The reckless love of God

The Standard March 18, 2023

To call someone reckless would be an insult. To say that someone pursued a good cause with reckless abandon could be a compliment. The second would indicate that the person forsook peripheral things to focus full-heartedly on a positive goal. The 2018 GMA Dove Award for Song of the Year and also Worship Song of the Year went to Cory Asbury’s “Reckless Love.” The chorus says, “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.” Some Christians have taken issue with the portrayal of God’s love as reckless while others have given latitude for poetic license.

The song immediately brings to my mind Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. The younger of two sons went to his father and asked for his share of the estate. An action almost unheard of then, the father complied and divided up what he owned. The younger son went away and squandered his inheritance on wild living. After a famine and the ultimate humiliation of taking a job feeding pigs, he returned home, ready to seek forgiveness and to be like a hired servant. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20) The son confessed his sin and said he was no longer worthy to be called a son. “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:22-24a)

In the Middle East in the first century an honorable man never ran. In that culture it was shameful for a man to show his bare legs. A Jewish son who lost his inheritance among Gentiles would have been rejected by his community. If someone who knew about the wayward son met him first upon his return to town, they might have humiliated him publicly and sent him away. This father was on the look-out for his son, waiting for him to come back. He wanted to reach him first. In an effort to spare his son public shame, the father ran to him to welcome him warmly, taking the scorn of the community on himself.  In the eyes of the neighbors, this would have been an incredibly foolish way to behave. It would have been extending mercy in an unreasonably lavish way.

Jesus was giving a picture of God’s love. It was not irresponsible, careless, or unconcerned about the consequences, but it probably was “marked by lack of proper caution.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) For first-century Jewish culture the father’s love would have seemed improper and reckless.

Singer Cory Asbury responded to questions about his choice of wording. “I see the love of God as something wild, insane, crazy. The way that he pursues, the way that he chases us down, the way that he loves, I believe, is reckless. And so we were going after that really furious, sort of violent language to speak of the nature of the love of God, that it never backs down. It doesn’t give up.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He goes, ‘No, my love is crazy. My love comes as a baby and dies on a cross. The most foolish thing  you could possibly imagine.’ The reckless love of God says, ‘I will stop at nothing to have your heart and to get you face to face and go, ‘This is who I am. I’m good. I’m kind. I’m faithful.’ And he does everything in his power to do that. His love is wild. His love is reckless.”

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