The Motherly Love of God: Reflections on Mother's Day

A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she held him, she sang:

I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.

This is from the story by Robert Munsch, “Love You Forever.” It is very dear to me because my mom would read it to me. She read it to me to remind me that she loved me no matter what. That one day, she won’t be around, so she wanted me to remember how much she loved me and how I should pass on that love to my children.

That sounds a lot like the love of God, doesn’t it?

Today we are going to reflect on mothers. We are going to reflect on the significance of the gift of our mothers and how the love of our mothers reminds us of God’s love.

In Scripture, the main image of God, particularly in the Gospels, is God as Father of Jesus Christ, the Son. There are all sorts of reasons for this, and one of the reasons isn’t because God is male. It also isn’t because fathers are more like God than mothers.

The ancient culture around the Bible is patriarchal, and that is part of it since God accommodates to our level. Another reason is that this analogy of the father-ruled culture is used and expanded, and finally, subverted, to see all humanity as God’s household. Thus, if the culture understood the father to be the ruler with very conditional notions of love, God is the Father that supersedes with surprising, unconditional love (think the parable of the Prodigal Son as an illustration here). While it is often argued that God is "named" the Abba-Father by Jesus as a unique act, Jesus is actually using the prayer language of the inter testament Jews, who prayed to God as their Father against the dictators that claimed divine status. Surely, however, the most important is that God is revealed in Jesus Christ, the King that becomes a servant, obedient upon death on a cross. Thus, God is a Father to the fatherless, a Father one with us Son, a King whose kingdom is an inversion of patriarchy, domination, and all that has gone wrong in the world.

However, all of this does not form some zero-sum game regarding God’s gender, for God is truly beyond all gender, but is at liberty to reveal God's self in creation using the goodness of creation. If you get a bit finicky about feminine God language, ask yourself if there is the possibility that you have not taken these two dynamics seriously. Perhaps, if you are like me, you were raised with a very high regard for Scripture, but often did not hear or think about the following Scriptures that do speak of God as feminine and motherly. For example, the Spirit of God is the figure of Lady Wisdom and thus, is consistently portrayed as female in the Bible (ex. Prov. 8). While the Spirit is often a “he” as the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, Christ refers to the Spirit of Wisdom as a “her” in Luke 7:35 and Matt. 11:19. Consistently the Spirit is doing motherly things like causes us to be "born again." And when it comes to thinking about God, while the Lord’s Prayer prays, “Our Father,” for very good reasons, this does not detract from beautiful motherly and feminine references in the Bible that can be used to illustrate God’s love for us, which are especially important to recall on Mother’s Day.

The basis for using motherly analogies looks something like this: God’s love is good. God is love and goodness itself in God's very being. God is the goodness of every goodness. Our mother’s love is good. All that is good is of God, for there is no God that is from God and is God's presence and gift. Therefore, our mother’s love shows us God’s love, albeit imperfectly. Or the other way around: God’s love is good like a mother’s love, only perfectly.

So, this is what we are going to meditate upon today. God’s love is like the creating, unconditional, sacrificial, protective love of a mother. Our mother’s love points us to the love of God, and this will allow us to appreciate both God and our mothers today. So, here are some short reflections on different mother images in the Bible:

1. We Come from God like how a Mom Gives Birth to Us

“You have forgotten the Rock who bore you and put out of mind the God who gave you birth.” (Deut. 32:18)

Deuteronomy warns, don’t forget that you came from God. God is your creator, like how a mom gave birth to you. Don’t forget that you owe who you are and what you are because God created you like a mother.

My earliest memory was when I was a little over three. I remember the day we moved into our house that I grew up at in Stoney Creek. I don’t remember anything of the house before that, which was in the country. I don’t remember anything of what my parents had to do for me before that. At three, I was walking and talking.

That means that for three years before this, I don’t remember how much my mom had to work to feed me, clothe me, bathe me, brush my teeth, change my diaper, put me down for naps, comfort me when I was upset. Of course, she did these things for many years after that.

My mom told me that I cried incessantly for months after I was born. My mom brought me to the doctor, concerned about how much crying I did. The doctor told my mom that it was nothing, and she was just paranoid. After several times insisting to the doctors that she was not crazy, they ran some tests to find that I had a herniated stomach from birth. It took six months for them to finally get around to diagnosing it and operating on it.

My mom told me that the operation happened in late December, and on Christmas morning, my mom woke up in a panic. I did not wake her up in the night, so she, like most mothers naturally do, assumed I had died and ran to my bedroom. She found me waking up smiling. My mom, until that day, had not slept a full night’s rest in six months up until that point. You can imagine the patience, the perseverance, the devotion that takes. That is the same patience, perseverance, and devotion God has for us, only infinitely and perfectly.

Deuteronomy warns, don’t forget God who bore you; don’t forget the Mother who gave you birth. You are not a self-made person. You exist because someone cared for you while you could not care for yourself. God here feels forgotten and under-appreciated like a mom!

I admit that I am a man. The great Canadian philosopher known as Red Green has taught me the important mantra, “I am a man; I can change; if I have to, I guess.” Nevertheless, I forget special occasions often. I am also a human. There is something about all of us that causes me to be very forgetful of God and take for granted the best things in my life on even the best of days.

In the times that I have forgotten Mother’s Day, I don’t think my mom was mad at me or disappointed because she missed out on her reward for all her good work in my life. Moms don’t do what they do for any recognition. If it was, no recognition would be enough. Saying “thank you” to your mom on Mother’s Day is not rewarding her because she needs a reward, but every parent wants to know that they have raised their kid right. That means they have come to recognize the goodness done to them when they see it, whoever is doing it, and they respond appropriately with gratitude and appreciation.

The same goes with God. God wants to see us mature in his goodness, and that includes learning to have gratitude towards God and have a responsibility towards others. This is why praising God in church is so necessary. It is not necessary to God. God does not need us to sing. We need to sing to God. We need to be constantly thankful so that we can dwell deeper in the awareness of all that is good.

Thus, God reminds us: Don’t forget the one who bore you, says Deuteronomy. Don’t forget.

2. God Protects Us like a Mother Bird

God guides Israel like a mother bird teaching her young to fly:

“Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the Lord alone guided him” (Deut. 32:11-12)

This is a fascinating picture of God’s providence, echoed throughout the Bible in (cf. Ruth 2:12; Ps. 17:8).

How often do we refuse to trust God in order to guide us?

How often do we think God is making us fall when actually God is helping us fly?

God, in the Bible, is often described as a mother bird protecting her young.

"Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, or in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge until the destroying storms pass by." (Ps. 57:1)

Jesus even looks at Jerusalem and longs to protect them like a mother bird in Matthew 23: 37-38:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!.. How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me! And so your Temple will be abandoned and empty.”