Hell, Doubt, and Surrender

When I was in college, I struggled with doubt about my faith. Although the reasons for this and the issues at stake were, of course, complicated, there were two doctrines, in particular, which gave me the greatest amount of difficulty. The first was the doctrine of the Trinity – no matter how hard I tried to make sense of it, I simply could not understand how the one true God was, not simply operative in three different modes throughout history, but, actually existing from all eternity past as three distinct persons (in the rich and original Latin meaning of the term).

The other doctrine was hell. Even it were only for a billion or trillion – or, for that matter, a trillion trillion – years that my non-Christian friends would suffer, the concept was (though still emotionally unpleasant) at least manageable. But for eternity? For all time? To suffer alone and in the dark for billions of years, and never be one second closer to a destination? It just seemed too horrific to be just.

Even now as I write about this, I am gripped by it. The unimaginable loneliness of it, the overwhelming regret, the unthinkable sadness – to be always with sin and never with Christ! It is almost too much to even think about.

I certainly don’t have these doctrines figured out yet; if anything, the tensions have grown with time. But the amazing thing is, it is precisely these two doctrines – eternal destiny and the Triune God – that have, over time, taught me the most about reality, exposed most clearly my sin, pride, and error, and, in the end, given the greatest comfort. It is often this way, I think, that the points at which God’s truth most offends us are the very points where it is most pregnant to heal and save us.

If I had not struggled with hell, I don’t think I would understand my sin for what it truly is; nor would I feel the enormity of the value of the cross. In a similar way, if I had not wrestled with the the Trinity, I do not think I would view God as as personable and near, nor as mysterious and strange, as He truly is. For these reasons, instead of trying to release myself from the tensions created by these doctrines, I embrace them as great aids in the quest for truth and happiness. To put it most bluntly: when Christianity and I are at odds, its not Christianity that needs to be fixed: its me.


  1. Ray Ortlund

    I have found the same, Gav. Where I have most struggled, and faced into my struggles with an open Bible and an open heart, I have most grown with real breakthroughs into clarity, acceptance, awe.

  2. Amen Gavin! Nothing good has ever come easy, and I think that is just as applicable to true, biblical faith as anything else.

  3. Dane Ortlund

    Never knew that about those two doctrines in particular and your faith journey Gav. Thanks for the encouraging words.

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