Peter, not his real name, was brought up in a Christian home, perhaps a little more strict than was healthy but as an only child he never doubted that he was loved by his parents.
Now in his mid-thirties he has come to realise that while he was indeed loved, that love was conditional upon him measuring up to their expectations. He would agree that as an energetic teenager he appreciated the need for discipline, but that was not the problem. The problem was that his parents withdrew, or threatened to withdraw their love for him in order to control him – and he struggled with that for most of his adult life.
Peter came up through the ranks in his local Sunday School and youth club and in time he himself became a leader. He was highly respected as a young man of integrity; he was reliable, honest and hardworking. But in all of his teaching and in all of his writings he consistently denied the very idea that God could or would love people unconditionally.
However, there was a dark side to Peter’s character that he succeeded in concealing from all and sundry; even his wife of six years, and in due course, and with terrifying inevitability he was arrested, charged with a series of sex offences and sentenced to a term in prison.
A year into his sentence he finally overcame the deep fear that his God had rejected him because of the foul things he had done, the lives he had damaged and the marriage he had ruined.
In the cold, dark loneliness of his cell he came to see that loathsome and destructive as his actions had been, God’s love is not like his parents’ love. He now understood that his God had promised, ‘...I will forgive your wickedness, and I will never again remember your sins.’ Now he can speak of ‘...God’s unconditional, unmerited and unending love.’
In a letter to a faithful friend he told that the one thing that keeps him sane in the fearful surroundings of his prison cell is the blessed assurance of his Father’s love for him.He quotes Psalm 69:33, ‘For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.’ Then he wrote, ‘...but I’m unsure how you feel about me now,’ and his friend answered, ‘Peter, I believe that the late Jack Frost, founder of the Shiloh Place, got it right when he reduced the life of faith down to three things: God is love; we are made in His image; and God calls me only to receive the Father’s love... and pass it on.
‘It is because of that I can echo the Father’s words, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”