Mothering God

As Mother’s Day approaches, I am reminded of the mothering attributes of God. Certainly most of us are most comfortable and most familiar with God as “Our Father which art in heaven…”.  In fact, this is how Jesus encourages us to pray. However, when Jesus spoke of God as Our Father, his focus was not to establish a sacred, divine gender, but rather, Jesus was emphasizing our relationship as children of the Creator. He chose to use common language that people could relate to and easily understand. Jesus wanted us to know that our God is different from the capricious Greek deities. Consequently, we are not required to use flowery speech or long prayers filled with empty accolades and titles in order for God to hear our prayers (Matthew 6:7). Jesus’ use of the word father was less about gender and more about a father’s powerful familial role in a patriarchal society. In fact, God as father is only one way that sacred scripture illustrates the Creator.

For example, there are many scriptures that describe God as Our Mother. In Luke 15:8-10, Jesus, in one of his parables, depicts God as a woman who has lost a silver coin and sweeps the whole house – carefully searching until she finds it. And of course, there is Matthew 23:37. In this scripture, Jesus himself steps into the role of mother saying, “How often have I desired to gather you children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…”.  In Hosea 13:8, God is imaged as an angry mother bear defending her cubs. In Deuteronomy 32:11-12, we witness God as a majestic mother eagle who “stirs up her nest, and hovers over her young; as she spreads her wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on her pinions.” Aren’t these verses a treasure?
In Isaiah 46:1-4, the prophet records God’s declaration of giving birth to God’s people. The prophet writes, “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” Whenever I read passages like this, I think about all that our mothers have done for us and all that we are willing to do for our children.

In another passage from Isaiah (42:12-14), we see an image of God as a warrior juxtaposed with an image of God as a woman in labor. These two representations of God help expand our definition of God’s strength and God’s connectedness and concern for us. Furthermore, these examples also offer new language about childbirth. I am sure that some women who have been through childbirth might liken labor to a warrior in battle. The prophet writes: “Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare his praise in the coastlands. The Lord goes forth like a soldier, like a warrior he stirs up his fury; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes. For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” These verses paint a picture of our God in unmistakably feminine characteristics that we rarely encounter in our traditional discourse about God.
This rich and amazing imagery reminds us that the God we serve is far beyond our human understanding and certainly defies pedestrian definitions of gender. Consequently, it is impossible for any single image, symbol, or title to fully encapsulate all of who God is. The indescribable majesty and incomprehensible mystery of Almighty God simply breaks the backs of words and exhausts the strength of our vocabulary. Therefore, it is a blessing for us to have these many and varied representations of the God of the universe.

So, as we think about the diverse ways that we experience God’s mothering love, I would like to leave you with one of the most beautifully compassionate illustrations of God as Our Mother:

Rejoice with Jerusalem; be glad for her, all you that love this city!
Rejoice with her now, all you that have mourned for her!
You will enjoy her prosperity, like a nursing child with her mother.
The Lord says, “I will bring you lasting prosperity; the wealth of the nations will flow to you like a river that never goes dry. You will be like a child that is nursed by her mother, carried in her arms, and dandled on her knees. I will comfort you in Jerusalem as a mother comforts her child.
Isaiah 66:10-13

Rev. Angela T. Khabeb

(This article first appeared in Ascension’s May 2017 newsletter).