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Coop's Column - No Mother Half So Mild

Since both God and humans are personal, we humans can grow both in knowledge of and intimacy with God. In fact, we must grow. For to love God more and more requires that we learn more and more about God.

Let’s be clear: God is not female.

Let’s be clear: God is not male.

Nor, for that matter, is God a rock, a path, or a light. God does not use physical eyes to see, ears to hear, or hands and arms to ward off enemies and protect saints. For God is spirit. (John 4:24)

But God is personal. Thus, we human beings, persons made in the image of the One who is Personal (capital P!), must now summon up a host of metaphors to describe the God who relates to us, and whom we worship. Thus we say metaphorically—”so to speak”—that God has fingers, hands, feet, and arms to thresh fields , to trample down enemies, to hurl arrows, to heap up oceans. But the language is metaphorical. It is “so to speak.”

It is not the case that God is like we are in being personal. Rather, we are like God in being so. Compared to God, the most passionate and warmly personal human being is cold and impersonal.

Another point: Since both God and humans are personal, we humans can grow both in knowledge of and intimacy with God. In fact, we must grow. For to love God more and more requires that we learn more and more about God.

All the above by way of preface to this week’s theme. Now, on to the theme itself. I wish to make two points:

  • Scripture bears witness that God’s sublime character is maternal. Maternal, and paternal, too.
  • To disregard God’s maternal and paternal character—both of them—derives from failure to listen to God’s Word. It results in shriveled appreciation of God’s beauty and diminished adoration of God’s character.

Though Scripture never calls God “Mother,” female imagery about God does abound in the Old Testament . In Moses’ lengthy song about God’s covenant relationship to the people Israel, he scolds: “You walked out on the Rock who gave you your life, forgot the birth-God who brought you into the world.” (cf. Deut 32:18) Isaiah describes God as nursing, playing with, and consoling Israel as only a mother can do (cf. Isaiah 49:15-16; 66:11-13) The Psalmist describes his soul as being quieted in God’s presence “like a weaned child with its mother (cf. Psalm 131.2) Both the Psalms (17.8) and the book of Ruth (2:12) picture God as a mother bird, giving refuge to her offspring . And in the New Testament Jesus compares his sadness at Jerusalem’s stubborn rebelliousness to a mother hen who longs to gather her scattered brood. (cf.Matt. 23:37)

Three activities of God spring quickly to my mind when I ponder God’s maternal qualities:

1. God creates and nurtures.

Pondering the immense mystery of his having come to birth, the Psalmist exclaims in wonder and delight:

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
You formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!” (Psalm 139:13)

Moreover, the very One who fashioned and made us, now feeds us at Zion (God’s nourishing presence):

You newborns can satisfy yourselves
At her nurturing breasts
Yes, delight yourselves and drink your fill
At her ample bosom…..
You’ll nurse at her breast,
Nestle in her bosom,
And be bounced on her knees. (Isaiah 66:11-12)

2. God protects

Human mothers seek to shield their children from life’s threats and hurts—from sickness, from heat and cold, from malnutrition, from abuse. The Psalmist pleads for God’s mother-like protection:

Keep your eye on me;
Hide me under your cool wing feathers
From the wicked who are out to get me,
From mortal enemies closing in.” (Psalm 17:8)

3. God consoles

At times life is harsh, difficult, and sad. Amid our tears, tenderly God holds us in motherly embrace, and speaks softly to soothe our troubled hearts:

As a mother comforts her child,
So I’ll comfort you.
You will be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 66)

Several days after the birth of our first child, Karen, Marcia and I traveled with our little one from Sheboygan, Wisc., to my parents’ home in Holland. We went there because Grandma, a polio patient confined to an iron lung, could not come to us. How full of joy Grandma was to see her granddaughter for the first time in the lung’s mirror.

What happened next astonished me. Grandma asked to be taken out of the lung and placed on a stretcher. She then asked that I lay Karen on her paralyzed body, Karen’s cheek touching hers. My mother’s poignant sigh: “O my dear little one, if only I could hold you!”

”Twas an anointed moment for me, something of a sacramental event. Every time I remember it, I catch fresh glimpse of a God who loves (me) as only mother can. It prompts toward the sanctuary (cf. Psalm 73:17), there to sing with my fellow saints:

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above, would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.”