Is God’s Love Reckless?

Cory Asbury’s “Reckless Love” has already been branded “a bonafide worship sensation.” Released by Bethel Music on January 27, the song rapidly climbed the Billboard Christian Music charts before settling into the top spot on March 1—four short weeks after its release. As of April 18, 2018, it remains in the top spot.[1]

The song has much to like. I appreciate its depiction of God’s overwhelming and never-ending love, as well as its references to The Lost Sheep and the Father’s astonishing love for the Prodigal. It even has a catchy, lilting melody. For these reasons, and others, “Reckless Love” has been called “one of the best songs ever!” Another Facebook user wrote that it “may very well be the best song in the universe.”

But not all the buzz is positive. “Reckless Love” has been at the center of controversy. At the heart of the debate is whether “reckless” is an appropriate way to describe God (or His love). The question presented to me from fellow worship pastors is this: “Should I use ‘Reckless Love’ in my church’s worship?”

So, while I respect the diverse opinions on this song, here is mine…

To be honest, when I first read the song’s title, I winced. But, I really wasn’t sure why. So, I started my research to determine the cause of my reaction. I began by looking up the word’s definition:

reckless (adj.): without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action.

Synonyms include “rash, careless, thoughtless, heedless, unheeding, hasty, overhasty, and impetuous.”

Is this an accurate picture of God? Well, obviously not. God’s omniscience, by definition, means he knows all things: past, present, and future. God knew (and knows) precisely the consequences of his actions. He never acts rashly, carelessly, or thoughtlessly. Rather, he acts with a full and complete understanding of all that has been and ever will be. We need not enter the Arminianism vs. Calvinism dispute to fully affirm God’s foreknowledge.

So, at first glance, maybe my wince was justified. But, I wanted to be fair. I realize some words are defined in one sense but used in common vernacular in a different manner. So, how is the word “reckless” used in every-day language?

I completed an internet word search and read the word “reckless” hundreds of times in context. Here are four examples: 

“John is a wild and reckless young man.”

“North Korea has continued its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

“Lucy spends her money recklessly.”

“James was a reckless soldier of fortune.”

Biblical use of the word “reckless” carries the same negative connotation. In Judges 9:4, “Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men.” In Psalm 141:4, David prays that God would “not let [his] heart turn to any evil thing or wickedly perform reckless acts with men who commit sin.” In Ephesians 5:18, Paul admonishes the church at Ephesus to not “get drunk with wine, which [leads to] reckless actions.”

To be honest, I couldn’t find any occasions where the word “reckless” was used in a positive sense. Each time, it was used as a disparaging remark.

In his defense, Cory Asbury proposes an alternate meaning. He explains, “When I use the phrase ‘the reckless love of God’ I’m not saying that God Himself is reckless. I am, however, saying that the way he loves, is in so many regards, quite so.”

But, I don’t think we are afforded the right to detach God from his actions. We can’t say, on one hand, “God loves recklessly,” and then counter by saying, “but God isn’t reckless.” That’s illogical. God reveals and displays himself by what he does; his actions are an outpouring of who He is. He can’t act in a manner contrary to his character. God is love. God is not reckless. God cannot, therefore, love recklessly.

Second, Asbury tries to define “reckless” in a way that conflicts with dictionaries and every-day usage. He attempts to use it in a positive sense, when it not used positively by definition or in common, every-day vernacular. At the very least, then, the use of the word is confusing. It suggests that God loves us so much that he acted in a careless or thoughtless manner. But quite the opposite is true: God loves us so much that he acts in full awareness and understanding of the pain he would endure in order to secure our redemption.

Asbury continues, “What I mean is this: He is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being…”

But, again, this is not the biblical picture. God was fully aware of the suffering his Son would endure (Isaiah 53). And, Jesus—God in flesh—was mindful and concerned about the price he would pay for our redemption. In anguish, his sweat was like drops of blood as he prayed “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me…” In fact, Jesus was certainly aware that he was the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah 53, particularly in light of the way he showed the two men on the road to Emmaus “the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27) Plus, he predicted his death and suffering to the disciples on numerous occasions.

Jesus also grasped the bigger picture; he saw the “joy that lay before him.” So, “he endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). He knew the humiliation of the cross was not the conclusion, but, rather, that his resurrection from the grave would pave the way for all in Christ to be resurrected.

This is hardly reckless. It is the most thoughtful act in history.

Asbury further defends his use of the word “reckless.” He explains that “[God] doesn’t wonder what He’ll gain or lose by putting Himself out there. He simply gives Himself away on the off-chance that one of us might look back to Him and offer ourselves in return.”

This defense, rather than lessening my concerns, raises more red flags. The word “off-chance” means “hoping that something may be possible, although it is not likely.” Here Asbury hints at a God who is unaware of the future. It presents God as a benevolent, loving Creator that offered his Son’s life but who really had no idea whether anyone would accept the gift.

One Facebook user challenged Asbury in this regard, writing, “God knows exactly what will happen, [and] he knows it will be good.”

Corey responded, “Sounds like Calvinism to me!”

With all due respect, Corey, God knowing the future, and knowing that it will be good, is not Calvinism. It’s biblical, orthodox Christianity.

So, in conclusion, though I’m sure Cory Asbury had strong intentions, to call God’s love “reckless” is, in my opinion…reckless.

God’s love is purposeful. It is persistent. It is even relentless. But, it is not reckless.

________________________________________

Because I was asked, I wanted to do my best to offer a reasoned response with my thoughts on the subject. But I tread lightly. My aim is not to criticize those who believe differently. I will not fault a person, or worship leader, or a church for electing to listen to or sing the song. But, because I don’t think the word reckless is an accurate term to describe God (or his love), I would not use the song “Reckless Love.”

[1] The top spot was surrendered briefly to “I Can Only Imagine” due to the popularity of the movie with the same title.

13 thoughts on “Is God’s Love Reckless?

  1. I appreciate your thoughtful response. There are songs we won’t sing for the same reasons. It’s constantly a battle, especially when a song musically is very catchy, but I must be the spiritual dietician for the words that are sung in the lips of our people. Well done.

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    1. Thank you so much, Will. I appreciate your kind and encouraging words. Serving as the “spiritual dietician” for our people is indeed a high calling. Such a heavy responsibility, but such a wonderful honor as well. Thanks again!

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  2. A well-thought out and carefully crafted response. Grateful for your leadership and insight into the specifics of the songs we sing. May God raise up more worship pastors like you!

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  3. Being a musician, songwriter, and worshipper, why would Corey not use the word “perfect”? Sylabically, it fits the same melody and better reflects God’s PERFECT love for His children. I completely agree with your take on this song and had the same reaction to it the first time I heard it. Perhaps it speaks to a growing lethargy within the Church. Did anybody provide spiritual accountability to the word choice? Thank you for your article!

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  4. Thank you! I appreciqte your voice concerning this very important topic.
    I, too, felt very strange and hesitant when it came to singing the reckless part of that song.
    It just doesn’t make sense.
    It hurts my heart that people are not taking this as serious as they should.
    Worship leaders need to be careful as John Piper would also state in his response to this song.

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