Outside of the realm of grammar, the word “sentence” has, to American ears, become virtually synonymous with sending someone to jail or prison. It could scarcely be otherwise, in a culture that puts as many people behind bars as ours.
Black’s Law Dictionary summarizes this meaning adequately enough. A sentence, according to Black’s, is “[the judgment formally pronounced by the court or judge upon the defendant after his conviction in a criminal prosecution, imposing the punishment to be inflicted.”
To be sure, the punishment doesn’t inevitably have to incarceration. It could, for example, be to a period of supervision or monitoring with conditions known as probation. We certainly impose plenty of that in our criminal justice culture as well.
But whether a criminal sentence involves prison, probation, fines or a mandated treatment program, its essence includes elements of punishment and pain.
How odd, then, are the lyrics of the first line of the venerable Christian hymn "I Know That My Redeemer Lives."
I know that my Redeemer lives!
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
What a surprising sentence, to all those convicted of sin! Which is all of us.