Rethinking "Reckless Love"
By Bill and Karen Itzel
Two years ago, I wrote an article in my series of Exegeting the Hymns where I looked at the lyrics of “Reckless Love” and concluded that we’d never sing it at the church where I led worship. That article took a lot of heat because there were so many strong feelings about the song and many in our church wanted to sing it. However, now that time has passed and I have heard many stories of how that song was such an encouragement, I have decided to look back over the lyrics, and see if I was being overly-critical. In doing so, I feel as though I made a mistake.
I believe I was not as thoroughly bold as I should have been in my criticism.
At that time, there were several reasons why I had to tone down my warning to the church, but I plan to remedy that here. I want to make it clear why I feel I need to write this. Many wonderful, caring pastors and worship leaders spend hours pouring over their song choices every Sunday to make sure God is worshipped in spirit and in truth. For them I am thankful and encouraged. But my heart is broken for the flocks of God who are force-fed this doctrinally sloppy, humanized version of God. However, the theology this song teaches does not surprise me, as this song comes from one of the most infamous swamps of theological blasphemies on the evangelical landscape.
Bethel church of Redding, CA, led by Bill Johnson, has been uniquely creative in their distorting of the gospel. Any church that believes that Jesus laid down His deity (ceased to be God and only acted as a man when He came to earth), should not be a church that any discerning, orthodox body would want to financially support through royalties or endorse and emulate in their worship. Ephesians 5 says, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them.” When good, evangelical churches legally report the songs they sing to CCLI, and print sheet music and lyrics, the writers and publishers of the songs get paid. Should we be concerned when we give our offerings to our church, knowing part of it will go to a synagogue of Satan that is intentionally leading people to the gates of hell?
As with any of the devil’s works of deception, there is usually a lot of truth and just enough error to poison the soul. Such is the case here. Sadly, many worshippers read lines like, “You have been so, so good to me”, “I couldn't earn it, and I don't deserve it”, and "You paid it all for me”, and are swept away by the melody (and most likely popularity) of such a song. But there is so much more to interpret here, and now is not the time to be undiscerning, lazy, or dare I say “reckless”. So with that in mind, let’s look at the lyrics.
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. The song starts out harmlessly enough. I am assuming this speaks of God’s goodness and creation of life in the womb. It can’t be speaking about salvation as that is contrary to salvation by grace through faith taught throughout scripture.
O, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. How is the love of God “reckless”? Reckless is defined as “doing something without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action.” It implies risk. It implies a gamble. It implies foolish decision making. It is completely inconsistent with an omniscient, omnipotent, and immutable God. We wouldn't speak of the "foolhardy, careless, negligent, thoughtless, hasty love of God...but they are all synonyms of reckless. John 10:25-28 shows God’s complete control at all times over the salvation process, the very opposite of “reckless”.
Some will counter with the argument, “God’s love isn’t ACTUALLY reckless, but it seems reckless from MY perspective. Do we determine doctrine by what it “seems to me”? (Job 38:4-7) Rather than being an argument FOR the song, it’s actually an argument AGAINST it. It may “feel” like God is being reckless, but that is not who God really is or what He really does. For instance, God’s justice may seem unfair tous, but would we sing of the “unfair justice” of God just because in our immaturity, we don’t understand the Just Judge of all the earth? Rather than writing a song about how the Bible speaks of God, this is a song about how the writer thinks God is, or feels about what God has done. The danger is when this idea becomes so prevalent in our worship that it cements a false view of who God truly is.
We need to be very fastidious when creating anthropopathisms for God (giving human characteristics to God) in our worship. The Bible uses them flawlessly because it is God Himself inspiring it, but so many worship songs and books today attribute such base human characteristics to God that it makes Him seem less holy and omnipotent at best, and dives into the erotic, sensual, and heretical at worst. Most Christians have never even heard of the doctrines of the Impassibility or Aseity of God and it shows in songs like this. What does the Bible call it when we make God in our image? Idolatry. God has revealed His attributes in the pages of scripture and it is not up to us to redefine Him based on how we would like to perceive God.
