As I’ve written before, my parents raised me in a Christian environment and took my brother, my sister, and me to church. But more than that, they lived Christianity.

My father shared the Good News of Jesus Christ with me many times as a child, and I can remember his reading from the Bible almost every night to us. He loved God and the stories of the Bible in a way that made me want to experience more of God myself. I knew that Dad saw something in Jesus Christ that made him want to put his whole heart into pursuing a relationship with Him.

From an early age, I was determined to see exactly what was so desirable about God that my father had found.

Around the age of nine, I was no longer content just to watch the way my father gave himself to loving and worshiping God. I started praying, really listening to sermons, and looking into the Bible for myself. I understood that God was completely perfect and holy, and that because of His justice He could not tolerate sin.

Then I saw the “bad news,” that I’d sinned in so many ways and was not able to clean up my own life well enough to ever approach God. I deserved death and hell. I really felt the emotional impact of this separation from God.

To answer an obvious question — no, it wasn’t sexual sin I felt guilty about. At nine, I had not yet felt any sexual urges. I was just concerned about my own selfishness, laziness, and rebellion against God.

I don’t know if I can fully communicate the depths of my inner turmoil — hopelessness, even — of my worst moments during that time. I was destined for hell, and I knew it. It was like my worst fears were certain to come true, and I could do nothing about it!

I cried and prayed with everything in me for God to help me, but I felt horrible, despairing. I was going through the Christian motions of life, but all I could think was: I am going to hell.

I was obsessed with this idea that I’d never have a right relationship with God.

The Bible and other Christians were telling me the “Good News” that Jesus Himself took my place, paying the full price for my sin so I could indeed have a right relationship with God. I thought that was possible, but I felt like it didn’t apply to me. I even prayed repeatedly for God to forgive me because of what Jesus had done, but I didn’t feel forgiven or believe I was forgiven.

Somehow, I knew there must be some kind of hope shining behind all these clouds of despair, but I couldn’t see it.

Later on when I started facing my struggle with same-sex attraction (SSA), it was good that I had already experienced this depth of despair. Because God did get me out of this terrible low point, I would later start realizing that He was strong enough to help me deal with the painful mess of my SSA.

Have you ever felt guilt, hopelessness, or despair at ever having a right relationship with God? What were these feelings like, and did you ever see them end? 

* Photo courtesy Rabiem22, Creative Commons.

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  • Talk about conviction of sin! Wow! Never experienced it like you did and I think my receiving of forgiveness has more been a gradual awakening to the reality, and more perhaps an understanding, of what it all meant. Perhaps an intellectual appreciation rather than something deeply emotional. Thanks for sharing. Always good to know what others have and are experiencing.

    • Jeremy, thanks for putting my experience into perspective. Yes, I am a very emotional person. I feel significant things very deeply. That powerful emotion is why my memories from my struggles with God as a 9-year old are still vivid decades later!

  • This sounds very similar to what is known in the Catholic Church as “scrupulosity:” the belief that, despite all one’s efforts, one is on the way to hell. If you’re interested in a fuller explanation, here’s a couple of links. I’ve often wondered if Protestants could experience it as well, so it’s interesting to learn that they can.
    Anyway, in my case, it became most apparent while I was in college. I’d go to confession, and almost immediately afterwards I’d be tormented by the thought that I had deliberately misrepresented something I had confessed — which would mean that I wasn’t actually forgiven, and that I had added another sin of making a sacrilegious confession. I began to recover in my senior year when a priest gave a talk during a retreat I attended. The priest spoke of how Jesus turned and looked lovingly — as the priest explained it — at Peter (Luke 22:61). It was at that point that I began to realize that God isn’t looking for a reason to send me to hell. He loves me and wants me in heaven.

    • Yes, it was really that bad for me and I know other Protestants that have felt the same way! Actually in my next post I will tell about how I realized the same thing you talked about, that God actually loves ME and made a way for me to know Him and be with Him forever in Heaven!

  • I felt this kind of despair for years and years. A dull hopelessness, like the cold hands of death were slowly closing in. And God sat indifferently above, frowning down on me and waiting silently for the day on which he would destroy me.
    I’m not sure I ever didn’t feel it until a year ago. For some reason – and to this day I don’t know why – God suddenly and decidedly changed that. All at once it clicked – that God is a GOOD FATHER who LOVES us; that he made us alive EVEN while we were still dead; that He lives to plead MY cause above. Glory hallelujah!
    It’s a beautiful thing to know that your redeemer lives, to know that your relationship with God depends solely on the righteousness of Christ. The day when Christ ceases to be righteous is the day I have to start worrying again – but never a moment beforehand. There’s real, tangible joy in that.

    • Yes! God’s love is permanently a part of His character and the way He made through Christ’s righteousness really is all we need! I share in my next post how I was changed by seeing this.

  • I never felt convicted about going to hell, per se, but I distinctly remember countless times growing up worried that I’d prayed the salvation prayer “wrong” and that I was missing some critical component to enter those pearly gates. My doubts were more about missing heaven than landing in hell, if that makes sense, but it perfectly illustrates how I felt everything was on me to say and do the right thing to “make it,” not about what Jesus had already done for me. While I believe my salvation was indeed authentic from a young age, despite my childhood doubts, it’s only been in recent years — and I’m very much still learning this — that without God’s grace, nothing we say or do even matters. We only may live because Christ died. Even while we were sinners saying and doing all the wrong things.

    • Yes, only what Jesus did can save us and our own attempts at avoiding sin are never good enough. I knew this with my mind but did not believe it applied to me until God opened my eyes to his loving character and His “whosoever will” invitation! Again, I talk about this in my next post.
      By the way, I was so concerned about hell because Jesus mentioned it often enough.

  • I accepted Christ when I was 12. Never had that fear that I wasn’t saved or that I was going to hell. I confessed my sins and asked for forgiveness and never felt that I had done something so terrible that I’d lost my salvation.
    But when I became addicted to gay porn many years later, I had a huge crisis of faith. I knew what I was doing was sinful and the internal conflict drove me to God in a new way. He showed me that porn was really not my big problem. My unresolved SSA was my real problem and He wanted me to seek healing from those things in my past that led me to feel SSA. I have found much healing, a new and deeper relationship with Jesus, I am porn free for 7 months now and very excited about my journey with my God.

  • I remember around my sophomore year of college I felt an undeniable confirmation that I was indeed going to hell. I could not tell you any reasonable answer but I felt it with all that I am. It lasted for about 3 months and then I came to my senses. it just felt so intense and it went as quick as it came. I think that time helped me see how much grace God had for me and how amazingly merciful He was. I felt His love more intensely because of knowing how much I didn’t deserve it, but only because of Christ.

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