Why God Is a ‘Mother,’ Too

A professor at Princeton Theological Seminary explains why women embody God's loving care

  • Share
  • Read Later

Long before I became familiar with the academic debates concerning calling God “Mother,” debates that I am now currently a part of as a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, I was being raised in a household where I instinctively understood that the divine presence was manifest in the loving hands and arms of mothers, and most especially in the life of my grandmother who raised me. My grandmother’s kitchen was a theological laboratory where she taught me how to love people just as naturally as she taught me to make peach cobbler and buttermilk biscuits. I watched and listened as she ministered to the sick and the lost, with a Bible in one hand and a freshly baked pound cake in the other, despite having no official ministry role.

I knew that if God was real, if God truly loved me as a parent loves a child, then God was also “Mother” and not only “Father.” Only years of dogma and doctrine force you to unlearn what you know to be true in your own heart, demanding “Father” as the only acceptable appellation and concept for God.

(MORE: Don’t Call the Planet ‘Mother’ Earth)

Scholars who oppose the notion of God as Mother often focus on the gender of Christ and his naming of God as “Abba” or Father. Others argue that God is beyond gender, all the while privileging masculine language to understand God. There are also scholars, myself among them, who support the naming of God as Mother along with God as Father, deriving their support from biblical passages which privilege more “feminine” metaphors and analogies, including the image of God as a nursing mother (Isaiah 49:15; Numbers 11:12); God as a midwife (Psalm 22:8-10); and God as one who gives birth (Isaiah 42:14). We do not have to choose only one form of address. God is Creator and Sustainer. God is Protector and Defender. God is Mother and Father. If we are humble, we know that human words and metaphors are incomplete and can never do justice to describing the majesty of who God is.

(MORE: Why We Question God)

I am among the millions of women facing Mother’s day without a mother, and now without my precious grandmother. There is no greeting card to capture both this powerful sense of loss, but also profound wellspring of memories. I experience what is known in theological terms as the “absent presence” of my grandmother. Though gone from my life, though absent from my everyday reality, my grandmother’s presence and wisdom are still here with me, guiding and shaping me. As a Christian, it is the same “absent presence” as my relationship with God: the knowledge that I am loved by the Divine, even and perhaps most especially in those experiences of absence and loss. I understand God as Mother because of all the mothers, aunties, grandmothers, “play” mothers, godmothers, and church mothers who were made in the image of God and who embody God’s loving care. As the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich eloquently summarized, “As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother.”

MOREFrom the Archives: Is God Dead?

35 comments
DilbagRai
DilbagRai

In Indian scriptures there is a Mantra " TAWAMEV MATA CHA PITA TAWAMEV................in praise of the God which means You are my Mother as well as Father. 

historywatcher
historywatcher

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky displays what his hands have made.
One day tells a story to the next.
One night shares knowledge with the next
without talking,
without words,
without their voices being heard.
Yet,their sound has gone out into the entire world,
their message to the ends of the earth.”

Believing is a choice, as is so much else in this life. 

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

The Russians in WW 2 ......fought for the Motherland.......Russia is the Motherland.........the Germans......on the other hand....fought for the

             Fatherland.......Germany .....is the Fatherland......

Toda ro  Today, May 12, 2013.......the neo-communist socialist leftwing radical environmental wacko democrats.......wants you to renounce Christianity ......and other religions and veliefs.....and.....the god......is GOVERNMENT OR THE DICTATOR i.e. Stalin....etc....

Valentine, world historian......comedian.....lol

orangeplasticfish
orangeplasticfish

Have you ever noticed

the significant differences

between the holy documents

and oral stories of various religions

around the world?

What happened,

did God change His mind?

Or, is God a multiculturalist,

adapting his story to suit different cultures,

times and places around the world?

Remember, this is the God,

the all powerful,

who created multiple universes,

populated with billions of galaxies,

each galaxy having billions of stars

and a trillion planets

or more.

Also, this a God who is everywhere

at the same time,

including standing right next to you

when you pray to Him

to help find your contact lenses.

This is a God that need tell only one story,

take it or leave it.

Moreover, it took more than nine billion years

for God to get around to creating

earth and mankind.

So, it is not like God

didn't have time to figure out

what He wanted to say.

So, why did God change his mind?

Maybe mankind was God's first attempt at sentient creation.

So, maybe it took God several times

to get right what He wanted to say?

Even so, why does the nature of God and religion

vary significantly by culture?

I would think God would have influenced writers

in all cultures to tell the same story,

if only to save chisels and stone

and ink and paper,

a lot of effort to create wonderfully different

and complex stories,

the kind only a mid-level bureaucrat could imagine,

and keep people from slaughtering each other

over different religious beliefs and interpretations.

It is not like radically different cultures can't comprehend

Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism or Islam, for example.

Maybe God was experimenting with different ways

to communicate His ideas to mankind?

In any case, I can only speculate.

I don't have any answers,

never mind verifiable facts and repeatable results

that can prove anything

beyond a reasonable doubt.

In the end, it all really comes down

to a matter of faith:

what people want to believe,

what adds value and comfort to their lives.

swagger
swagger

mother and father, father son and holy ghost, jesus, saints, popes, satan, angels, withes, demons, fairies, leprechauns, ghosts, goblins, santa clause, and the easter bunny to name a few that fill volumes of children's stories and fairy tales. then there is the whole voodoo of the catholic church with its costume's, gold trimmed cathedrals which are graven images of vanity, incense, candles, bread and wine--none of it found in any bible, of which there are as many as you need to have in multiple translations and even the addendum of the mormon books, which takes the whole pile of rubbish into the area  of absurd science fiction (oh wait, that's scientology, same thing).

your religion is a mental disorder based in childish wishes and founded on irrational thought and belief.  your leaders are a danger to themselves and other in proportion to their zealotry and in general have been the scourge of humanity.

thank god i'm an atheist and have freedom from religion as a founding principle of this nation, but as much as i try to ignore your irrelevant cultish and tribal notions you attack my belief in science and try to forcibly impose your foolishness on me and society at every turn.

i wish i could prat for the rapture.  it would come and suck up all the ignorant self righteous and leave the planet to sane people.

LouAZ
LouAZ

The use of supernaturalism to manipulate and control people is the world's oldest confidence scheme, it relies on the ritual abuse of children at their most impressionable stage by adults who have themselves been made childish for life by artifacts of the primitive mind.- Your Mom on a CNN comment.

orangeplasticfish
orangeplasticfish

It does not really matter whether you perceive God as masculine or feminine or gender neutral. All that really matters is that believing in God one way or the other adds value to your life.

Early man did not have science and a rational explanation for the change in seasons and weather, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and so on. Early man did have a belief in spirits and the supernatural and that some control over the environment could be achieved by appeasing supernatural entities. Also, like man today, early man hoped that there was life after death. Moreover, religion and judgement in the afterlife provided an additional level of social control.

Hence, early man created various religions all over the world. Religion is fiction, a manmade convention and social construct. We believe because we want to believe.

Piacevole
Piacevole

The really operative phrase is, "I knew that if God is real. . ."

Children need parents: or, at least, someone to function in the role of parent.  And the object of a parent is to take care of a child who grows into being adult.  At that point, he or she may become a parent, in turn.

But one should not have a need for parents all of one's life; nor should one transfer that dependence to a deity for one's sustenance and stability.  In short, as we grow up, we ought to take over the role of parent, ourselves, much as we become Santa Claus in our tern, instead of the beneficiary of a   Santa Claus.  We are as we are, human.  And that should be enough for us.

Palerider1957
Palerider1957

Scholar? Professor?
How can one claim these titles, and know nothing of the subject they "teach"?
It's called COMPREHENSION. It's called READ it before you critique it.
The Word of God, the Holy Bible is quite clear on this subject. God always refers to himself in the masculine.
God has many names in the Word of God, and they are all masculine.
But, you say, "it was written by men with an agenda". Really?

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. - 2Tim. 3:16-17

For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. - 2 Peter 1:21

You are either a believer, or not. If not, then maybe you should stick to things you actually know something about.
But I would not expect any better from a non-believer and heretic

But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. - 1 Corinthians 2:14



phenomanalyst
phenomanalyst

GOD is the woman that is why Hitler want to kill the JEWS and everyone in the planet, is world order 9/11 was done new era Obama mama is all our mama we all a family is all in the moral ,respect and honor but who does now day only greed and ignorance , LOVE is respect 50/50 created to make babies but now day ,this nation want you gay retard like a sheep ,the CIA explain all in movie bless who invented GOD we all had a mother and we all are brain wash is shipper ,are we Human front the planet earth o what ,not only few the real citizen the soldier. 

JuliusAlcordo
JuliusAlcordo

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God's messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn't let me."            Jesus loved as a mother would.

rutnerh
rutnerh

True, there is widespread worshipping of Mother Nature and maternal pagan deities in religions and tragically in oeven some christian denominations, but true biblical as delivered in accurate translations of the Bible, leave no doubt as to the paternal gender of God and indeed the Trinity. New Testament Greek, and indeed the enormous Greek vocabular

antonmarq
antonmarq

Gee, how human of this guy, finally recognizing that God has no sexual preference or sex organs for that matter. God is a unit, a single being and defining him by a patriarchal or matriarchal is strictly a human thing. As for the "absent presence", it's a human condition felt some people but not all. Physical death only being the spiritual birth, a cycle that's all inclusive of soul experience, at least to those that believe in it, which I do. 

glennra3
glennra3

Why is this essay so short?  There is much more to be said on the subject and it seems the author just introduced the topic and the piece was done.

huruma.eamonn
huruma.eamonn

I'm a fairly conservative catholic priest and I have experienced God in the way Yolanda expresses it here. It's good to read something that isn't strident or aggressive. Pope John Paul II on his CD 'Abba Pater' speaks of Jesus' personal experience of God as His Father and goes on to refer to the fact that, in the songs of the Prophet Isaiah, God is spoken in terms of motherhood.

bidiboom
bidiboom

Interestingly this is how we learn and perceive God in Islam.        

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

God is neither but energy . Why people have to quote the Bible , I do not know . If you know right from wrong , you know the Bible .

wilhelm
wilhelm

I suspect that the origin of the words Jehovah, Jove, Jupiter and Jahve originate from the name of an ancient babylonian goddess named Iahu, which is spelled IAHV in latin. I suspect that Sara, the wife of Abraham may have been a priestess of Iahu. She did not create the world, she gave birth to it.

Aphugel
Aphugel

You lost your marbles, have you? Is time trying to hit the bottom of journalism? You are getting close, Good luck!

MarieMackinnon
MarieMackinnon

This makes me thank Zeus that I'm an atheist.

The gender of "God" doesn't matter, because it doesn't exist. What is the gender of the Easter bunny? How about the tooth fairy? It doesn't matter. They don't exist.

But, the fact that we refer to god as "He," as "Father," and as "Lord" shows that it was invented by males, for males, in order to get what males want--power and money. That's what all religion is about anyway. Men (and by that I mean males specifically, because women had no part in any of this crap, specifically the monotheistic nonsense) created god in their image, not the other way around. It's a paternalistic dictator that legitimizes their monopoly over power and control of society. It's so obvious it's like pointing out the sky is blue.

Trying to change the image to include mother won't ameliorate this misogynistic crap.  

Peace_2_All
Peace_2_All

FROM THE ARTICLE:

If we are humble, we know that human words and metaphors are incomplete and can never do justice to describing the majesty of who God is. "

You are correct in that human words and metaphors are invariably incomplete and can never do justice to describing... what you obviously consider to be more of the 'biblical god.'

This creative process of existence is beyond, will most likely continue to be beyond our comprehension... should 'it' (and don't think it's even an 'it') even exist.

Regards,

Peace...

StevenCuevas
StevenCuevas

Actually. The Bible clearly testifies about the existence of God the Mother. See video above. We MUST come to Mother in these last days according to bible profecy so we may receive eternal life. @YNPierce

etkelly55
etkelly55

@swagger 

You are well-named, SWAGGER!   And 'thank god I'm an atheist'?  Are you thanking yourself?          NellieK

califmom
califmom

@Palerider1957 Not so. God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites.: 'I AM" has sent me to you.'" So  there was no gender by which God told Moses to describe Himself (I use the term for simplicity's sake) to the Israelites. I think our brains are too small to comprehend and our societies are too defined as patriarchies to allow anything but a masculine God. God is gender-neutral, being a spiritual being. Jesus came to the earth as a Man because that was how God's plan was to be fulfilled--no less, no more. We only have two genders on this planet, and He could not be a rabbi as a woman.

I think you are an unkind person calling someone a heretic without knowing their heart. Only God knows the state of a person's heart and you might call someone foolish but a heretic is beyond the pale.

MarieMackinnon
MarieMackinnon

@bidiboom Interestingly, that's a load of taqiyya garbage. Allah is not perceived as female in anyway. If it was, Allah's testimony would count as a half a man's in court then.

bidiboom
bidiboom

"... That's what all religion is about anyway... "

I think you focus on one layer of the whole, the one thats created by men and obscuring behind. There are other layers of the whole as well. If 1400 years ago, in the age it had been unknown, a book was telling that the plants were created in couples, feminine and masculine, then there is a need to dig it more and understand. Thats another layer for instance.        

glennra3
glennra3

@dakinsky @bidiboom 

The treatment of women in Islamic countries has more to do with the patriarchal social values of those nations than it does with the tenets of Islam, which were actually more progressive than those found in Christian countries at the time they were introduced.  


Muhammad instituted basic rights for women in the 7th century that women in European Christian nations would not enjoy until the 19th century (property ownership, inheritance, divorce, education).


However, women's equality is not a function of religion, but rather technology. It is not a coincidence that the first true movement for women's political and legal equality came about in the 19th century, during the height of the industrial revolution.  


Throughout history women's subservient role has rested on a simple matter of muscle mass. In a world in which work is done with human muscle the gender with the greatest muscle mass is going to dominate. However, with the advent of machine technology to do our work muscle mass became less important than brain power, an area where women can compete with men equally.   


Those area where women have not yet achieved equality with men are generally areas that lag in industrialization.

MarieMackinnon
MarieMackinnon

@bidiboom Nope. It's not one layer. It's the entire thing.

It was all created by males for males, starting in the beginning. The fact that I point it out doesn't "obscure" anything. People like you, who talk in circles, are obscuring what it is true--it's all made up. By males.

Especially in Islam, btw. Muhammad made it all up.

marklinin
marklinin

This article  was on the front page.  Not in the fiction or bible section.

chickie
chickie

@marklinin Crybaby.  Just maybe they didn't want the typical front page horrors on Mother's Day?