I have been told that I think too much about the lyrics, but that’s the biggest problem with modern worship today. We don’t think, we feel. When we shut off our minds and let our emotions run the show, it’s no wonder why most evangelical Christians today never grow beyond a CCM-level theology. Bands like Hillsong and Bethel have concocted a cookie cutter sound that works well at building our emotions. I’m not saying emotions have no part in worship, but they should be a reaction to the truths we sing, not solely because we mindlessly repeated a bridge 8 times and now the drums are building back into the chorus. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24)
O, it chases me down. Sadly, songs like this seem to be the norm on Christian Radio today, and sure, it helps us with our need to have our ego stroked, but is it truth? Unlike scripture which gives a humble, low view of man and a high, noble view of God, this song flips that truth on its head and shows God chasing after man, hoping for a good outcome. This whole song views God as a needy being who’s heart will just break if He fails to get us all to heaven. There are two false ideas in this line. First, "God exists to serve me" in contrast to the biblical view that "I exist to serve God.". Second, God needs to really put forth a lot of effort for Him to do all His holy will. An omnipotent God accomplishes all He has planned to do from before the foundation of the world, and that includes the salvation of His elect. (Ephesians 1:11)
Fights ’til I’m found. This begs the question, fights whom? Does Jesus fight God? Does God fight us? Does God fight the devil? Who is actually putting up a fight that forces God to put forth effort? Our flesh may war against the Spirit, but an omnipotent God does not “fight for us” in the context of salvation. Nowhere is this language in scripture (Other than when Israel lived under a theocracy and was battling human armies). It is never used when referring to the work of God in salvation. God draws, effectually calls, regenerates, and opens the eyes of the blind; He doesn’t fight. This is just not biblical language. God is not up in heaven cheering us on, waiting to see if we’ll get saved. That is the false teaching of “Open Theism” where God doesn’t know what is going to happen in the future. Open Theism “rejects the classical view of God’s immutability and omniscience, holding that God grows, discovers things He did not know, and changes His mind. God has taken the risk of creating humans, whose actions He cannot necessarily foreknow.” Instead, the God of the Bible is unchanging, eternally complete in His knowledge of all things. He does not grow or learn or improve. (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17, Job 23:13)
Leaves the ninety-nine. There are so many man-centered interpretations of this analogy, so let’s read the actual story in Luke 15. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” This speaks of God taking the initiative in saving His elect who are lost. He does not bow down and beg the lost sheep to come with Him. The ninety-nine were the unbelieving pharisees who felt they did not need to repent. He left them in their sins (Romans 1), gave them over, and sought out the one, found them, picked them up, and saved them. All that God determines to save, He saves. (John 6:37) The point of this parable is not the worth of the sheep, nor the act of searching, but the inevitable finding and rejoicing.
I couldn't earn it, and I don't deserve it, still, You give Yourself away. There is much truth in the first two phrases, but the third is typical clumsy, cliche writing that has little theological meaning. I assume it means that Jesus gave up His life as a propitiation, taking the just wrath of God on the cross in our place, but it sounds more like a line out of an Air Supply song. Even if it said you GAVE yourself away, it could refer to the cross, but this line implies a continual giving. Jesus died once for all. (Romans 6:10, Hebrews 7:27) When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me. Again, fought whom? Fighting implies a struggle. It implies a possibility of losing. This is not a proper description of God’s work of regeneration in the heart of a dead man to make Him alive. This is man-centered, theologically muddy writing. When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me. Did Jesus die for us because we “felt" we had no worth, or because we were rebellious sinners? Did Jesus pay for our feelings, or for our transgressions? Was the death of Christ for the purpose of making us somehow feel worthy of God’s grace?
There's no shadow You won't light up, mountain You won't climb up coming after me. There’s no wall You won't kick down, lie You won't tear down coming after me. I am glad that God saved me, without my permission to do so, when I was His enemy, dead in my sins. It is gracious, it is amazing, it is loving, it is merciful. But this song views God as not only reckless and needy, but even ineffective. If “There's no shadow You won't light up, mountain You won't climb up, wall You won't kick down, lie You won't tear down coming after mankind”, and most of mankind is on the wide path that will eventually lead to hell, then God is basically a failure, unsuccessful in His mission. This is not the God of the Bible. This is the God of Bethel Church. It is not the same God. My prayer is that, if you are a church leader, you would think and pray about not partnering with this false temple.
So why write this article now? It's been 2 years since the song was released and it has been recorded by over 100 different artists. The answer...in 2 years, this song has opened the door for more and more man-centered anthems. The false teachings of "little god theology" and "speaking declarations" taught by Bethel and other New Apostolic Reformation churches has grown in popularity, and much of the new worship music being foisted on the church today is laced with this toxin. After Paul’s admonition to "Not become partners with them” in Ephesians 5, he tells us to “try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” We discern what is pleasing to the Lord from scripture, not our “own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Paul continues, “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” That is why we must continue to call out false teachers and warn the flock of the wolves sent in to destroy. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-16) James White said it well, “True worship must worship God as He exists, not as we wish Him to be."