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These Thoughts are Hard as Hell

by Dan Cruver Published Nov 6, 2012

The great Puritan John Owen knew suffering. Eleven of his children died before he died. As I’ve written before on this blog, my first son died when he was 3 years old. I know the dark depths of grief we felt the weeks and months following, and even the deep grief we still feel from time to time. But I still cannot imagine the abyss of grief that must have opened up in John Owen’s heart after eleven of his children died while he continued to live. From time to time I’ve thought, “That must have been a living ‘hell’ for him.” And I’m confident it was.

But I re-read something this morning that John Owen had written (pictured above) in Of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. As devastating as the untimely death of his children was, this John Owen quotation put in fresh perspective for me what he also believed was “hard as hell” for him. As hard as it was for him to lose eleven children, only here (that I know of) does Owen ever basically describe something as a “living hell.” Speaking to Jesus, the eternal and incarnate Son of the Father, Owen writes:

I fear thou dost not love me, that thou has forsaken me; because I know I deserve not to be beloved. These thoughts are hard as hell; they give no rest to my soul” (emphasis mine).

In no way do I mean to minimize the abyss of grief that is experienced at the death of a child — I’ve experienced that grief at times to such a degree of intensity that I literally could not breathe or suck in oxygen. But the point I do mean to make is that the only thing that can deliver us and lift us out of our living-hells in the midst of profound grief and heartache is the experiential knowledge that we are loved by Jesus. To be loved by the eternal beloved Son of the Father is to find rest for our souls in the darkest nights of the soul. To be the Father and Son’s beloved is to lifted, ever so tenderly, by their delights of love out of “thoughts that are hard as hell.”

This rescuing love of the Father and the Son in the communion of the Spirit is one massive reason Together for Adoption exists. I cannot think of another doctrine in Scripture that sets before us (for our delight and security) the Love with which we are loved better than Adoption does. What we need most, whether life is at its best or at its worst, is to know that we are loved with the very same love that is eternally shared by the three Persons of the Trinity. To know this God and this love is to know life eternal — life for us both now and forever.

  • eccsam

    Dan, thank you for these words. My only son who came to us through adoption, feel asleep in the arms of Jesus on Oct 5th. I too have been gripped by grief that didn’t allow me to breathe, but we are holding onto the hand of God that has held us from the beginning.

  • Dan Cruver

    I am so sorry to hear about the death of your son. Oh my. So very sorry. I am humbled by your testimony to the kindness of God toward you in this. Please feel free to email me at any time if I can be of any encouragement: dan.cruver(at)

    Thank you for sharing your loss with me.


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