We started this series several weeks ago by looking at one of the popular Bethel Music songs titled “Reckless Love.” It was written in 2017 by Cory Asbury, Caleb Culver and Ran Jackson. If you haven’t read the previous parts of the series, we invite you to click below to read –
Some people may think I’m picking on Cory at this point, but that is not true. I’ve read and heard Cory’s personal testimony and he seems like a young man who loves God deeply. The issue I have is with what some of Cory’s music, along with other writers’ praise and worship music, is teaching Christians about the nature of God. Lyrics in Christian music teach Christian doctrine in ways that are both powerful and memorable. Writers of Christian songs MUST get the message right. Cory is also a worship pastor, which places him in a special category within the Church as a teacher of God’s Word (e.g. James 3:1).
I might add that is true of all ‘worship pastors’ in churches around the world. They are just as responsible for handling the Word of God correctly as the ‘teaching pastors’ in those churches (e.g. 2 Timothy 2:15). Why? Because they have a teaching platform in their churches. Their audience will believe what they say and sing to be true and theologically correct unless the teaching pastor or a church elder sets them straight in front of that same audience.
[Podcast version available at the end of this article.]
As I pointed out in the first part of our series, the word ‘reckless’ as a description of God’s love for us does not agree with Scripture. Since some of the song ‘Reckless Love’ does agree with Scripture, it could be a simple matter of replacing the word ‘reckless’ with a word that does agree with Scripture. The words ‘amazing’ and ‘wonderful’ are two examples we shared. That would change the chorus to –
“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, amazing 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, wonderful love of God.”
In the second part of our series, I shared a bigger concern based on a testimony the primary writer of ‘Reckless Love’ shared on YouTube –
“Reckless love is really the song of my whole life. That phrase kinda dropped in my heart about maybe five years ago. I just started experiencing the kindness of the Father, the goodness of the Father in a way I’d never experienced before; and so that phrase ‘the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God was kind of lodged in here [points to heart]. I didn’t know what to do with it. One night I woke up, it was probably three in the morning, and I had the full melody for that chorus. I grabbed my iPhone and I ran in the closet and I closed he door and sang it into my iPhone and the next day I just sat down at the piano and kinda pounded out the chorus … A lot of people have asked why I used the word ‘reckless’ to describe God. I see the love of God as something wild, insane, crazy; the way He pursues, the way He chases us down, the way that He loves, I believe is reckless. So, we were going after that really furious, sort of violent language to speak of the nature of the love of God.” Bethel Music, January 2018
The dictionary definitions of the word ‘reckless’ include – “careless, rash, headlong and irresponsible, acting without thinking about the results of your actions, lack of care or caution, impetuous, inconsiderate.” None of those definitions even begin to approach the reality of the true nature of God’s love.
So, the logical question – what would cause anyone to use such an inaccurate word to describe something as important as the nature of God’s love?
Cory said he and his fellow writers “were going after that really furious, sort of violent language to speak of the nature of the love of God.”
Since the Bible NEVER refers to God’s love as reckless, wild, insane or crazy, how could Cory or anyone else discover language that would be “really furious, sort of violent” about the nature of the love of God? Where would someone even get the idea they could find anything true about God’s love by searching for language that was ‘really furious, sort of violent’?
Let’s first look at what the Bible teaches us about the nature of God’s love. Then we’ll look at why someone would search for answers to God’s love nature through language they describe as ‘furious’ and ‘violent.’
One of the first things I studied after becoming a Christian was about the ‘nature’ of God.
I learned that God is –
- Personal (Three Persons in One God)
- Present Everywhere at the Same Time
- Righteous and Just
Since Cory and the other writers of ‘Reckless Love’ said they were “going after that really furious, sort of violent language to speak of the nature of the love of God,” we’ll focus on God’s ‘Love’ Nature
God’s Love Nature
John the Apostle referred to himself in the Gospel he wrote as the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (e.g. John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). The love nature of Jesus was very important to John. John is the same apostle who wrote that “God is love” (1 John 4:8).
Let’s look at the entire context of what John wrote about the nature of God’s love to see if we find some language we could identify as “furious, sort of violent,” keeping in mind the definition of those words (furious, violent) –
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 4:8 – 5:5
Here are the highlights from this amazing portion of God’s Word. Select those words or phrases that describe God’s love as furious or violent –
- let us love one another, for love is of God
- everyone who loves is born of God and knows God
- He who does not love does not know God, for God is love
- In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
- In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins
- if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another
- If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.
- And we have known and believed the love that God has for us
- God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him
- Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment
- There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear
- he who fears has not been made perfect in love
- We love Him because He first loved us
- If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen
- And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also
- Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him
- For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.
Do we learn about the fury and violence of the ‘love’ nature of God from the disciple whom Jesus loved? I don’t see it here. I also don’t see it elsewhere in sections of the Bible that address the love nature of God.
God’s Fury and Violence
Here’s what we’ve written before about God’s fury and violence –
“It is true that God’s ‘actions’ can appear to human beings as furious and violent (e.g. global Flood, destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Israelites fighting Canaanites, Tribulation Period), but is that because God’s love is ‘furious and violent’ or because God is ‘righteous and just’?
God’s fury is connected to His wrath (anger) against wickedness. His fury can be violent. Some examples –
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” Genesis 6:6-7
“Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.” Genesis 19:24-25
“But if you indeed obey His voice and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. For My Angel will go before you and bring you in to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites and the Hivites and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their works; but you shall utterly overthrow them and completely break down their sacred pillars.” Exodus 23:22-24
“For the indignation of the Lord is against all nations, And His fury against all their armies; He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to the slaughter.” Isaiah 34:2
“Therefore thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place—on man and on beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground. And it will burn and not be quenched.” Jeremiah 7:20
God’s Word is clear about His anger, fury and violence. He is furious with His enemies.
God’s Word is also clear about His love. He loves people with a sacrificial love –
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:16-17
That’s awesome! God’s love is thoughtful, purposeful, considerate (opposite of ‘reckless’).
However, what if people reject God’s sacrificial love?
“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” John 3:18-20
Condemnation – would that lead to God’s judgment? His fury? His wrath? His violence?
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:11-15
The fury and violence we see in Scripture comes from the Just and Righteous Nature of God. God’s Love Nature is His merciful response to those under His wrath who respond to His gracious offer of forgiveness –
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” Ephesians 2:1-7
Did you see that? Every human being is by nature a child of wrath. But God is rich in mercy because of His great love with which He loved us. Even when we were dead in trespasses and sins, God loved us and “made us alive together with Christ”!
Why would a Christian pastor, teaching or worship, believe they need to search for fury and violence in the love nature of God? What theological training would lead to that kind of thinking and interpretation?
Christian teaching is simply the ‘doctrine’ of Christianity. That’s what the Greek word translated ‘teaching’ means – didaché (“doctrine, what is taught”). The Apostle Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and three-thousand people were saved. What did those people do? “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
That’s what the 1st century Church did and that’s what the 21st century should do – continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine (teaching) and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
There must be something else going on that would cause a teaching or worship pastor to go after “that really furious, sort of violent language to speak of the nature of the love of God.” We’ll see what might be at the root of this in the next part of our special series, Is God’s Love Reckless?
We invite you to watch this video about churches using Bethel and Hillsong music as part of their worship services.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.