If you listen to K-Love, Christian Pandora stations, or Christian YouTube and Spotify playlists, you might have heard a song that is causing quite a stir lately called “Reckless Love,” performed by Cory Asbury and written by him along with Caleb Culver, and Ran Jackson. It has taken the church by storm and is currently the #1 song being played in churches today. I heard of it early on since I am a member of various worship Facebook groups and such and like to be in the loop of what is going on in the worship community. Off the bat, the title, “Reckless Love” was uncomfortable to me, in the sense of using an inappropriate adjective to use to describe our God. So, I googled the lyrics and listened to the song. The acceptance of the word “reckless” was concerning enough that I made my view known on Facebook, that God’s love is not reckless. It fueled some good, and thankfully peaceful and friendly discussion. It was such an interesting exchange that I decided to write my next blog post on this topic. At the bottom of the page are links to the song and its lyrics. There is a lot of heavy ground to cover, so grab your popcorn or coffee and dive in!
A look at the song
Let’s start with the positives. Keep in mind that this is focusing on the lyrical aspects of the song, not the musical ones, though it is very musically moving. Right off the bat, it acknowledges the sovereignty and goodness of God. It even references the parable of the lost sheep and how the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine to go after it. The song makes very clear the righteous jealousy of God and how He will hold all that belongs to Him. It also makes it clear that we are sinners saved only by the undeserved grace of God. It is evident that a lot of heartfelt passion went into the writing of the song. Though it may not approach Stuart Townend levels of theological complexity, there is quite a bit in the deceptive simplicity of the song.
Now for the negatives. I love that modern worship seems to be trying to move towards more theological weight and makes more use of Biblical imagery. This song is promising in that respect, but the issue is that the word reckless presents a problem. Most tend to think of that word as meaning “careless or destructive.” In fact, when I type it into my smartphone, the autocorrect predicts the next word as being driving. This if nothing else is perplexing. Now I am an open-minded person and I am willing to be proven wrong if the other side lines up with Scripture. Here is what Cory Asbury had to say about it:
“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 many regards, quite so. 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. His love isn’t crafty or slick. It’s not cunning or shrewd. In fact, all things considered, it’s quite childlike, and might I even suggest, sometimes downright ridiculous. His love bankrupted heaven for you. His love doesn’t consider Himself first. His love isn’t selfish or self-serving. He 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 at Him and offer ourselves in return.”
Rewording or reversing?
His explanation helps me see where he is coming from and basically confirms what I suspected. I figured that he and his co-writers were trying to describe the selfless, sacrificial, and humble love of God the Son. And of course, how many times have you heard those words used to describe the love of God? Probably a lot more than you can count. With all the great hymns and contemporary worship songs, it can be challenging to find creative ways of portraying something poetically. As a songwriter myself, I certainly understand that challenge, and I admire his creative drive to find a new angle at which to describe something in Scripture. I am not opposed to being challenged by creativity and incorporating new unique ways to worship. In fact, I love it and welcome it very much so, being a “non by-the-book” personality. If it ain’t broke, it can still be improved! (methodology, not Scripture) Creativity in life in general tends to stimulate and engage me more so on an emotional and intellectual level than the habitual “tried and true,” which is common for my personality type. Those who know me well know that I am a tweaker and customizer by nature, always searching for a new way. An example of creative rephrasing is found in Chris Tomlin’s line from “At the Cross” which says “when your love ran red and my sin washed white.” It is not found anywhere in Scripture in that form, but it is basically saying what Scripture has already said, that the blood of Christ covers our sin and we are sanctified. Northpoint InsideOut’s “Death Was Arrested” is another example of that, in which the actual phrase of that song title is not found in the Bible, yet it is meant to say that death has been made powerless and has no sting because of Christ. So you know that I am not speaking from a point of view that is not open to new avenues and forms of expression.
