It happens every now and again. Someone releases an amazing song, but there’s that troublesome lyric. Some people are for, some against, there’s a robust discussion, feathers are ruffled, people disappear back behind the parapet slightly more ingrained in the view they already held. My thoughts here are not intended to ruffle feathers, but to explain why I won’t use the song Reckless Love in the specific setting of Corporate sung worship.
Cory Asbury is a gifted songwriter. Reckless is a song crafted and executed with a high degree of skill. That it has caused any debate at all is testament to just how good the songwriting is.
Art and the Message
Music is art, songs are artworks. Art is a tool for communication. Sometimes the words are doing the communication, sometimes the music, often both. In my experience of Corporate worship we actually tend to be quite limited musically in how we communicate loud/quiet, happy/sad (which is why “Sin” by Kings Kaleidoscope had such an impact on me. The dissonance! But I digress). Words on the other hand are our bread and butter, inspired by the richness of the God-breathed scriptures.
There are similes, metaphors, literary devices. We can quickly understand that The Kings of Leon’s sex was not literally on fire (though that would have been notable for very different reasons); that God’s love is devoted like [but not literally as] a ring of solid gold, and of course that at the moment of salvation God’s eye did not diffuse a literal quickening ray to release us from literal chains. These things draw vivid word pictures (thanks again Kings of Leon!) and can help to articulate aspects of Gods multifaceted truth.
Similarly sometimes using arcane, unorthodox or interesting words can be useful. I find this most often at Christmas, when we thither until our footsteps bend and millions worldwide consider out loud together that Mary’s uterus was not in the least bit abhorrent to the Lord.
In the context of a worship song, they give you a little jolt- what am I singing? Why does this song use a different word? What is the author trying to say here? These are the tools and the craft of the trade. I am very much for using songwriters working like jewellers crafting their words to create a setting that presents the gems of God’s glorious gospel brightly, emphasising shape and colour from multiple angles.
What of Reckless love?
So to the question; is God’s love reckless? By any biblical definition that matches my understanding of our word in English (ancient or modern), I don’t think it is.
Google defines it as: “heedless of danger or the consequences of one’s actions; rash or impetuous.”
Wiktionary.org notes the etymology: “From Middle English rekles, reckeles, rekkeles, (also recheles), from Old English rēcelēas (“reckless, careless, negligent”), equivalent to reck + -less. Cognate with West Frisian roekeleas (“reckless”), Dutch roekeloos (“reckless”), German Low German ruuklos (“careless”), German ruchlos (“careless, notorious”).”
As far as the song goes, can you sing:
“Oh the Careless\negligent\rash love”? No- God planned and prepared it
“Oh the headstrong love”? No- we don’t get to describe God as headstrong. God is I AM; He does as He pleases.
“Oh the Love”? No. Christ counted the cost in great anguish in the garden of Gethsemane
By all of those definitions of the word reckless, it is inapplicable. Obviously I’m not saying that Cory Asbury is trying to mislead anyone. He’s exercising his craft, attempting to articulate the multifaceted mystery of God’s love. He’s saying that to human eyes it is a reckless, abandoned, seemingly over-generous, un-repayable love.
In fact he says as much in his facebook post explaining the terminology: “When I use the phrase, “the reckless love of God”, I’m not saying that God Himself is reckless”. Which is where me and the song fall out, because if God is love and his love is reckless…
So my personal view is that it’s simply the wrong word and that an otherwise impeccably crafted song fails in a key area. That’s life this side of heaven after all; we see in part.
Is it suitable for Corporate Worship?
I can’t speak for you or your congregation, but we have chosen not to use this song. Here are some questions I’ve asked:
- What does worshipping a God for his “Reckless” love communicate to people without the maturity to test it against scripture? I’m thinking particularly of non-Christians, but also new and immature Christians.
- Do I think it might confuse people as to God’s nature? (I do).
- Does it simply require explanation (which we often do when we sing things like “The Lion and the Lamb”)? As above, I could not explain how it fits in anything but a tenuous sense.
As a worship leader, I’m thinking of these things chiefly with a pastoral hat on. At the Newday worship training earlier in the year Terry Virgo spoke about how we are gatekeepers and that we put words in peoples mouths. I want to do that with care before the Lord. No -I don’t expect to get it right all the time. I accept that we might pass up on some good songs because I am shepherding conservatively. I pray that God keeps me and leads me in this, and keeps me from stifling the prophetic.
Whatever you choose to do, may God bless it!