Nine-year-old Al trudges through the London streets, his hand squeezing a note, his heart pounding with fear. He has not read the letter; his father forbade him to do so. He doesn’t know the message, but he knows its destination. The police station.

 

Young boys might covet a trip to the police station. Not Al. At least not today. Punishment, not pleasure, spawned this visit. Al failed to meet the family curfew. The fun of the day made him forget the time of day, so he came home late and in trouble.

 

His father, a stern disciplinarian, met Al at the front door and, with no greeting, gave him the note and the instruction, “Take it to the jailhouse.” Al has no idea what to expect, but he fears the worst.

 

The fears prove justifiable. The officer, a friend of his father, opens the note, reads it, and nods. “Follow me.” He leads the wide-eyed youngster to a jail cell, opens the door, and tells him to enter. The officer clangs the door shut. “This is what we do to naughty boys,” he explains and walks away.

 

Al’s face pales as he draws the only possible conclusion. He has crossed his father’s line. Exhausted his supply of grace. Outspent the cache of mercy. So his dad has locked him away. Young Al has no reason to think he’ll ever see his family again.

 

He is wrong. The jail sentence lasts only five minutes. But those five minutes felt like five months. Al never forgot that day. The sound of the clanging door, he often told people, stayed with him the rest of his life.1

 

Easy to understand why. Can you imagine a more ominous noise? Its echo wordlessly announced, “Your father rejects you. Search all you want; he isn’t near. Plead all you want; he won’t hear. You are separated from your father’s love.”

 

The slamming of the cell door. Many fear they have heard it. Al forgot the curfew. You forgot your virtue. Little Al came home late. Maybe you came home drunk. Or didn’t come home at all. Al lost track of time. You lost your sense of direction and ended up in the wrong place doing the wrong thing, and heaven knows, heaven has no place for the likes of . . . Cheaters. Aborters. Adulterers. Secret sinners. Public scoundrels. Impostors. Church hypocrites. Locked away, not by an earthly father, but by your heavenly one. Incarcerated, not in a British jail, but in personal guilt, shame. No need to request mercy; the account is empty. Make no appeal for grace; the check will bounce. You’ve gone too far.

 

The fear of losing a father’s love exacts a high toll. Al spent the rest of his life hearing the clanging door. That early taste of terror contributed to his lifelong devotion to creating the same in others. For Al—Alfred Hitchcock—made a career out of scaring people.

 

You may be scaring some folks yourself. You don’t mean to. But you cannot produce what you do not possess. If you aren’t convinced of God’s love, how can you love others?

 

Do you fear you have heard the clanging door? If so, be assured. You have not. Your imagination says you did; logic says you did; some parent or pulpiteer says you did. But according to the Bible, according to Paul, you did not.