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.”
No carelessness for this shepherd. At least not in this case.
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.”
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.
You might also be interested in these posts:
- Is God For You…Not Against You?
- What’s Wrong with Songs that Worship the Holy Spirit?
- Theology in Worship and Music: Please Think About What We Sing
 Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1993), 93.