Is God’s love “reckless”?

Quick Answer:

No [said in a gentle, non-Pharisaical, non-Grinchie tone], because God himself is not “reckless.” God’s agape (intentional covenant love) – like his perfect Being – is on the opposite extreme of reckless. God’s agape is everlasting (Jer 31:3; Psalm 103:17), but it isn’t “reckless.” God’s agape for us like that of the boundless  agape the Father and the Son (John 17:2; Mark 1:10-11), but it isn’t “reckless.” God’s agape is full of mercy, full of grace, full of faithfulness, but it isn’t “reckless.”

 

 

Extended Answer:

The idea that God’s love is “reckless” is as you know by now become popular due to a contemporary song by that name, ‘Reckless Love’ by Cory Asbury. Cory is a great musician and has written some strong lyrics in other songs. Unfortunately, this song ‘Reckless Love’ isn’t one of them.

 

To his credit Cory has noted that he was surprised at how popular the song has become. So, the main question is how could a song describing God’s love as “reckless” become so popular? That ‘Reckless Love’ has become a big hit says much about the state of Evangelicalism. It also says much about the low esteem the American Church has for Theology Proper (the doctrines dealing with the being and nature of God).

 

The influence of ‘Reckless Love’ has been extended further by those defending (ie., Andrew Gabriel) the use of the word “reckless” as an ideal way to describe God’s perfect love. By now several articles and posts have applauded the song, but still question it as being incomplete in its message (Relevant Magazine). In this Post-Post-Modern era words can be made to mean whatever we want them to mean. That’s why people have become accustomed to the idea that you can identity as however you please. Apparently “reckless” doesn’t mean now what it did in 1977 as in the song, ‘Reckless’ by Sammy Hagar.

 

The stronger the danger
I could care less
Leaves me breathless
Reckless!
Reckless!
Reckless!
I break all the rules!
Reckless!
I want to live for today!
Reckless!
Reckless!
Reckless!
Reckless!
Reckless!
Reckless!

 

Note: In this post we aren’t considering the question – Should We Sing of God’s ‘Reckless Love’? That’s a different question. The question considered in this post is more basic than whether we should sing it or not. Whether or not God’s love ‘reckless’ goes to who God is (not merely what songs we sing or don’t sing at a given worship service or have on our favorite music app). Who God is matters first and foremost. So let’s consider the following.

 

In the Relevant Magazine article the author prudently notes how the reality of God’s being and identity can become separated in our minds:

 

The hosts of popular YouTube Channel “Worship Tutorials” make it a point to emphasize that the lyrics seen above make explicit reference to God’s love and not God’s identity. It is the way that God loves that is reckless, they say, and not God Himself that is reckless.

 

So God’s “identity” is not consistent with “God himself”?

 

Uh? I sure hope not. The Bible in the simplest language says otherwise. For example, the apostle John said this about God in the plainest, but profoundest way possible in his letter to fellow believers. He wrote:

 

God is love

(see 1 John 4:7-21)

 

God’s active life is identical with his active being. How we may understand that or perceive that in our sinful ignorance or cloudy thinking is not how God is. How we may (or may not) experience the perfect being of God in this finite world cannot be the limits within which we can fully describe him (in part due to the analogia entis or the analogy of being). Yet, though the fullness of who God is beyond us, we can fully possess the awareness that he is beyond us. More on this and other important truths in Classical Christian Theism in God of Our Fathers.

 

Notice when John says, God is love, he did not qualify it with notions of God in himself being one thing and his love something different or in some way different than God himself is. For the theology nerds, the idea that God’s “identity” is a separate reality from “God himself” is an example of both a contradiction against and a departure from the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity.

 

No, God is love and this means that all the infinite, perfect, boundless beauty that God is in his being apart from us, he is that fully to us in as much as we able in our finitude to believe, receive and enjoy that love through Christ. God’s love is immeasurable, but isn’t it awesome that you and I can know that his love is immeasurable?

 

Yet, pressing on in its worship of sentimentality as it does the modern Evangelical church insists that those who disagree with the idea that God’s love is “reckless” are “Pharisees in the church” who “come out of the woodwork.” And from a shallow well of hipster sarcasm you may be also be told to drink in the idea that if you object to God’s love being “reckless” you are a “Grinch.”

 

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A short word about ‘Reckless Love’ being a Calvinist song

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Some YRR have found comfort in the fact that John Piper attempts to make a case that the lyrics of ‘Reckless Love’ pivot around Calvinistic theology. That may sound good to his YRR followers, but fact is that the Scripture passages used for the lyrics do not transparently set forth Calvinistic teachings. The writer of those lyrics, Cory Asbury, after all is not a Calvinist (consciously so) and thus when he explains the lyrics he does so apart from a Calvinistic frame of mind. The Scripture passages used for the lyrics require theological interpretation (narrative Scripture often does). So it’s a kind of theological dissonance to defend ‘Reckless Love’ as Calvinistic when…

 

a) Calvinist theology clearly affirms that God is not “reckless” and neither is his love

 

b) the lyrics of ‘Reckless Love’ are not intended by the lyricist as statement in defense of Calvinism.

