Question: "Is God's love reckless?"
Answer: “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and that love is described and illustrated in many ways in the Bible. Recently, God’s love has been popularly described as “reckless,” a description that has stirred some controversy due to the actual meaning of the word reckless.
The idea that God’s love is reckless was popularized by a worship song called “Reckless Love,” written by Caleb Culver, Cory Asbury, and Ran Jackson and recorded by Cory Asbury. The song was published by Bethel Music. In 2018 the song spent 18 weeks at number one on Billboard’s U.S. Hot Christian Songs chart and over a year in the Top 10. It won the 2019 Dove Song of the Year and the Christian Song of the Year Awards from both BMI and ASCAP. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award in 2019. In 2020 Charisma House Publishing released a companion devotional book, Reckless Love: A 40-Day Journey into the Overwhelming, Never-Ending Love of God.
Here are the lyrics to the chorus of “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, I don’t deserve it, still You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.”
Controversy over the notion that God’s love is reckless centers on the meaning of reckless, defined by Merriam-Webster as “1) marked by lack of proper caution; 2) irresponsible.” Critics of the “reckless love” wording point out that reckless carries the connotation of foolishness or acting ill-advisedly. A reckless type of love is usually thought of as a feeling akin to infatuation. Romeo and Juliet had a reckless love, taking no thought of the consequences of their actions. Can an attribute of God, demonstrated by God, be truly thought of as foolish, irresponsible, or improper in any way?
Biblically, God’s love is purposeful (Ephesians 1:4–7), eternal (Jeremiah 31:3), steadfast (Psalm 51:1), great (Ephesians 2:4), intense (Romans 8:39), and self-sacrificial (Romans 5:8; 1 John 3:16). God’s love is also patient, kind, and unfailing; it is not envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, or easily angered; love keeps no account of wrongs and takes no pleasure in evil; it rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4–7).
The Bible’s descriptions show that God’s love is the opposite of reckless. A reckless person acts with little to no forethought, but God chose believers before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Recklessness implies an inability to see the future, but God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Reckless love doesn’t heed consequences, but God knew full well what His love would require. Jesus did not go blindly to the cross; He set His face like flint to reach it (Isaiah 50:7; Luke 9:51). Reckless love can easily fade once reality sets in; God’s love never ends (1 Corinthians 13:8).
Does all this mean that the song “Reckless Love” is unbiblical? Giving the songwriters the benefit of the doubt, we can assume that they are speaking from the perspective of human appearances. That is, God’s love is so extravagant that, from our human perspective, it seems to be reckless. To an outsider—to anyone who doesn’t understand who God is—the way that He loves His children looks to be rash and maybe even foolish. Why would He love us? Why would He give up so much to redeem us and restore us to His fellowship? To use the parable to which the song alludes, why would the shepherd leave the ninety-nine to rescue the one?
So, in the sense that God’s redeeming love is unrestrained, lavish, and utterly surprising to sinners, we could say that it is “reckless.” Such a description is at home in songwriting and poetry. At the same time, we understand that God’s love is not “reckless” in the sense of being crazy, brash, or unthinking.