The Long Silence

By John McNeil (based on an idea by an unknown author)


At the end of time, people of the nations present their complaints to God.


WTC worker
Homeless person


It is a strange sight here at the end of time. I am standing on a low hill overlooking a vast plain, flat as far as the eye can see, with very few trees or shrubs to relieve the monotony. As the sun begins to rise and dispel the grey mist I can see groups of people gathered across the plain. There must be millions of them, from all nations and races. How long they have been here I can't tell, but generally they are seated in small groups, for the most part facing the one feature that dominates this place. That feature is a throne, like no throne I have ever seen before. It is huge, so big that it can be seen from the farthest reaches of this vast crowd. Surely no human form ever sat in that seat. And if not, then who? For that matter, what is this throne made of? Some sort of fluorescent mineral perhaps, because it shines with its own light. No! Shine is too inadequate a word. Dazzling - with such brilliance that human eyes can scarcely look at it. A brilliance that seems to pierce the heart, and almost see into the very depths of each person's being.
It is too much for many. They have shrunk back from the throne - its steady light is more than they can bear. But there are others who are far from overawed by either the throne or the general scene. They are talking heatedly among themselves, in arguments that began far back in the night.
How can God judge us? How can he know about suffering? Look here. (She rips open a sleeve.) See that tattoo! That's the number they branded on my arm when we were herded into that Nazi concentration camp. And that was only the beginning of the tortures, the beatings, the utter terror. And then the death - the agony of death in those gas chambers. And why? Just because we were Jews.
Homeless Person
I was homeless for thirty years.  I was ignored and had to live off the charity of others, never did anyone try and help me stand on my feet.  I could not even get a job because I had no address.  I had no phone number, no shower to clean myself, so when I did get interviewed I was immediately asked to leave.  I died alone and forgotten.  All because no one took notice, not even God.
What about this? You know what this rope burn is around my neck? It's where they hanged me. The mob came to my house screaming abuse. They dragged my family out and beat them, and then burnt the house down. Then they dragged me half a mile behind a horse, cutting my skin to shreds, and finally hanged me. And why? Because I was black.
We have no rights either. We canít vote and yet we are punished for the decisions of our government.  Bombs kill our children, our families.  We canít even go to the store without fear. I was shot on the street by an Israeli sniper on my way home from the hospital because I am Palestinian.
50,000 died in my city. My parents, all my brothers. I saw my two sisters raped by the soldiers, and they lined my children up and shot them in front of my eyes before they killed me. And why? Because I was a Muslim, and they wanted an ethnically cleansed country.
My family lived in poverty and we searched garbage dumps for food to stay alive.  America started to drop food from their planes and we felt safer, until one day what I thought was food was really a bomb.  All this because they think out country breeds terrorists.  And God stood by and did nothing.
Nothing? He did less than nothing to help us! First he sent 3 years of drought that destroyed our crops, and then a swarm of locusts that devoured any blade of grass the drought left behind. And finally disease that took anyone still standing. My son and my daughter, they both died in my arms.
WTC Worker
I have worked at the World Trade Center for years.  One morning I have a fight with my husband and walk out of the house without kissing him or my kids good-bye.  From the first sound of metal on metal all I thought was, ďI never said Iím sorryĒ.  I didnít even have time to dial their number on my cell phone before the ceiling collapsed and I was crushed under 20 floors of debris.  Where was God when I prayed for that extra minute.
(General complaints)
How could God do this to us? If he is so almighty and powerful - if he loves man like he says - why did he not step in?
All this evil and suffering in the world, and he did nothing. The fat cats got fatter, and the poor got ground down.  It's all right for him, living up in heaven, where everything is sweetness and light. There's no crying or fear where he is. No hunger or hatred. Notice he doesn't let any of those things come near him. He keeps them well away, where they won't spoil his precious heaven.
Just what does God know about real suffering? The suffering we've had to endure in this world he forced us into. He leads such a sheltered life he hasn't got a clue.
(Crowd murmurs which have been building behind this come to a crescendo, and then fade out.)
The arguments have raged on like this for most of the day. A long, hot, bitter day, presided over by the hard brilliance of that throne that seems to strip everything bare to its naked truth.
But it has not just been argument. Each of the groups has chosen a leader and sent him or her to assemble in front of the throne. Each leader has been chosen because he or she has suffered the most. I can see a Jew from the Holocaust, a victim of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, a villager from the killing fields of Cambodia, a child born with AIDS from a contaminated blood transfusion. Thousands of them, representing every grotesque cruelty and illness this world has wreaked on mankind.
They have met to pool their grievances, and at long last they appear ready to present their argument to God.
Hear us, God, because we have a strong case to put before you. You have brought us all to this place to judge us. But we say you have so insulated yourself from the realities of life that you are in no position to pass sentence. You are not qualified to judge us because you do not have the slightest idea of the suffering we have gone through. If you wish to judge us with any fairness, then first you should endure what we have endured. We agree that first you should be sentenced - to live on earth, as a human.
(Strong murmurs of approval from the crowd)
(Various people can deliver the following portions of the sentence. As each portion is read, loud cries of approval go up from the crowd.)
Let that human be born a Jew, to know the meaning of unjust discrimination. And let him be born into a poor family, in suspicious circumstances, so that the world sniggers behind his back about who his real father is.
Give him an almost impossible job - a task so difficult that even his family will think he is out of his mind when he tries to do it. A task that turns the authorities of the country against him so that they seek his life, and hunt him down.
Let him live as a wanderer with no real income and no real way to make money.  Let him live off the charity of others.
Let him betrayed by one of his closest friends, and brought with false charges before a cowardly judge. Let him be tried by a prejudiced jury, convicted on false evidence, and sentenced to death by the most cruel means of punishment devised by man.  But first let him be tortured, while all his friends desert him and no-one puts out a hand to save him. Let even his father turn his back on him and disown him. Then he will know what it is to be truly alone.
Only then let him die. Publicly. Stripped, beaten, and in full view of a hostile crowd. A long, slow, agonizing death that spares him none of the pain that misused men and women have suffered at the hands of tyrants and oppressors through countless centuries. May he taste the full depth of it.
(There is a final exultant cry of approval from the crowd.)
That is our sentence. Now how do you answer, God?
As the last word is spoken, a hush falls over the crowd. Across all this vast multitude there is not a sound. A silence falls, so deep it seems as if the entire universe is holding its breath. How long it lasts I cannot tell, as time itself seems suspended. Suddenly, it is broken by someone weeping. A single person's cry that is picked up and amplified by the still air. No-one stirs to comfort her. Because her cry has become theirs. For at that moment, all realize...that God has already served his sentence.

Based on an idea by an unknown original author. This version © John McNeil 1975, All rights reserved
This play may be performed free of charge, on the condition that copies are not sold for profit in any medium, nor any entrance fee charged. In exchange for free performance, the author would appreciate being notified of when and for what purpose the play is performed. He may be contacted at:
Or at: 36B Stourbridge St, Christchurch 8024, New Zealand.