There is much debate over a recent worship song that, unless you're living under a rock, you've probably heard in your church, on the radio, in your Christian school's chapel, or countless other places. The song, titled "Reckless Love", states that God loves us in an overwhelming and reckless manner.
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
One thing I lament about our society today is the devaluing of words. Words used to mean something. There was an old saying, “My word is my bond.” There was a time when you didn’t need a 26 page contract to buy or sell an item to one another. A word and a handshake was all it took. Today, words are practically meaningless. But as Christians, we should be better than that. And in worship, our words MUST mean something. The words we use in worship form us spiritually and project an image of God, not only to us, but to those who hear those words. And we all know what God thinks about his image - he is jealous about how he is portrayed (Exodus 20:4-5).
We can not attribute a word to God that goes against his character and nature. And we can not change the meaning of the word (from current usage and Scriptural usage) just because we feel like it would be appropriate, or we want to be creative.
A simple search of the word “reckless” makes the meaning of the word clear. Just look at the dictionary definition.
reckless (adj.): without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action.
Synonyms include “rash, careless, thoughtless, heedless, unheeding, hasty, and impetuous.”
Can we really say this is who God is? Of course not. God knows all things: past, present, and future (theologians call this omniscience). God knew (and knows) precisely the consequences of his actions. He never acts rashly, carelessly, or thoughtlessly. Rather, he acts with complete understanding and purposeful forethought of all that has been and ever will be.
Again, the words we use matter, especially in our worship of Almighty God. And no matter how much we would like to, we cannot change the fact that the word "reckless" is never used as a positive description of one’s actions.
In common everyday terms, we use the word reckless only in negative ways:
We call those who drive drunk reckless drivers.
We say that those who blew through their inheritance, spent their money recklessly.
We consider North Korea reckless in their pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Biblical use of the word “reckless” carries the same negative connotation. In Judges 9:4, “Abimelech hired worthless and reckless men.” In Psalm 141:4, David prays that God would “not let [his] heart turn to any evil thing or wickedly perform reckless acts with men who commit sin.” In Ephesians 5:18, Paul admonishes the church at Ephesus to not “get drunk with wine, which [leads to] reckless actions.” (This is just 3 examples of many - each of which has a negative connotation).
In searching Google and Scripture, I can’t find any occasions where the word “reckless” is used in a positive way. Each time, it is used as a disparaging remark.
Even the biblical allusions/parables the songwriter uses to defend his use of the word are not a legitimate defense. Utilizing the parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:4-7) suggests that the shepherd is reckless in the sense that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep “open to wolf attacks, wandering bears, and robbers.” This is incorrect. As New Testament scholar Craig Keener observes of this parable, “A shepherd could leave his own flock with the other shepherds with whom he worked, who would be watching over their own flocks.” In doing so, the shepherd is free to search out the one that is lost. There is no carelessness here.
In addition, in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:13), it is the son whom Scripture calls reckless, not the father.
When society uses the word reckless, it has negative connotations. When Scripture uses the word reckless, it has negative connotations. A contemporary worship songwriter using the word incorrectly, doesn’t change 4,000 years of meaning.
God’s love is purposeful. It is persistent. It is even relentless. But, it is not reckless.