God’s Love is not Reckless, Contrary to What You Might Sing

An Evaluation of "Reckless Love" from Bethel Music

reckless love bethel

Photo credit: Tyler Milligan @TyMill6

A student recently knocked on my door, walked into my office, and sat down on my couch. He leaned forward and asked, “Is God’s love reckless?”

He was inquiring about a new song from Bethel Music called “Reckless Love,” a song that I had not yet heard.

I was impressed that he was thinking about what he was singing, even though his concern with the song no doubt ruined his worship experience the first time he heard it. Buy, hey. Our concern in worship shouldn’t only be about having a good time and feeling good. You don’t need worship to do that. From what I hear, you can do that with drugs.

The chorus of the song in question speaks of the “overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.”

I searched for the meaning of “reckless,” and Almighty Google tells me that “reckless” describes someone who acts “without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action.”

I tried the more respectable Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, and, similarly, it defines reckless as “marked by lack of proper caution: careless of consequences” and even as “irresponsible.”

I don’t think too many Christians would like to say that God is “careless” or that God’s love doesn’t “care about consequences.” Instead, God loves us with the clear and thoughtful intention “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

The Reckless Shepherd Who Leaves the 99?

The song “Reckless Love” alludes to a parable that Jesus tells about a shepherd leaving ninety-nine sheep to search for one lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:4-7). And when I went searching for other places that Christian’s refer to God’s love as reckless, I found a book that draws on the same parable to support its conclusion.

The book’s author suggests that the shepherd is reckless in the sense that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep “open to wolf attacks, wandering bears, and robbers.”

This is incorrect. As New Testament scholar Craig Keener observes of this parable, “A shepherd could leave his own flock with the other shepherds with whom he worked, who would be watching over their own flocks.”[1]

No carelessness for this shepherd. At least not in this case.

Reckless Christianize

Even though I’m not so poetic myself, I try to be generous toward poetic language in Christian songs. So it doesn’t really irk me so much when Christians want to set things on fire—whether it’s our hearts, the church, or our love.

So, I did some more searching. And I also asked some friends who are more into poetry than I am.

Apparently “reckless” has entered Christian vocabulary more than I realized.

I found another book. This one is called The Reckless Love of God. For this author, it appears that “reckless” just means “passionate” given his subtitle: Experiencing the Personal, Passionate Heart of the Gospel.

For some other people I talked too, “reckless love” simply meant “extravagant love.”

So, I figure “reckless love” is probably just Christianeze.

I’m guessing (I do admit) that non-Christians would probably never use the word “reckless” this way. Outside of Christian circles, I can’t think of any way that a person would use “reckless” without it having negative connotations. Consider

  • “Reckless driving.”
  • “Spending money recklessly.”

Reckless Heresy?

I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is heresy to refer to God’s love as reckless. To be charitable, whenever someone says something that sounds heretical, I always want to ask, “what do they really mean?”

So, for example, if someone describes the Trinity by saying that God is three substances, I probably (…probably) won’t consider them a heretic, because they are trying to express the correct theological intuition that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Now, there are some true heretics out there (I’ve taught some of them ;). But I doubt that the author of the song “Reckless Love” is a heretic because I don’t think the theological intuition behind his use of the word “reckless” is heretical.

From the song, I gather that the author simply means that God’s love “chases me down” and “fights ’til I’m found.” And God’s love will climb mountains, kick down walls, and tear down lies, to come after us.

I think the author meant that God’s love is relentless. But “relentless” has three syllables, not two, so it wouldn’t have fit so well in the song. “Passionate” also has three syllables

So, what should we do? I see no need to completely abandon singing an otherwise perfectly good song. That might be reckless.

At my church I noticed that we sing another song from Bethel Music called “Forever.” It also speaks of God’s “reckless love,” but when we sing the song, we sing about God’s “perfect love” instead. (I’ve noticed that most places the song lyrics are found online only say “perfect love.”)

So, my suggestion is to sing of God’s “perfect love” instead of “reckless love.” Or, perhaps even better, for the context of the song in question, we could sing of the “steadfast love” of God (it even has two syllables!).

However, I’m not sure we can change the title of the song on the screen. Hmm…

Perhaps I have missed something. That’s why I first went around and asked some of my friends what they thought.

Question: Have I overlooked something? Is God’s love reckless in a way that I might be missing? Leave a comment below by clicking here.


