Today is Mothering Sunday, and in one of our readings, 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, God is described as the source of all mercy, comfort and consolation. So I’m going to talk about the mothering nature of God.
God as our mother. Is this a strange concept for you? After all, isn’t God our Father, our Lord, a more male figure?
But bear with me, and let’s go right back to the beginning.
Genesis 1 tells us that human beings were created male and female in God’s image.
And in Exodus 3, when Moses asked for God’s name, he was told: “I will be who I will be.” A much larger and more expansive concept of God perhaps than we’re used to hearing.
These Hebrew words given to Moses were abbreviated to YHWH (Yahweh). And as the name of God was considered too holy to be said or written down, it was translated as LORD in early texts, hence presenting the false impression that God is somehow male.
A quick survey of church art and literature from around the world would show that people have always tended to present God in their own image. But throughout history women have not enjoyed the same influence and power as men. So it’s no surprise that in biblical times and in the majority of the life of the Church, women’s voices have gone largely unheard, and God has continued ‘male'.
However, in the Bible quite a few references to a female, mothering God.
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you (Is 66: 12-13)
‘Oh Jerusalem…how often have I yearned to gather you together, like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings! But you would have none of it.’ (Jesus, in Matthew 23:37)
In Hosea 13 God speaks to the unfaithful people:
“Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder.”
Within the Church, as early as the 2nd century Christ was described as a mother bird. An idea that was picked up on by Augustine 200 or so years later. And Julian of Norwich in the 14th century, even though she knew and described Jesus as ‘Lord’ and ‘he’, also wrote of Jesus, quite frequently, as mother. But such voices have been few and far between, and largely forgotten.
But why does all this matter? What’s wrong with thinking of God as male? As Lord and Father? Well, nothing….
Except that language is important. It forms our ideas and ideologies. Ideologies become actions and behaviours. Behaviours become conventions and then rules. And rules can become exclusion and injustice.
As the prominent theologian Mary Daly once said: “If God is male, then the male is God.”
One only has to look at how women have been subjugated and excluded throughout the history of the Christian church to notice how this particular ideology, turned to injustice.
The most important point for me, however, is that God is bigger than male or female, than any other difference or division. So on this mothering Sunday, I wanted to honour the Mothering of God, to redress the balance a little, to expand our language and ideas of the Divine.
God is spirit, truth, the dove of peace, the Christ who bears our sin, and gathers us under her wings. God is wisdom, strength, comfort and consolation. Better and closer than any Father, or Mother. Both and yet neither. God is expansive, perfect love.
• What is your concept of God?
• Does your idea of who God is affect the way you relate to other people? If so how?