In a few short days we will begin another new year, and this year it will also be the start of a new decade (2020). While many of us might be thinking about making New Year’s resolutions for the new year ahead, this year we might think about making a resolution that just might affect the entire new decade. I read an article yesterday that gave me some food for thought in this direction.
I received a print copy of the January/February 2020 issue of Charisma Magazine in my mail yesterday, and in it was this article titled, “Reckless Love,” by Cory Asbury, a songwriter, worship leader, and worship pastor/artist-in-residence at Radiant Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. An online version of the article is available at this link. The following is taken from BethelMusic.com:
Cory is known for his hit single “Reckless Love” that was nominated for a Grammy in 2019. His album by the same name hit the top of the charts as Billboard’s #1 Christian Album in 2018. Cory also won three GMA Dove Awards, two K-Love Fan Awards, and the ASCAP Christian Song of the Year Award. In addition, he’s received three Billboard Music nominations. “Reckless Love” was inspired by Cory’s journey into the depths of the Father’s heart through the birth of his first son and the near-loss of his first daughter…. (Quote source here.) [A YouTube video of the song is located at the end of this blog post, and as of this date it has received over 113 million views.]
I have to admit that this is the first time I have heard about Cory’s massively popular worship song that came out in January 2018. I was also unaware of the hotly debated issue of his use of the word “reckless” in the title of his song.
In Cory’s article titled, “Reckless Love,” he breaks down the theology behind the lyrics in his song (the lyrics are available at this link). He states that he has received “tens of thousands” of emails and messages about how the song has touched people’s lives. He has also received negative feedback from people who were, as he describes, in two main camps of disagreement regarding of his use of the word “reckless” in the title of the song. That discussion is available in his article at this link.
In an article published on September 30, 2019 titled, “4 Beautiful Examples of ‘Reckless Love’ in the Bible,” by Lisa Samra, a contributing writer on Crosswalk.com, she writes:
The deeply personal lyrics of the popular worship song “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury have captured the imagination of many Christians with his description of the overwhelming nature of God’s kindness and goodness. Steeped in scriptural references, the song describes a love that pursues us even when we were enemies of God (Romans 5:7-8).
The song is not only one of the most popular worship songs, it also generated some controversy specifically because of the description of God’s love as “reckless.”
Much of the controversy likely stems from those who want to protect Christians from a wrong view of God that might be possible if one adheres to a strict definition of the word “reckless.” The Miriam-Webster Dictionary defines reckless as “marked by lack of proper caution: careless of consequences.” We might think of a reckless driver or reckless behavior that causes pain and suffering to others because the guilty party just doesn’t think or consider how his behavior might impact others in a negative way.
This definition could never be applied to God.
His goodness is part of the essence of who he is and how he interacts with his children. Paul assures us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). And, God is the source of all good in the world because “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17).
And yet, God’s goodness can leave us looking for adequate ways to express how we experience his love. A love that is lavished on us (1 John 3:1). A love whose height and depth we could never exhaust or fully understand (Ephesians 3:14-19). A love that finds us no matter where we go (Psalm 139:7-10).
And so we use phrases like “scandalous grace,” “reckless love,” “crazy love,” and “the foolishness of the Gospel” to try and communicate how we experience God and his interactions with us. Those phrases may push against the boundaries of their technical definitions but they also give us poetic language to describe God’s expansive love.
Looking through the pages of the Bible we also discover many positive stories of men and women of God who behave in ways that might be deemed “reckless” but the Bible presents their lives as beautiful examples of love and faith. In their stories we gain insight into God’s love for us. Consider the following four biblical examples of reckless love:
1. David and Jonathan’s Sacrificial, Reckless Love Between Friends
Perhaps there is no greater example of sacrificial, reckless love between two friends than the example of Jonathan and David.
To set the scene, when God rejected King Saul because Saul did not follow God’s commands (1 Samuel 15:26), the prophet Samuel anointed David as the next king (I Samuel 16:13). However, Saul continued to serve as king for many more years.
During the decades that Saul continued to rule Israel, Saul’s oldest son Jonathan (and next in line for the throne) befriended David. Jonathan believed David would serve as the next king of Israel in his place.
Jonathan demonstrated great faith to submit to God’s plan even though it came at great personal sacrifice. And, Saul kept trying to kill David to maintain the family claim on the royal line.
During one of Saul’s especially violent outbursts, it was Jonathan who devised a plan to help David escape. Saul discovered Jonathan’s plan and hurled a spear at Jonathan, his own son, in an attempt to kill him.
At risk of his own life, Jonathan demonstrated reckless love by putting his own life in danger to help David escape (1 Samuel 20:28-42). After this incident, the two friends never met again. Eventually, Jonathan was killed in battle (1 Samuel 31:2) and David deeply mourned the loss of a devoted, reckless friend.
2. Hosea’s Reckless Love for His Wife, Gomer
Old Testament prophet Hosea displayed reckless love when he obeyed God’s command to marry a prostitute named Gomer and raise a family together as a sign of God’s love for Israel despite the nation’s unfaithfulness (Hosea 1:2-3).
Despite Hosea’s love for his wife, she did not return his affections and was caught in an adulterous relationship with another man. In response to her actions, God told Hosea to seek her out again and bring her back as his wife. Not only was Hosea to invite her back into relationship with him, God asked him to follow the custom of paying another dowry, a humiliating action for a husband (Hosea 3:1-3).
Without regard for other’s opinions of him, or even his own self-interest, Hosea is a picture of the reckless love of a husband for his wife.
3. Mary’s Reckless Love for Jesus
At a dinner at Martha’s home in Bethany, Jesus was eating dinner when Mary took a jar of expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. The aroma of the perfume filled the air as Mary anointed Jesus.
