In Sunday school they taught us about God our Father and—if we were lucky—perhaps about Jesus our Brother.
In youth group we learned about Jesus our Best Friend and in college and careers group we were taught about Jesus our Husband (or perhaps Lover, if you were a dude and ‘Husband’ felt awkward).
But no one ever taught me about God our Mother. I had to learn that one on my own, and it wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I really started to learn that God is not just fathering me, he’s mothering me, too.
In Genesis the creation story describes humankind as being created in God’s image, male and female. Both are made from him, both display aspects of his very nature, both are given to reflect a more complete picture of who he is.
So why then are we so quick to sound the heresy alarm when a person attributes anything “feminine” to God?
I remember as a child being told about those ‘weirdoes’ who believed God was a female. They are into New Age and what they believe isn’t Truth (capital ‘T’), I was warned in various forms from various sources.
And maybe “those people” were weirdoes — I don’t know. But as an adult I’ve begun to realize how much we’ve idolized the masculine nature of God and forgotten the feminine even though God is often described in his more “feminine” nature in scripture.
God as a ‘he,’ God as a ‘she’
I can’t even decide if I should write about his “feminine” nature in quotes or not. Is this feminine nature literal or figurative? Because seriously, categorizing the male and female attributes of God feels tricky to me.
Who are we to decide that his power and strength and protection and provision reflect his masculine side? And who are we to deem his sensitivity, wisdom, comfort, tenderness, and nurturing ways are a reflection his feminine side? (Even if these feel normal or right to me.) If God is both male and female (or neither male nor female) then why must we draw lines in the sand for what belongs where? (And of course even these delineations are contingent on our human and cultural constructs of gender norms, which I have absolutely no desire to debate.)
Lord have mercy, it feels like a land mine.
And YET. I believe there is something significant about recognizing and affirming the maternal, feminine side of God.
It’s all a little uncomfortable
Let’s be honest. For most of us, making God a “he” is way easier to wrap our brains around. Mostly, I’m okay with that. There are many reasons we’ve deemed God a “he” throughout the ages. Language demands a gender assignment (it would feel so off to call God an “it” — am I right?), our culture has traditionally deemed males to be the more superior or authoritative gender, and of course Jesus (a male) relates to God as his Father (a he). All of those reasons are good enough for me. (Well, two thirds of them anyway. That middle one, not so much.)
And truth be told, thinking of God in terms of the feminine can make me slightly uncomfortable. (You too?) I’m not sure if this is because of the deeply-rooted stigma in my mind about “New Age weirdoes” or because I’m so used to reading he/his/him pronouns for God all throughout the bible. Maybe it’s because so many of the Old Testament stories enforce the gender stereotypes of God as a strong ruler/warrior/provider/leader/protector (all traditionally male roles). Or maybe it’s because I generally just like to think of him as my perfect dad, Papa God. In any case, a ‘masculine’ God is what I’m used to (and therefore is so much easier for me to imagine), and yet I’ve realized that I need a Mother God, too.
Some seasons expose this need and desire more than others.
Summer of Suffering
This summer has been called a “summer of suffering” by many. Even as I was still reeling in the fresh wake of my second miscarriage, it felt like the world took a swift turn, plunging into a tsunami of one heartbreaking news story after another.
All of a sudden planes were plummeting from the sky, children and innocents were being beheaded, racial tension was overflowing on once-forgotten streets and lighting our news feeds on fire, war and violence was escalating in Gaza and the Ukraine, the Ebola epidemic began wreaking havoc on the continent of Africa, highlighting economic injustice and the bondage of systemic poverty as we learned of the dying and the dead.
Closer to home, longtime friends were diagnosed with aggressive cancer or their existing conditions worsened. Others were handed frightening diagnoses for their unborn babies. Still more lost children to miscarriage or brothers to addiction or close friends to suicide. I felt like the earth was crumbling around us and I know I’ve not been alone in my sadness, confusion, and lament during these uncertain times.
Longing for a Mother God
This summer as the suffering of the world gave way to ripped open hearts, it’s felt like we just might bleed right through our skin and taint everything we set our eyes on if we’re not careful.
And as the world groans under the weight of oppression and we hold our collective breath waiting for Jesus our Rescuer to come, there is no one I want more in the meantime than my Mama God to draw me close by her Spirit and speak words of comfort into my battle-weary soul. My need for her is fierce – our strong yet tender, wise and compassionate, nurturing, sensitive, beautiful Mother God.
I’m looking for her to—as Jesus said—gather her brood and shelter us in her wings (Luke 13:34) where it’s warm, safe, and secure. I’m certain it’s there under her wings where peace reigns. (And Lord knows we all need some peace right about now.)
God and the language of mothering
My own experiences relating to the children I so ferociously love has given me a richer understanding of the way God mothers—parents—me. As I’ve learned to mother them I’ve begun to recognize the many ways God is simultaneously mothering me.
