. They chose Hell, even here and now.

  2. Bob Zimmerman on March 28, 2013 at 10:38 am

    This account is very difficult to read… and even harder to watch, as in Gibson’s powerful “Passion of the Christ”. Lord, I am not worthy… not even close.