However, “Reckless Love” does not simply rephrase an existing Scriptural truth or approach it from a unique angle. It adds a new meaning to it that was not there before. Let’s take a moment to define reckless. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines reckless as “(being) marked by a lack of proper caution : careless of consequences.” Other dictionaries essentially say the same thing, implying a lack of thought and care to the consequences of an action. So the question is, did God not care about the consequences of His actions? Being that God is sovereign and all things have been ordained by Him, I would say that he did think and care about the consequences of His actions, which brings us to the problem with “reckless,” in that it takes the sovereignty of God out of the equation. A similar lyrical situation happened nearly 20 years ago, when Paul Baloche’s “Above All” came out and took on great popularity, especially after if was recorded by Michael W. Smith. Musically and lyrically, it is very beautiful in exploring both the sovereignty and humility of God, yet the final couple of lines say “You took the fall, and thought of me above all.” This issue with that was that God did not think of us above all, He thought of the will of His Father above all, and only did what He saw His Father doing. My point is that the word reckless neglects or downplays the sovereignty of God, similar to what “Above All” unintentionally does at the end.
Everything God did had to be purposeful. Remember that all things, not only physical things, were created for His own glory. Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Everything, including Christ’s atonement, was and is about bringing glory to God. Yes, the atonement was meant for us out of love for us, yet that love for us comes from His holy plan to glorify Himself. That may sound selfish to us, but God is God and we are not. I am glad that it is not my own glory that fills the universe, because it would not be a very desirable universe to live in! (Here is where my wife shouts a resounding AMEN!) Matt Chandler explains it well, saying “God is for God and ultimately about the praise of his glorious grace, (that) God is not after our begrudging submission but after our joy. God is ferociously about our joy because the more we enjoy him the more his grace is gloried in.”
Not reckless, yet reckless?
I will acknowledge that Asbury pointed out and clarified that he did not say that God Himself was reckless, just His love. I am glad that he said God was not reckless, yet his statement makes no sense. It would be like me saying the abusive husband isn’t angry, just his fits of rage, or that the spoiled child isn’t selfish, only their tantrums are. Now I have wonderful kids whom I would not describe as being spoiled or rotten. They are generally very compliant and good-natured kids, and I could say that they aren’t badly behaved kids, except when they disobey or lie on occasion, or are essentially, being bad! Even though I don’t think of them as bad kids, their dishonesty and disobedience, or “badness” is part of who they are because of their sin nature. It is something that needs to be cleansed of by the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s love is also not only a part of who He is, but it IS who He is. God is love. You cannot say anything about God’s love that you cannot also say about God in general. The other terms I mentioned previously, selfless, sacrificial, humble, as well as pure, perfect, endless, and many others, you can use to describe both God’s love and God period. His mercy is eternal. His ways are mysterious. His power is awesome. His rod and staff are comforting. You can use those words describing God’s qualities to describe God as well, and you would be correct to do so. With the word, “reckless,” not so much. God cannot contradict Himself. Titus 1:2 says that God cannot lie. He cannot be one way and do something in another way. It is impossible. God cannot be not reckless, yet love in a reckless way.
No concern for state of being?
Most people would likely agree with what I explained earlier that basically God’s plan did not go without thought or care, but some might say, “yes, of course God thought His own plan through, but “reckless” in this sense means He had no concern for His own state of being.” To use Asbury’s words, He was “utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being.” Was that really the case though? You’ll find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke that He wrestled with that concern in the garden when He said “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” He even prayed that “the cup be taken” from Him if possible, to which He said, “not my will but yours be done.” One of His final words recorded in the Gospels was His cry of, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”also quoting the opening words of Psalm 22. John Piper describes that as being not so much, “a question looking for an answer, but a way of expressing the horrors of abandonment.” People use the term “God forsaken” to describe trivially ugly things, but Christ truly was God forsaken, and His regard for His own state of being most definitely crossed His mind. This demonstrates the humanity of Christ. I believe IN SPITE of having concern for the weight that He would carry, He bore it for us anyway. To me, that sounds like the opposite of recklessness. I believe this is what makes God’s pure and perfect love for us really evident if nothing else does. Christ, in full awareness of and concern for the cost, underwent an unknowable torture so that we would not have to, and that we could spend eternity with Him and become like Him. I cannot in my heart describe this as recklessness, as it is nothing less than awesome, humble, and caring love.