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Andrew K. Gabriel, Ph.D., is the author of Touched by God: Experiencing the Holy Spirit (forthcoming) as well as three academic books, including The Lord is the Spirit. He is a theology professor at Horizon College and Seminary and serves on the Theological Study Commission for the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. You can follow him on Facebook or on Twitter.

 

[1] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1993), 93.

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13 thoughts on “God’s Love is not Reckless, Contrary to What You Might Sing

  1. Hi Andrew. Enjoy reading your posts. Today, it seems, we have become rather reckless in handling the truths of the Gospel. I am, personally, disheartened at how we have sought to dumb down and romanticize Christ and God’s hard work to redeem us. Instead of inspiring awe and thanksgiving, we seem to have created a ‘great guy’ who would do anything for us – redemption be damned. We have replaced the reality of the awfulness of sin, what it cost to redeem us to God and a correct attitude of worship and fear, with the feel good jargon of an intense and passionate love affair that has little to do with communion, relationship or understanding the gulf between God and Man that could only be bridged through the intentional, difficult work of Christ on Calvary that was begun when He decided to create mankind and that will not be fully complete in us until we stand before Him in Glory.

  2. Great blog, Andrew — as usual! I agree that reckless here is not following the dictionary definition, but is Christianese, as you state. Best to not use trendy redefinition (although all words tend to change meaning over time). But in this case it may also lead to students attempting to imitate God (which we want) in being unwisely reckless in decisions and actions (which we don’t want). Passion, yes, reckless, no. 🙂

  3. Someone pointed me to Cory Asbury’s explanation of what he means by reckless. He states, “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 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. … The recklessness of His love is seen most clearly in this – it gets Him hurt over and over.”

    He needs to qualify how he uses the word quite a bit, in my opinion, simply because he is using it in a more restricted sense than its normal usage: “It doesn’t mean what the word normally means.” From what I read in his explanation, it seems overall he is trying to say God isn’t selfish or self-centered.

    But reckless doesn’t mean “unselfish.” So… I still think he could have been more precise in his use of English, even if he’s making great points in his song.

    Here is his explanation: https://www.facebook.com/coryasburymusic/posts/10158977378510171.

  4. The composer of Bethel’s version of Reckless Love, Cory Asbury, performs the official version on You Tube along with an explanation behind his writing the song. I do not doubt the sincerity of Corry; and the music has a charm that obviously appeals to his youthful audience, and over 500 people commented that the music and lyrics are inspiring and encouraging in their walks of faith. However; the use of reckless, in my opinion, is a poor choice for an adjective to describe the sacrificial love of Jesus. A cursory search of the internet would have shown that the expression is popular in secular music and literature to describe erotic experiences. A good summary of how the expression is used by popular heavy metal musicians can be found on Amazon.ca. Perhaps I’m just an old geezer trying to protect my sheltered past; but, there is still enough holiness in me that I flinch whenever I hear unflattering descriptions of the attributes of Jesus. Fear not Cory Asbury fans, he is a very talented and Spirit inspired musician and I would gladly attend one of his concerts

  5. Great answer Andrew, I have written a song, or two that may have not fitted so well for lyrics. However, my intentions and heart was in the right place, In expressing my love to him. I was attempting to tell a story of who,what he has done for me. Thanks for sharing . Enjoying your posts. Brenda

  6. Bible says “God is LOVE”, not that He has LOVE but that He IS LOVE. Love is the very core and essence of who God is. Love is the very NATURE of God. To say that God’s Love is reckless is the same thing as to call God “reckless”. This is blasphemy and insult to God, does not matter how anyone calls it or what spin they put on it. God is NOT RECKLESS! Description of “Reckless” fits only one person, and his name Lucifer/Devil/Deceiver!

    About parable of 99 that everybody keeps tripping over and over, by quoting over and over again… Rom.3:23 “for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Guess what? God did not leave 99 to find one! ALL of us fallen short, ALL of us have SINNED, ALL of us were in the darkness, ALL of us were enemies and hostile against God, ALL deserve punishment due, ALL… every single of us “there is no righteous not even one” Rom.3:10

  7. Hi, I think a lot of people take the word “reckless” and stretch the meaning to their definition, which I think is pretty sinful. It’s the same as saying a man is a woman because of feelings. Thank you for your take on this song. Hopefully it reaches out to others and creates a conversation with others who are not willing to listen to the other side.