 

The Calvinist and the Arminian come to the same narrative passages with their commitments already in place prior to explaining or using those narratives for poetic and illustrative purposes. (Full disclosure: I am a Calvinist and am fully on board with the Sovereignty of God in salvation and in Providence, yet Scripture should be interpreted according to its canonical place in the whole of the biblical record, not just presuppositions we bring to the text.)

 

For example, in the opening lines of ‘Reckless Love’ we hear…

Before I spoke a word, You were singing over me
You have been so, so good to me
Before I took a breath, You breathed Your life in me
You have been so, so kind to me

That God “spoke a word” BEFORE we arrived on this scene can be interpreted by the Arminian as simply God’s foreknowledge that we would believe AND can be interpreted by the Calvinist as simply God’s divine decree apart from any temporal necessity to ensure that we would believe. Either way the lyrics require interpretation which must be weighted to one side or the other by their prior theological commitments.

 


 

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So is God’s love “reckless”? Thankful it’s not, because God is not. As several defenders of ‘Reckless Love’ have noted, the lyrics contain expressions and imagery from lost things and persons in Luke 15, with special emphasis on the Parable of the Two Lost Sons. What the “reckless love of God” defenders overlook is that in this parable it isn’t the father who is “reckless,” but it is the wayward, spent thrift and riotous younger son who is “reckless.”

 

In other words, we are the ones who are “reckless” – not God.

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In fact, let’s have the text speak for itself:

Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.

Luke 15:13 esv

 

Other translations render this expression as “wild living” or “loose living” or “foolish living.” I was curious how the word “reckless” is used in other parts of Scripture. So I did a search for the word “reckless.” My Bible app was opened to the NIV so I stayed with that translation for the search. The NIV is among the most used modern translations. I figured that was a good place to start since vocabulary of the NIV is meant to reflect our common speech. Here’s what showed up.

 

The angel of the Lord asked him, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.”

Numbers 22:32

 

They gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelek used it to hire reckless scoundrels, who became his followers.

Judges 9:4

 

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Prov 12:18

 

Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams, ” declares the Lord. “They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 23:32

 

They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.

1 Peter 4:4

 

Then, looking at the ESV again I found this:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good,treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

2 Timothy 3:1-5

 

None of the uses of the word “reckless” showed any possible way that God himself or God’s love is “reckless.”

 

When I think of something “reckless” I think of

 

a car accident or

a junk yard

or of a description of a person who lives “without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action” (the definition used by a defender of God’s “reckless love”).

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A quick scan of recent news gives a consistent use of the word “reckless” as nothing but negativity.

 

Panthers rookie DJ Moore charged with reckless driving after being clocked at 113 mph (Aug 21, 2018)

 

Scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report accuses hundreds of priests of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children (Aug 14, 2018) “…Monsignor William Lynn, who was convicted of recklessly endangering children for not…”

 

Police: 18-Year-Old Charged with Manslaughter After ‘Reckless Discharge’ (Sept 4, 2018)

 

Princess Diana regretted shocking interview about royal love triangle, was ‘reckless‘ at times with security, author claims (Aug 31, 2018)

 

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God’s love is ‘reckless’?

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So how is it possible that the literal definition of the word “reckless” literally is about a thing or person on a path to becoming a wreckage, but somehow this literally does not apply to God’s love? Could it be that they either need come up with a new and improved hipster dictionary or are worshipping a different and downgraded idea of god or are stuck on their sentimental feel-good religion?

 

So much of contemporary religion is about emoting.

 

One of the “reckless love” apologists refers to the following book as part of the proof that God’s love can indeed be “reckless.” The Pursuing God, A Reckless, Irrational, Obsessed Love That’s Dying to Bring Us Home by Joshua Ryan Butler. So now God’s love can be both “reckless” and “irrational”?

 

I love reading and studying theology, especially Theology Proper. One of my favorite books on the nature of God is one by theologian Gerald Bray. It’s almost 800 pages of an accomplished theologian’s meditations on the love of God. In his book, God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology he gives us some very needed advice on “communicating” what we can know about God to others.

 

We may not know how to express it properly and trip over ourselves when we try to explain it. How many of us can put into words the feelings we have for those who are closest to us? But if human love is a powerful force that cannot be pinned down like that, how much more will this be true of the love of God? It takes careful reflection in order to speak comprehensively, accurately, and convincingly…

(italics added for emphasis)

 

Thankfully neither God nor his love are “reckless.” Otherwise we would be worshipping a god like Zeus or Thor.

 

God’s agape isn’t arbitrary. God’s agape isn’t unpredictable. God’s agape isn’t capricious. God’s agape isn’t “without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action.”

 

God knew exactly what he was getting when he got us. God knows exactly what he has gotten himself into when he takes us into himself. God’s love is thoroughly who God is in himself. God’s love is everlastingly steadfast. His love is a sure thing. His love capacious beyond our calculations.

 

God’s love is boundless.

 

Enjoy!