Qualifying the Reckless Love of God

Those who listen to Contemporary Christian Music know that every few years a mega-hit comes […]

Connor Gwin / 9.24.18

Those who listen to Contemporary Christian Music know that every few years a mega-hit comes along that sits on the top of the CCM charts for months. Played on every Christian radio station and by every praise band across the country, this song is usually catchy in the extreme and hip to the nth degree.

A few years ago this song was “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong United. You can tell that a song has reached mega-hit level because Episcopal youth knew it and wanted to sing it. “Oceans” had cross-denominational appeal and, for a while, it played everywhere.

There is a new mega-hit in the Christian world called “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury. The song took the Christian music world by storm earlier this year and has ridden high on the charts since its release. Its crossover appeal reaches far beyond Episcopal youth, with Justin Bieber performing the song as part of his set at Coachella.

The song is a sweeping and emotional ballad that centers on the “reckless love of God.” The chorus sums it up:

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, yeah

The song is an unflinching ode to the power of God’s grace that overwhelms our human defenses and penetrates the hardest of hearts. In a recent podcast interview, Asbury said that the song emerged out of his experience in childhood. His father was strict and exacting, always demanding peak performance as a way of earning love. Asbury said that he pursued sports and other forms of achievement growing up in order to earn his father’s love.

Despite growing up in the church, it wasn’t until later in life that Asbury encountered the grace of God — the counterpoint to the performance-driven love of his earthly father. That experience of God’s grace, coupled with the birth of his first child, led him to write “Reckless Love.”

The song is not universally loved, however. In another chapter in the book called, “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Church Edition,” Christianity Today ran a piece a few months ago that featured several theologians and scholars questioning the theological accuracy of calling God’s love “reckless.”

One scholar wrote, “God loves us with clear and thoughtful intention, not careless abandon. Even the parable of the lost sheep does not necessarily convey irresponsibility since scholars say shepherds routinely watched each other’s flocks if one went away.”

We have a deep desire to qualify the love of God. Scholars and preachers are quick to jump in to make sure that we don’t believe that God’s love is truly reckless or the God’s grace really does reach everyone or that the when Jesus said, “It is finished,” he actually meant it.

We have such a hard time accepting that God’s love truly reaches out to all people, even the people we hate or disagree with, and even (especially?) to we ourselves. We insist on qualifying grace, which necessarily renders that grace null and void. We worry that if people start to believe that grace is true in all cases and that God loves people with reckless abandon all hell will break loose.

In the paradox that is the human soul, we simultaneously want so badly to be loved by God yet we try so hard to keep that love at arm’s distance. We can get swept up in the emotion of a song, carried off by the sentiment that God is personally seeking us out, but quickly plant our feet on the ground to consider the “implications.”

Another scholar writes in the Christianity Today piece, “Theologically and emotionally, [“Reckless Love”] seems good, although I always find it weird when worship songwriters insist vehemently on how much God loves ‘me.’”

The scholar continues, “I guess I could see the bridge of this song as…self-focused (‘There’s no shadow You won’t light up / Mountain You won’t climb up / Coming after me’), which I’ve never really liked.”

The individually-focused, reckless love of God can be very uncomfortable. Some folks in the Gospels walk away from Jesus with disappointment because they weren’t expecting him to be so specific or personal in his offer of salvation.

It may just be me, but I have no idea what corporate salvation looks like. I’m not sure what to do with a God who loves people or a Savior who died for humanity. The concepts don’t make any sense to me. Perhaps I am just too simple to understand.

I recently saw a meme that said, “Listening to people talk about their dreams is like looking through a stack of pictures. If I’m not in them and no one is naked, I don’t care.”

So it is with any news about God — it is only Good News if it has to do with my life, my sin, my salvation. I am only truly interested if it has to do with my very specific situation. If this sounds selfish, don’t worry, it is. I am a selfish and sinful human being. Which is why God’s reckless love for Connor Gwin resonates so deeply with me.

I am always tempted to do what those scholars did: to keep the love of God just far enough away so that it doesn’t actually break through to my hardened heart. I often do the same thing when reading scripture. If I can read a passage through the lens of biblical interpretation or the critical method, I can keep myself far enough away from that two-edged sword that threatens to pierce my heart.

Jesus seemed concerned with only one thing in the Gospels: preaching the Good News to individual, weary souls. Even when people who were not saying the right things (or singing the right lyrics) began casting out demons in Christ’s name, he wasn’t too concerned, saying, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:38-50).

The song “Reckless Love” has been played 42 million times on Spotify alone. It is clear that the Good News of God’s reckless love resonates with people. For what it’s worth, I have yet to hear a song about sensible behavior modification that reached anyone.

In a time when many churches are struggling to figure out what people want or how to keep their doors open, it seems that people (at least 42 million of them) want to hear the thing we are often afraid to preach: “the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.”

No qualifications needed.