The God Who Nurtures
By Rev. Ian D.L. Hyde
Mother’s Day is right around the corner. It’s a time when we honor those women who brought us into the world, nurtured us as we grew, and loved us even when the things we did were unlovable. In fact, a mother’s love is so unique and legendary, there’s an idiom for those of us blessed with rougher features better suited for radio. We have “a face only a mother could love.” There’s nothing quite like a mother’s love, and to be honest, to honor them one day a year is much, much less than they deserve.
Now when we think of God, we often don’t think of Him in motherly terms. There’s a solid theological reason for using fatherly language. Jesus repeatedly refers to God as “the Father” especially in John’s Gospel, and the Old Testament prophets often refer to God as a Father to Israel (cf. Jer. 31:9, Isa. 63:16, 64:8, etc.). And there’s good reason for this. Fatherly terms serve to highlight both the Father’s closeness to Christ and through him the Church in the New Testament and to Israel in the Old, while also highlighting his roles as Protector, Provider, Redeemer, and Creator (who did not need a consort, unlike many of the pagan creator deities popular at the time).
But what many people aren’t aware of are the many instances in which scripture uses motherly terms to describe God’s relationship to us. For instance, the verb translated as “Maker of heaven and earth” to describe God in Gen. 14: 19, 22 (RSV) is the same verb Eve uses when she describes herself giving birth to or “making” Cain in Gen. 4:1.
Additionally, the same verb is used to describe God’s creation of personified Wisdom in Prov. 8:22, and God is described as both “fathering” and “giving birth” to the people of Israel in Deu. 32:18. Finally, and perhaps most beautifully, God is compared to a mother comforting her son in Isa. 66:13 and to a compassionate, nursing mother in Isa. 49:15.
It is clear from scripture that God is not only a valiant Protector, Provider, and Redeemer; God is also our Birth-Giver, Nurturer, and Comforter. Just as humanity is not fully represented by either male or female alone, but rather both together were created in the image of God (cf. Gen. 1:27); so also God is not fully reflected in our theology or Christian lives unless we recognize that He models both perfect fatherhood and perfect motherhood for us.
So, this Mother’s Day, as we remember those who gave birth to us, and spent their lives nurturing and comforting us; let us also remember to praise the One who gives birth to the new life we are promised in the Spirit, which our spirits and even all creation groans for (Rom. 8:22-26).