Saying “God is Maternal” with Fear and Trembling

There is an impulse in contemporary Christianity to broaden our view of God by incorporating (or drawing out) more maternal images and motifs into our imaginary of who God is and what He’s like.

This impulse I find wholly commendable.  After all, while on balance the Scripture certainly tends to portray God in more masculine categories, there is also a substantial bit of biblical text that either implicitly or explicitly paints a picture of God from a feminine color palate.  This diversity of images should be celebrated, embraced, preached, and sung.  We always need a more well-rounded picture of God.

What I find at least mildly ironic, however, is that in our passion to incorporate more maternal images into our picture of God (it is often the very theologically “sophisticated” and “progressive” among us who are calling most loudly for this), we unwittingly do a grave injustice BOTH to God and to mothers.  “God has feminine characteristics” we boldly declare.  “He is not just brute strength; he is also tender and nurturing…”

True enough.  Except that now we’ve just reinforced the gender stereotypes that we spend so much energy trying to overcome, patronizing mother-love in the process.

For as often as mother-love is tender and soft and nurturing, it can also be profoundly severe and demanding.  It is moms, after all, who are kicking their babies out of the nests and forcing them to fly when they’ve come of age.  It is moms, after all, who are doing the unthinkably cruel to their little ones by weaning them off the breast.  There is something “hard as nails” about mother-love.  No one who has aroused the fury and stared into the wild eyes of “mama bear” can gainsay this.  And ironically, it is often the fathers who find themselves in the curious position of trying to placate the wrath of mama bear, bringing the encompassing tenderness and compassion back into the room after the fury has subsided.

Mother-love is fierce.

So let us not patronize mothers, mother-love, or the God from whom both come with sentimental mush.  And when we say that God is “maternal” at least as much as he is “paternal”, let us say so with fear and trembling.

Happy Mother’s Day 🙂

Andrew

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