I don’t know if I have much to add to the controversy, certainly not any kind of final word on it, but this song does show one of the main difficulties I’ve had with worship music; namely, that it’s a mix of good and bad, that it’s a song that can have a line or two that is very good yet also have other lines that seem at least questionable or even outright wrong.
Excessive emphasis on myself/ourselves: There is a lot of emphasis on oneself in this song. Almost every phrase has some reference to “I” or “me”. One thing that should be noted, and noted in its favor, is that there is nothing in it about how this I loves God so very very much, or how much this I wants to do some crazy thing to show his or her loves for God. In fact, the only time it comes close to what this I can do is in the phrase “I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it”, and if this could be seen as referring to God’s love as shown in Christ’s death for our sins and for our salvation, then this is a statement very much to be agreed with. For the rest of the song, the “I” and “me” phrases refer to what God has done for us, which is at least a step in a better direction than a lot of statements about what this I wants to do.
Excessive sentimentalism and emotionalism: I guess this starts to get into why the writer used the word “reckless” describe God’s love, and if that is a good word or, well, a reckless one.
Cory Asbury, the writer or co-writer of this song, has written a response to the controversy about using the word “reckless” in the context of God’s love. It’s in a rather long Twitter post, which is here, https://twitter.com/coryasbury/status/875020568818483200?lang=en
There’s a lot to this response, and I’m sure he put quite a bit of thought into it, but if I’m honest, my own impression is that he’s trying too desperately to hide a lack of substance behind some overly sentimental hyperbole. If you can get past the emotional parts of his words, you can see that he’s not saying much of anything at all about God, much less anything with real biblical support to it.
The Bible says a lot about God: that he knows the end from the beginning; that he is all-powerful and all-knowing; that nothing happens apart from his will.
I know that our language, or any earthly language, is inadequate to fully describe God, so we must sometimes use language that can be tricky; for example, one biblical passage says that the foolishness of God is higher than the wisdom of man, which can be tricky if we think that God has any foolishness in him at all.
I could accept that Asbury was using “reckless” to describe something about God, and maybe did so clumsily, but his Twitter response still isn’t helpful. His statements about God seem to be filled with his own thoughts, how he thinks God is, than about what the Bible says God is like.
Does God not consider himself first? Several biblical passages say that God acted for his own sake.
9 “For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off.
10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
6 Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.
7 Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.
25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
26 Put me in remembrance; let us argue together; set forth your case, that you may be proved right.
27 Your first father sinned, and your mediators transgressed against me.
28 Therefore I will profane the princes of the sanctuary, and a deliver Jacob to utter destruction and Israel to reviling.
It seems pretty plain that God does, indeed, act for his own sake, for the sake of his name. It’s not that he also doesn’t act for our good, too, but he is concerned for his own name and his own glory. Is that egotistical, selfish, unloving? No. God’s ways are higher than ours. For a good article about God’s supposed egotism, I’d suggest this, Is God a Megalomaniac? Right Answer. Wrong Reason. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/is-god-a-megalomaniac-right-answer-wrong-reason
Did God’s love bankrupt heaven for us? What does that mean? Where does the Bible teach or imply that?
Does God’s love get him hurt over and over? Upon what biblical basis are we to believe that?
In the end, Asbury’s response is a whole lot of fluff with very little substance, and his use of the word reckless to describe God’s love is unwise, pointing more towards a syrupy and romanticized view of love than anything biblical.
Manipulation: Not much of a problem. Maybe the strong emphasis on God’s love without reference to other aspects of God’s character could be problematic, especially if one sees this song as proclaiming how much God loves all people, even those who are not his children, not redeemed, who have not believed in Christ and repented of their sins.
Fanciful but unbiblical imagery: This is another thing that doesn’t seem like much of an issue in this song.
Theology: There could be at least one serious problem here, and I’m not referring to the word “reckless”.
In what I guess is the second verse, there are two statements that are striking in their contrast. The first is this:
When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me
This is pretty good. The Bible is clear that all people who are not God’s children are enemies of God. This isn’t a popular idea, and that it should show up in a very popular song like this one is surprising, and in a good way.
But, then, there’s this:
When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me
This lines seems like the imposition of modern self-worth think into the song, but it simply doesn’t point to the gospel.
Did Christ die for us because we felt no worth? Was Jesus’ death suppose to cure us of a lack of feeling worth for ourselves, and cause us to see ourselves as being worth something, worthy of something? If Jesus “paid it all for me”, what was it that he paid?
We are not saved from feeling like we have no worth; if anything, it would be closer to the truth to say that one thing we are saved from is the pride that makes us think ourselves fit to rule our own lives, the pride that makes us rebel against God and eagerly break every law he’s given us, the pride that not only does all that but would happily drag all the world down to hell with us in our rebellion.
If anything, we are not saved from a feeling no worth, but from our overweening sense of self-worth.
That is one reason the church must preach the law. We must see ourselves as the rebels we are, we must see how much we’ve broken God’s laws, how we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God, how very unworthy we are of God’s favor and blessing and salvation.
But we can’t stop there. The gospel must be preached, too. If a man is in the water and knows he’s about to drown, then the time to tell him he’s in danger is past, it’s time to rescue him from his dangerous situation. The gospel is God’s rescuing us from our sins and just condemnation.
So, this is one of those lyrics I simply could not sing, because it’s not telling anyone the truth. It’s not truly proclaiming the gospel, but some watered-down self-worth with a bit of God thrown in version of it. If anything, this is more serious than the use of “reckless”.