And maybe it’s not of supreme importance to make a distinction between the ‘fatherheart’ and the ‘motherheart’ of God, because both are encompassed in the whole heart of God, not one side heavier or more imperative than the other. But for me personally, it helps enrich my human understanding when I remember that God is so much more than just a father; he’s my mother, too. The language of mothering helps me to embrace the sort of tender, gracious God that wants to gather me close and hide me under her wings.
I wonder if the language of mothering might help others to realize God more fully, too?
The series: Exploring the Motherheart of God
Because I believe many hearts are crying out to know and experience God more deeply in the aftermath of this “summer of suffering,” I’ve asked some of my favorite writers to explore their perspective of the motherheart of God in a series I’m simply calling Exploring the Motherheart of God. I believe the words of these godly women will bring hope, comfort, and inspiration to souls in need of a revelation of God’s beautiful and dynamic motherheart.
This series is not meant to be a theological discussion on the male or female attributes of God (or humans, for that matter). What it’s meant to be is an encouragement and an invitation for us all to curl up into the bosom of God’s chest and sit there for a while — just where we belong — and let ourselves be cradled, sung over, nurtured, and cared for in a fresh and holy way.
Question: Have you ever thought of God as Mother before? Why or why not?
Please note: I realize I’ve used both male and female pronouns in reference to God in this post, without employing much consistency. I’ve sometimes even done it in the same paragraph… or worse, the same sentence. Entirely awkward, I know. But it is what it is. I’m still grappling with how to even write about this stuff in a way that both makes sense to me and will still (hopefully) connect with you, dear readers. Thanks for your grace as I explore.
THE MOTHERHEART OF GOD SERIES:
God As A She? by Adriel Booker — “In Sunday school they taught us about God our Father and—if we were lucky—perhaps about Jesus our Brother. In youth group we learned about Jesus our Best Friend and in college and careers group we were taught about Jesus our Husband (or perhaps Lover, if you were the sort of dude that felt awkward with ‘Husband’). But no one ever taught me about God our Mother. I had to learn that one on my own. . .” continue reading>>>
Relentlessly Tender by Megan Kimmelshue — “Jesus is, as Brennan Manning puts it, “relentlessly tender” with me and oh, how I need that tenderness as we brave these waters of the little years and the hormonal fluctuations of the postpartum months and sleep deprivation. I need to be nurtured, to have a safe place to cry my tears of frustration or those tears of I don’t know why I’m crying but I am. To stay with me while I tantrum, ranting and raving over little things that are hardly of any consequence but that mean something to me at that moment.” continue reading>>>
Strong, Fierce, Wild by Bronwyn Lea — “I’d gone into motherhood feeling I was taking a leave of absence the rich, cultivated spiritual lands of Ministry and Regular Quiet Times. I was expecting a wilderness. . .But God met me in the nursery and planted an oasis just beside the rocker-glider. God met me aching, tender, weeping, nurturing, delighting in my children’s delights, holding them through the sadness, rejoicing in their growth, participating in their adventures, relishing getting to know them as little people. And time after time, in those moments of quintessential mothering, I heard God’s heart whisper to mine. . .” continue reading>>>
A New Picture by Bethany Bassett — “The fierce intensity in Charlton Heston’s eyes, his dominating stance, the power symbolized by his arm-cuffs, even his thickly silvered beard—all of it filled in my mental image of God as neatly as if Charlton himself had graced the pages of my Bible. That God was a muscly Caucasian man in his sixties, I had no doubt. Perhaps that had already been suggested to me through Bible cartoons or maybe it was a projection of my own small worldview, but I knew exactly what I was seeing when Moses spread his arms across our church’s TV screen: Father. Judge. Ruler. Smiter. The Divine Patriarch. The All-Powerful Begetter. God.” continue reading>>>
God is a Midwife by Becca of Exile Fertility — “If our mothers had named the Holy One, would God have firstly been midwife, continually welcoming new life in even the most excruciating circumstances? I have never found God absent in my darkest nights, even when the pain has threatened to swallow me, even when I’ve wished that I would die because the future felt too chaotic. When my heart was utterly broken, when my body was tangled unconscious, when I bled out my first baby and was separated from my firstborn after birth, even when I’ve been in the middle of a painful conflict with a trusted friend. God has always stayed close, putting pressure on my lower back, whispering truth to my inconsolable heart, hands covered in my blood, tears falling with my own. . .” continue reading>>>
Unconditional Love by Amy L. Sullivan — “I spent twenty-seven years trying to fathom the concept of unconditional love, and with one moment, unconditional love became easy to understand. Mothering for the first few seconds of my daughter’s life, made me realize there was nothing my tiny, squawking pink baby could ever do to drive me away. No behavior, no words, no choice would stop me from loving this creation. Ever. And it was through meeting my daughters that I saw God’s unconditional love for his flailing and squawking creations, (yes, that would be us), and I began to peek at God’s motherheart…” continue reading>>>