While this action might have been viewed as a simple act of worship, we see a sign of the reckless nature of this action in Judas’ response. Instead of recognizing the significance of her actions, Judas complained that cost of the perfume (a year’s wages) could have been spent on more important things (John 12:4-5). Upon hearing Judas’ criticism, Jesus rebuked him and commended Mary’s sacrificial offering.
Mary gave beyond what was expected or culturally appropriate, but it could be said she recklessly took the jar of perfume and “wasted” it as she poured it out on Jesus’ feet.
4. The Never-Ending, Reckless Love of Our Faithful Shepherd
The “Reckless Love” chorus provides an example of the way God’s love can appear reckless when it reminds us that God “leaves the 99,” a reference to the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15.
The parable images a shepherd who is responsible to care for 100 sheep in the fields and caves of Israel’s hillsides. In the story, just one sheep goes missing. But the shepherd does not take the safe or prudent course of action. Instead of considering the odds and staying with the vast majority of sheep in his flock, he leaves the 99 sheep together on a hillside and goes to rescue the one sheep who has wondered away.
God recklessly pursues us in the same way.
Not content with the number of people who have responded to the good news about Jesus, God pursues every person because he does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
You Are Recklessly Loved
While you may still find it challenging to think of God’s love for you as reckless; hopefully, you can appreciate the artistic description used by Asbury to give us words to describe the immense love that God has for each one of us.
Together with Paul we can pray for the ability to understand more of this love as we try “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18-19). (Quote source here.)
In an article published on May 27, 2018, titled, “Is God’s Love Reckless? Experts Disagree Over Popular Worship Song,” by Emily Jones, a multi-media journalist for CBN News in Jerusalem, she writes:
Bethel Worship Leader Cory Asbury’s song ‘Reckless Love’ has topped the Christian music charts and is being sung by believers around the world.
The song is about the “overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.” But it’s the word “reckless” that’s got some theologians scratching their heads.
Is God’s love reckless?
“God’s love is the very antithesis of recklessness. What is more, when God asks us to live out Christ’s love he challenges us likewise to set aside the intensity of wavering infatuations and instead soberly count the cost,” he said.
He referenced Luke 14:26-27 in his argument, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
He concluded in his VOICES article, “God’s love is not reckless: it cannot be. Nor, in my view, is it helpful to think of God’s love as hyperbolically reckless because doing so frames God’s love as a youthful infatuation rather than the abiding, steady, well-planned, and eminently non-reckless love through which we were chosen before the creation of the world and for which we have been called soberly to count the cost.”
Well known pastor and author John Piper says churches and worship leaders should proceed with caution.
He explains that using the term “reckless” could imply that God does not know the future, and that he takes risks without knowing the outcome–a view he calls “heretical.”
However, Piper admits he does not know Asbury’s intentions when using the term “reckless.”
“Maybe the author used the word reckless in the sense that God’s love may look, to an outsider, foolish, ill-advised, brash, and breakneck, but in fact the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men,” Piper says.
This is the interpretation Asbury openly preaches. In fact, he goes straight to scripture to defend his use of the word.
He points to Luke 15, when Jesus was criticized by the religious teachers for eating with sinners. Jesus responds with a parable about a shepherd who leaves behind 99 sheep to desperately search for the one who was lost.
“When I used the phrase ‘the reckless love of God,’ when we say it, we’re not saying that God himself is reckless. He’s not crazy,” he explains. “We are, however, saying that the way he loves in many regards is quite so. What I mean is this: He’s utterly unconcerned with the consequences of his actions with regard to his own safety, comfort, and well-being….His love doesn’t consider himself first. It isn’t selfish or self-serving. He doesn’t wonder what he’ll gain or lose by putting himself on the line.”
Some might say the shepherd is reckless for leaving behind his flock to save the one. Asbury says that’s just how God loves us and those who don’t understand why would call that reckless.
“Those bothered by reckless as an adjective for God seem to take the word out of context,” he says. “Furthermore, Asbury rose to prominence in a worship context that is famous for using dramatic language that turns traditional meanings on their heads”
“If there’s any problem with ‘Reckless Love,’ it’s that the songwriters meant to celebrate God’s uninhibited, extravagant, practice of self-giving but hit a snag on familiar tropes and platitudes of the worship genre before they could ever get to plumb the depths of their main idea,” Henry adds.
Furthermore, Henry believes Asbury could have cleared up confusion by doing more to discuss how Jesus gave everything to save sinners.
Both Piper and Henry seem to agree that worship leaders should be more specific about the words they choose when writing and singing songs.
“As we sit in service, give us songs whose original meaning we can joyfully affirm because they are fully biblical. Don’t give us too many where we have to change the meaning in order to be faithful,” Piper suggests.
Apart from the theological debate over the song, it resonates with worshippers who are posting how it has drawn them closer to the heart of God.
Jim Van Leeuwen posted on Asbury’s Facebook page, “…this is a true testament to His never-ending passion to chase us down…”
Clay Fuller wrote, “He is not caution… His love is wild, extravagant and huge.”
Debbie Wikoff Nadeau-Meyer posted, “I was moved by the honesty of your song, the humility and honesty in your voice. And it made me realize that I am RECKLESSLY loved by my God. I am so thankful to Him for loving me this way.” (Quote source here.)
“Reckless love” is about a love that is deeply passionate; a love that is more concerned about others then it is about self. And God demonstrated his love for us through his Son, Jesus (see John 3:16), and as stated in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Follow that up with 2 Peter 3:9 which states: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
I’ll end this post with the words from the chorus of the song, “Reckless Love”: Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine. I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still You give Yourself away. Oh…
The overwhelming . . .
Never-ending . . .
Reckless love of God . . . .
YouTube Video: “Reckless Love” written and sung by Cory Asbury: