The Mother Heart of God
One thing I was asked as a teacher in high schools was, “Why is God a man?” or “Can’t we pray ‘Our Mother’ instead of ‘Our Father’?” Tricky.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the Bible, where God makes people in his image:
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Male and female people are both made in God’s image. So we can start by conceding that there is something about women that carry the likeness of God.
I suppose you could argue that men and women themselves both share similarities, and from within those similarities alone we might find the areas that are made in God’s image. This would preserve the idea that all God’s facets can be found amongst male characteristics.
But I prefer not to limit the scope of God’s nature. I believe he is an awesome abundant God who can only fully be understood when thought of as reflected by all that is good in both men and women.
I think the Bible backs me up on this too.
The mother who protects, provides and promotes
My observation is that dads are pretty good at allowing children to take risks. Maybe better than some mums. If a child is on a swing, it’s probably the dad who will push them that bit higher whilst the mother calls for caution. Which parent is most likely to say “Careful!” when a child is climbing higher up a tree? Probably mum.
I believe we see both the dad-like risk encouragement and the motherly caution in our loving God. He sometimes calls us out of our comfort zone and wants to push us higher. He might let us climb higher. But like a mother he will never want us to climb too high. We might go off in our own strength, in our own free-will, but the heart of God is crying, “Careful! I know what’s best for you, and you’re getting ahead of yourself!”
This balance might be seen in the image of God as a mother eagle, who protects the eaglets high up away from predators in a giant nest, but then at the right time makes things uncomfortable in the nest so that they grow and develop. She might stop bringing food right into the nest now they are older, or just make the nest less cosy. Thus, Moses saw God…
…like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.
No child should stay in the nest forever. There comes a time when the place of protection and provision becomes a place of promotion. When I came home from college during a mid-term break, my mum had completely redecorated my bedroom. It was suddenly no longer my room! I was still home but the lack of familiarity in that room had a psychological effect on me. It was time to move on. Sometimes God might redecorate your room so that you no longer feel as comfortable and stable in the way you once did. He is leading you into a new season. When I left college I got married that summer and made a new home with my wife. When God lets you know it’s the end of a season, exciting times are ahead!
(By the way, I’ve found no evidence that the mother actually pushes her young out of a nest and then catches them in order to teach them to fly. Despite this, I’ve heard this preached in churches more than once. The reference above to catching is more likely in my mind to be of a very young eaglet falling out. It is too young to fly and the mother rescues it, like a toddler running out into a road, or God rescuing me from a stupid decision. At the age when eaglets are ready to fly, they actually are way too big and heavy to be carried by their parents. Just saying.)
God is your protector: He wants to place you high away from predators. I suggest a good bible believing church is a good start. He is also your provider: when you look to him and stay in the nest he will bring you all the food you need. But then he is your promoter: he wants you to grow up, feed yourself and one day build nests for other young. You might bring others to Christ and disciple them. You cannot stay in the nest forever!
Sometimes only mummy will do
When one of my kids gets hurt, they will run straight past me to get to their mother. I’m not offended by this! I’m happy for her to give them all those cuddles for that grazed knee! When they were even younger, the reflex response to fear was to cry out the word, “Mummy!” I believe that mothers play a very special role in comforting their children and where both parents are present, dad might sometimes come a close second in meeting certain emotional needs.
I also believe that this is part of the image of God that we see in women. When the Israelites were in exile, God used the prophet Isaiah to let them know that it was he who had allowed this exile. Because they had not listened to him, he allowed Israel to be captured and taken to Babylon. Like any responsible parent, God had given his children the biggest ‘time-out’ in human history. But through Isaiah he let them know that he was also there to show them the love of a mother:
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.
Jesus himself showed the same mothering characteristic when he cried out to Jerusalem saying,
…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
The same is true today. God never changes. Jesus longs to gather us into his fold, showing the same gut-level compassion that is so often expressed by a mother.
The Apostle Paul uses some interesting imagery in this context. It is as if he sees himself and the other church planters in a mothering role. To the Galatians he writes,
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
Paul saw himself as this church’s spiritual parent. As such he used the pains of childbirth as a metaphor to represent the difficulties this parenting had caused him. No one said evangelism and discipleship were easy! We can hear in Paul’s words the same frustration that all mothers have with their children at some time or other. I am perplexed about you! Paul had to give them constant correction and help them to avoid being led astray. The leadership of our churches must surely still fulfil this role for its members.
To the Thessalonians Paul writes,
Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8
I’m told that the Greek speaks of a woman feeding her own babies. She is their mother, not merely a child minder or baby-sitter. Paul again shows that he sees his new churches as spiritual children and uses the imagery of motherhood to express this.
This mothering nature is seen in the best leadership I have experienced in church life. Where a minister sees his role as nurturing his flock, bringing out the best in them, I have seen people set free from the bondage of having to work for approval, or from guilt and fear. In this way the church itself provides a mothering role for the individual: protecting, providing, promoting.
The Mother Church
The origins of Mothers’ Day in the UK (Mothering Sunday) go back to a time when people would return to their ‘mother’ church (home church) once a year. Some of these were young people who had to work away from home as domestic servants or as apprentices. It is interesting that their home church was called the mother church.
Traditional Judaism saw the mother as the protective, nurturing caring stay-at-home figure. This is in no way demeaning to women in Jewish culture, for the role of the mother in the home is regarded as one of the highest and esteemed positions in society.
In many ways it’s good to imagine the church providing such a role for people today. The church must provide shelter to all who seek it, showing the unconditional love of a mother: high on acceptance, low on judgement, showing love where there is no love. In this way we will begin to impact our communities.
When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.
Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.
For a moment, let’s take ‘the righteous’ and ‘the upright’ to mean ‘mother church’. After all, that is what the church should be: a gathering of upright, righteous people. There should be no institution or organisation on earth with higher ethical and moral standards.
So when the church, or when Christians prosper (and the implication is that they should), it blesses the community! It’s good for our neighbourhood if it’s good for us. In fact, though the mothering, nurturing, building up of the upright, the church can cause a whole city to be ‘exalted’! That’s lifted up or upgraded!
God made us in his own image. We are male and female. A good way to understand something of God’s nature is through the best of both male and female traits. And the best way for others to experience this God is through a church that makes a positive impact on those outside its doors.