Attention to Intention
There were some other things that Asbury said that weren’t in the song itself, but that concerned me, as it most certainly influenced the writing of the song. He described God’s love as being “childlike.” Now, His love is mysterious, comforting, and undeserved, but childlike? No, I don’t believe God can be likened to a child. Nowhere in Scripture is God compared to a child, other than actually physically being a child. Yes, Christ is the Son of God and He came into this world as an infant in order to be the Word made flesh, but He is not a child in the symbolic sense. There are two Greek words in the New Testament used for children, teknon and huios. Teknon is how we would generally describe a child, not yet mature, coming from another life. Huios refers to a descendant as being representative of a family line, or someone who receives an inheritance. The latter is the word used to describe Christ. Christ’s atonement was not done in the naivety and foolishness of a child.
The last statement is concerning as well, “He 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 at Him and offer ourselves in return.” Granted, I take the Reformed view on election and predestination so not everyone will entirely agree with that soteriology, but the statement makes it sound like the atonement was a gamble, and not intentional according to His sovereignty. That is my problem with “reckless” in the first place, there being lack of intention and sobriety in the word. “Putting Himself out there” sounds like a guy or a girl marking themselves as available on the dating market. God doesn’t “put Himself out there” hoping someone will notice Him and decide to follow Him. The Father sovereignly draws the sinner to the Son, who fills him/her with the Holy Spirit. We did not leave God on the hook, as He hung there desperately hoping we would take notice and follow Him. Rather as 1 Peter 2:9 says, we have been “called out of darkness into His marvelous light.” That is intentionality at its fullest.
Who loves recklessly?
I have spent a lot of time explaining that God does not love us recklessly. Now lets see what happens when we flip the coin. It is we who love God recklessly. We do all sorts of evil and stupidity in the name of loving God. Some turn to legalism to try to be holy. Others turn to moral relativism to try to be loving and compassionate. We hurt one another, drive others away, and most of all, sin against God in our broken, painfully impure way of loving Him, or trying to love Him. That is reckless love. It is the so-called love that fails and falls flat. How pitiful we are! The good news is that God accepts us as we are, and that our feeble love for him and mustard seed sized faith is no longer the flesh governed mind that is hostile to God. (Rom. 8:7) We are righteous and blameless in His sight and if we are true believers in Christ, our “recklessness” or plainly, our propensity to sin will diminish as we become more and more conformed to His likeness. When we go to be with God for eternity, we will be free of any kind of “recklessness,” but rather be solely filled with His glory shining through us. I am so glad that God does not love me the way that I love Him, but I pray that my love for Him would resemble the love He has for me.
At the end of the day, it is just a song and there are bigger fish to fry in our journey of faith. When this song and others fade, the issues the Church faces will still be here. I do not know Cory Asbury or his co-writers, and I cannot say what their understanding of Scripture is or what the state of their walk with Christ is, (though I imagine they are very passionate, sincere worshipers) but I have nothing against them, nor against anyone who enjoys the song. If you like the song, I do not think any less of you! I remember Audio Adrenaline’s “Big House” (90’s evangelical kids represent!) and how it totally butchered the meaning of “I go to prepare a place for you” from John 14:2,3, and yet I look back on it and smile. I also don’t mean to be nit picky and rag on a song that lots of people really like, but we are to worship in spirit and in truth. When a lyric makes you question its truthfulness, you must use the Word of God as your unit of measurement, particularly when it is very influential and has everyone talking about the subject.
Though the song admittedly does contain a lot of truth, let’s be sure that the Biblical truth is not getting influenced by any foreign concepts. If you have a different understanding of the word “reckless” that does not rob God of any of His qualities or add non-existing ones, and does not lead your heart or mind astray, it is between you and God if you choose to sing it. A word is a word and can change meaning over time, but 31 years of knowing the original meaning of the word is too much for me to be at peace with leading others in that song. So I have chosen according to my own convictions and not to sing that song at our church. I encourage you to look at what the Scriptures say in regards to what is in this song and any worship song or hymn for that matter, as the Bereans did in Acts 17 and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to you. Creativity is a wonderful thing, but let us not let it be used at the expense of Biblical truth.