It’s been too long since we posted an entry from our maiden voyage publication, Judgment and Love, the price of which just went down considerably. This one comes from Justin Holcomb and was used to very powerful effect by Steve Brown in his talk at the Liberate conference earlier this year, also included below.
Unconditional love is a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around. Many of us think (whether we admit it or not) there must be some breaking point where God gives up on us. Even if we successfully avoid this fallacy, others’ overzealous cries still reach our ears: certainly there must be some sin or amount of sin that is just too much.
My understanding of unconditional love and its implications germinated when I was ten years old and flooded our next-door neighbor’s home. Our neighbors had moved and were trying to sell their house. One day I broke in through the back door and closed the drains in all of the sinks and tubs and turned on all the faucets. Then, I just sat and watched water flood the entire house. I let the water run while I went home for dinner, returning a few hours later to turn it off.
I knew what I had done was wrong, and I was even shocked that I had wanted to do something so destructive. When our neighbors found the damage the following day while showing the home to prospective buyers, they came to our house and asked my family if we had seen anyone around their place recently. On top of what I had already done, I lied to my neighbors and my parents.
I felt completely messed up. I was destroying stuff for the sake of destroying, and then I lying blatantly to everyone. I had heard about asking God’s forgiveness (my dad had taught me the Lord’s Prayer), so I begged God to forgive. I was worried that He wouldn’t. Surely something so deliberate and cruel was just too much to forgive.
After a month with an uneasy conscience, I was finally found out. Another neighbor had seen me sneaking around and told my parents. My father called me in from playing outside with my friends and asked me if I remembered anything important about the flooding incident. I knew something was up, but I felt I had to stick with the lie at this point. Finally, my dad told me that I was busted. I experienced an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt for my sins, as well as an intense fear of the consequences. I sobbed and muttered, “Dad, I’m so sorry. I’ve been asking God to forgive me for so long and I don’t know if He ever will.” In a moment of parental love and great wisdom, my dad said, “If you asked God to forgive you, then you are forgiven. You deserve to be punished and this will cost a lot of money to fix. But, son, you are forgiven. Go back outside and play.”
In that moment, the reality of forgiveness and gratuitous grace powerfully moved me. Now when I confess my sins, I think of that experience of absolution. My dad didn’t take grace “too far.” He saw my misunderstanding, how fear of God’s wrath and my father’s discipline was crushing me. He took on the consequences of my sin and literally paid them for me.
Instead of experiencing my fears unfold, I knew I was safe with my dad and I finally understood what he had always told me growing up: “I love you unconditionally.” I knew there was nothing I could do to cause him to love me less. I also knew there was nothing I could do to cause him to love me more. He loved me because I was his.
God loves us the same way. His gratuitous grace is the only kind there is.