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.


9 responses to “Qualifying the Reckless Love of God”

  1. Fisherman says:

    reckless adjective
    reck·less | \ ˈre-kləs \
    Definition of Reckless
    1 : marked by lack of proper caution : careless of consequences
    reckless charges

  2. Scott Dalton says:

    Connor — so good! I loved your line:

    “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.”

    Couldn’t agree more about your assessment of the song. God’s love tends to freak us out — no surprise we’re wanting to tame it.

  3. Becky says:

    As CS. Lewis said about Aslan, “He is not a tame Lion”

  4. DLE says:

    In 2 Timothy 3, the last days are marked by people who are lovers of self and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. Does “Reckless Love” build up love of self over love of God? Is it actually feeding the beast?

    Our age seems defined by love of self, personal spirituality, individualized experiences of “God.” So when Gwin starts to ask what a genuine corporate faith and salvation look like, I got excited. But then the answer came back that he doesn’t really understand any of that.

    This seems to be the glaring hole in our preached theology in the Western Church. What does it mean that you and I are “merely” the living stones that comprise a part of the New Jerusalam and not the whole city itself? What does a corporate faith, corporate salvation, and truly corporate ChristIanity in America 2018 look like? How do we resist the deadliness of self that is destroying our culture and society in the West? How do we keep from turning our country and our churches into C.S. Lewis’ vision of hell in The Great Divorce as a place of human anticommunity, where my thing is everything and yours is an irritant?

    Can someone please write that piece?

  5. Tom F says:

    Perhaps our issue is that we try to define – and worse, constrain – our sovereign God by our dictionary, our bias, etc.

    Is it unreasonable to imagine that the prodigal son’s older brother had viewed his father as “reckless”? The definition of “reckless” is not the issue here. The issue has to do with our offense at verses like Rom 9:15. It has to do with our disbelieve that God would unconditionally save “those” people. With such reckless mercy, how can one expect them to “act right”?

    Good post Connor.

  6. Matt K says:

    I was reading a sermon by Bernard of Clarvaux a few weeks back on the Song of Songs, and he began like this, “O strong and burning love, O love urgent and impetuous, which does not allow me to think of anything but you, you reject all else, you spurn all else but yourself, you are contented only with yourself! You throw order into confusion, ignore moderation; you laugh at all considerations of fitness, reason, modesty and prudence, and tread them underfoot.”
    It sounds like St. Bernard C. was writing something similar to Cory Asbury a thousand years earlier.

  7. Andreas Thiel says:

    Thank you for an insightful piece. I say ‘Amen’ to your many fine points. At the same time, I must admit that the word ‘reckless’ doesn’t sit well with me. The meaning of the word implies a certain degree of carelessness. My impression of God’s grace – in all its lavish, overflowing, self-giving generosity – is that it is nothing but FULL of care. Could it be that from our limited perspective, this indeed appears to be “reckless”, when in fact, it is quite the opposite?

  8. Mike says:

    I’m reminded of this lyric by Rich Mullins, echoing the same sentiment.
    “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
    I cannot find in my own
    And He keeps his fire burning
    To melt this heart of stone
    Keeps me aching with a yearning
    Keeps me glad to have been caught
    In the wreckless raging fury
    That they call the love of God.”
    I wonder if we sanitize, simplify and make human the love of the Divine.

  9. Audra says:

    What is so interesting about this song is the knee jerk reaction of Christian scholars. Everything is so clinical and their answer is the only correct answer. Sigh. This is my overall problem with Christian circles. Not everything is clear cut. Is this song the best song ever? No. Is it a song full of blatant heresy? No.

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