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.”
However, have you ever seen a female bird defend its nest? You can see what even Jesus prefers a motherly metaphor here, particularly that of a mother bird.
Hawks have the ferocity to beat up bears if their nest is disturbed. Think about that. A 4-pound bird has the ability to send a 400-pound bear running. Go ahead and look it up on Youtube. It’s amazing. When a bear disturbs the tree where a hawk nest rests, the mother hawk, in a protective frenzy, swoops down and claws the bear’s back. The bear runs yelping as the hawk continues to fly down, dive-bombing it. It’s incredible. The hawk beats up an animal 100 times its size in order to protect its young.
How confident that God will fight for you when you are in trouble?
How often do you think the things that are attacking your life are too big?
How often do we forget that God will fight to the death for us?
Believe it or not, God is fighting for you right now. The terrible thing about some of our sins – some of the dark things we are trapped in – is that we don’t know what trouble we are in.
Two things I look forward to seeing when I get to heaven. The first is seeing all the moments God protected me in life that I did not realize. I imagine we will get to see the play by play of our lives in heaven, sort of like on sports channels. When that happens, we will see all the moments God was there for us, saving us, protecting us, providing for us, and we did not even know it.
The second thing I look forward to seeing is all the prayers my mom prayed for me. How many times I went out and goofed around with my friends late at night, and my mom could not sleep because she was waiting, worrying, and praying for me.
Moms fight for their kids, physically and spiritually. Moms want to protect their children with every ounce of their being. God is fighting for us right now and always. Do you realize it?
3. God also Is Wrathful like a Mother
God’s wrath is often attributed to male metaphors, emphasizing the power and authority men had in that culture. However, this appeal is not uniform. God is also seen as wrathful in a special way that only a mother can be.
“I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs” (Hosea 13:8)
God is wrathful, like the awesome ferociousness of a mother bear whose cubs are in jeopardy. Similarly, the salvific wrath of God is likened to a woman angrily in labour:
“For a long time, I have kept silent; I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation. I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths, I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isa. 42:14-16)
I remember when my wife was in labour with our second son. Our first son was born by induced labour. Labour came on so quickly. By the time we figured out that she was in full labour and got to the hospital (this happened in about three hours), our son was born within minutes of her arrival.
I will never forget on the way to the hospital seeing my wife in pain. She furiously tried to hit the wall of the van. I grabbed her hand, trying to stop her so that she would not damage a knuckle. She looked at me with a killer look in her eye and lunged at me to bite my hand like Bilbo when Frodo did let him see the ring. That was a whole other level of wrath I had never seen before. I have never felt that angry. However, out of that travail, our son was born.
Understanding God’s wrath as motherly helps to understand it rightly. God has wrath not because God has stopped loving us but because God loves us so passionately. When I have done wrong, my mom was angry at me because she knew I was capable of better and would do anything to help me be the best I can be. That is God’s wrath. It is a loving wrath that creates, not destroys.
4. God Is a Mother by Professional Role
There are other uses of feminine language that employ cultural language that refers to typically female roles. God is portrayed as a midwife attending a birth in Psalm 22:9-10, 71:6, and Isaiah 66:8-9.
"‘Yet no sooner is Zion in labour than she gives birth to her children. Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?’ says the Lord. ‘Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?’ says your God" (Isa. 66:8-9)
Paralleling God as a shepherd (a male role) in the parables, God and God’s kingdom is described as being like a woman working leaven into bread (Lk. 13:18-21) and a woman seeking a lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10), both chores of Galilean peasant women. Jesus identifies God in these parables with the work of women.
This again reiterates that if something is good, it can communicate the divine. If a role is good, it can, in some way, metaphorically communicate God’s goodness. That is just what the Bible does.
5. God Refuses to Let Us Go like a Mother
"I will extend peaceto her like a river,
and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;
you will nurse and be carried on her arm
and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you..." (Isa. 66:12-13)
"Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all who are left of my people. I have cared for you from the time you were born. I am your God and will take care of you until you are old and your hair is gray. I made you and will care for you; I will give you help and rescue you." (Isa. 46:3-4)
God here is described as a mother, who bears her child Jacob, but continues on for the rest of our lives, providing, caring, rescuing. Jacob here is described as old even, with gray hair, and God is the elderly mother that still cares for him. How many of us are grown up, yet our mothers still come over to make sure we are eating our vegetables and have our rooms clean?
Here the picture goes further of a mother rescuing her child. What wouldn’t a mom do to rescue their child?
In 2020, Paramjit Massuta, 48, saw a runaway truck, and it was moving toward her twin girls. She ran and pushed them away, getting hit by the truck herself.
A bystander, Jerry Barr, saw the truck as he was driving at a distance and rushed to the scene. “At first, he thought she was a child because she seemed so small. Then when he removed her mask, he realized she was an adult. ‘I just said, the children are OK. The children are OK,’” said Barr. Paramjit’s life faded quickly.
This woman protected her children with her very life. She loved self-sacrificially. Is it any wonder why Scripture uses the metaphor of the love of a mother to teach us about God’s love for us? Isn’t that exactly what God did for us in Jesus Christ on the cross? God loved us so much that God died to save God’s children. God died so that we could have life eternal life.
But it goes much further than that. God’s motherly love goes beyond any earthly motherly love. Creation is limited. God is infinite. Thus, the love of a mother is similar but also infinitely dissimilar.
“But God’s people say, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget the baby she is nursing and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isa 49:14-15)
Here Isaiah, in his poetry, enacts a similar move to the apophatic traditions of Christianity where God is ineffably more than all created things. God’s love is unspeakable better than any metaphor we use to talk about it. God reminds us that even the beautiful love of our mothers, while it points to his love, while God uses it to illustrate his love for us, it is inadequate at fully representing the perfection of love God has for us.
God bore us like a mother to physical life, but even more than that. God causes us to be born again of his Spirit to receive everlasting life.
God protects us like a mamma bird, but more than that, God protects us perfectly.
God has wrath like a mother, but perfectly, never doing us harm.
God refuses to let us go like a mother; only God has laid down God’s very life for us so that we can have eternal life.
God, as I have said from Deuteronomy, says don’t forget where we came from; don’t forget who cared for us; don’t forget who gave us birth. God is urging us never to forget God’s love, the author, redeemer, sustainer of life.
May you cherish your earthly mothers as a gift from God that points us to God’s perfect motherly love.
May you know that God loves you like the perfect Mother, who cares for you, protects you, and may even give you a bit of "tough love" along the way, but always for our own good.
May you know that God in motherly love has died for us all and given us new life in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.