Sacred Song Story: Reckless Love
By Cheryl Arnold
“I think I just penned my opus,” Cory Asbury wrote to his manager at Bethel Music when sending him the demo of Reckless Love, which is one of our worship songs this Sunday. He did not know it would go on to win the 2018 Dove Awards for Song of the Year and Worship Song of the Year, be nominated for both a 2019 Grammy Award and Billboard Music Award, or hold the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart for 18 weeks in a row. “I just knew it was born from the depths of my being,” he wrote, “from the very core of my raw, imperfect-but-beautiful walk with the Father.”
While telling the song story in a video, Asbury says the phrase “the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God” dropped into his heart about five years before writing the song, when he started experiencing the kindness and goodness of the Father in a way he had never experienced before. The phrase stayed with him, but he did not know what to do with it. One night he awoke at 3 a.m. with the full melody of the chorus in his head. He grabbed his iPhone, shut himself in the bedroom closet, and sang the chorus into his phone. The next day he arranged the chorus on the piano and called his friend Caleb Culver to work on the verses.
The song went viral within hours of being released. The song also generated some controversy, with some Christian leaders harshly criticizing the use of the word reckless to describe God’s love. They define reckless as careless and irresponsible and point to the negative connotations such as reckless driving and reckless homicide. Asbury has defended his use of the word, and other Christian leaders, including John Piper and Glenn Packiam, have backed him up. Asbury says, “While I understand that my choice of words is undoubtedly bold, I believe in a God whose love is infinitely beyond the bounds of our English rolodex of descriptors, a God who lives so far outside the confines of human language that words fail to describe even the edges of his complexity.” He explains that reckless can also mean “without caution,” and he says God’s love for us is anything but cautious. He draws from Timothy Keller’s book The Prodigal God to point to how the word prodigal is similarly misunderstood. Prodigal is often used interchangeably with wayward, but it actually means spending money or resources freely or recklessly (without caution), as well as having or giving something on a lavish scale. Asbury quotes Keller, who wrote the following about the parable of the two sons in his book. “In this story the father represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew so well.…Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, his children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience.” Asbury and Keller both show us how the words reckless and prodigal have nuances that can lead us into a deeper understanding of God’s character.
After writing the song, Asbury went on to write the devotional book Reckless Love: A 40-Day Journey into the Overwhelming, Never-Ending Love of God (the source of the quotes used above). When it was published, I was walking through a painful season in which I needed daily reminders and assurance that God does indeed love me, so I used this book as a Lenten devotional that year. Its themes include how to live as children of God, how to understand and receive unmerited grace, and how to see the Father’s kindness, even amid trials and pain. Each entry includes a quote from a Christian leader or thinker, scripture references, a 3- to 5-page devotional reflection, and application questions for pondering or journaling. His reflections are often vulnerable and relatable, and his questions are often thought provoking. God used both this song and this book to speak to me during that season of life.