Is God’s Love Scandalous?
August 03, 2019
At the end of 2017, Christian music recording artist Cory Asbury released Reckless Love.The song became an overnight hit that rocked both the evangelical and secular world. By the end of 2018, on any given day, one could hear the song being performed on the radio by Justin Bieber or Israel Houghton. On the surface, it seemed as though everybody had fallen in love with Asbury’s interpretation of God’s love.
Not everyone, however, was excited about it. Many others didn’t like it at all. The thought of God’s love being reckless seemed, well, reckless. A sovereign God controlled and calculated every move. His love, the argument would go, wasn’t reckless but rather strategically extravagant. The debate was over the use of the word “reckless.”
I wonder if there would be a debate had Asbury chosen to use the word “scandalous” instead? Is God’s love scandalous? Could it be that the reason there was a debate at all is because God’s love—the very nature of it—seems so shocking, outrageous, and atrocious?
Another Christian music recording artist, Michael Card, recently published a book and released an album entitled Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness. Acknowledging that the Hebrew word is an “ever-incomplete working definition,” Card defines “Hesed” this way: when a person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything. Isn’t that a scandal?
Would it be a scandal if a judge granted a guilty criminal pardon along with a brand-new beach house in Maui? Would it be a scandal if a woman, who was actually caught in the act of adultery, was allowed to go away in freedom? Would it be a scandal if an innocent and godly husband purchased his wife from a brothel and brought her home as his wife again? Of course, it would. Yet, this is exactly how God’s love is described in the Bible.
Consider the story of the Old Testament minor prophet, Hosea (referred to by Card as a “novel of Hesed”). The prophet Hosea marries a woman named Gomer, who is unfaithful with countless men. She lives as a prostitute, refuses to repent, and continuously sells her body to others for money. Instead of letting her go, God tells Hosea to continue to purchase Gomer and bring her home, loving her again and again as his wife.
That’s a scandal. Can you imagine having to walk into a brothel to purchase your own wife—not just once, but twice? Would you be able to go back time and time again, knowing that your wife didn’t want to be with you and continues in her unfaithfulness? That’s precisely what God commanded Hosea to do, demonstrating to the nation of Israel (and us!) what God’s love looks like.
It’s intended to shock, because it is shocking. It’s intended to be atrocious, because from our perspective, it is. It’s supposed to feel unfair, because that is exactly what it is. Grace is never fair. The stubborn disobedience of Israel (and each of us!) is remarkably overcome by the superior stubborn nature of God’s love. We, who have zero rights to expect anything (but punishment and pain) from God, get everything.
Is God’s love scandalous? You tell me.
What kind of shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep to find the lost one (Luke 15:1-7)? What kind of father jumps up off the porch to hug and kiss and throw a party for the rebellious son who squandered all of his money (Luke 15:11-24)? What kind of Savior allows a “woman with a reputation” to kiss and clean His feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50)? What kind of King pardons a life-time criminal while hanging on a cross for the crime he committed (Luke 23:40-43)? What kind of Messiah would forgive the very people who spit on Him while enduring crucifixion (Luke 23:32-34)? What kind of God would send His own Son to die for the redemption of a rebellious, wicked, ungrateful and unwilling people (Romans 5:8)? What kind of God commits to love forever a people who were yet to be born, before they had done anything to prove/disprove themselves (Ephesians 1:3-12)?
The answer: a scandalous God—the God of the Bible—the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ—the God who loves you in this way (yes, even you).
You can call it whatever you wish—reckless, scandalous, or calculated extravagance. But if you haven’t been knocked over in shock over God’s love, you don’t understand it yet. The One who has the right to turn away from you has chosen to love you and give you everything forever. That is shockingly (scandalously) good.