There is a stream of theological thinking which believes that the portrayal of God in Scripture is excessively patriarchal and sexist, in fact altogether too masculine, and that it runs counter to the need for gender equality in every sphere.
One of the attempts to correct this perceived bias is to legitimize the practice of conceiving and addressing God as ‘mother.’
Now I do not for a moment presume to have plumbed the profound mystery of the Godhead, however, this fact does not confer on me or anyone else the right to conceive of God and address Him in any way we please. This is simply because He is who He is. (Exodus 3.14)
He is not a ‘malleable’ or ‘plastic’ god who can be moulded to suit my particular conception of Him.
For example, if someone conceived Him to be arbitrary, capricious and cruel, we would have no hesitation in saying, “No, He is not like that, He is a loving God and He loves you.”
How are we able to say this with such confidence? Why, because this emerges plainly from the way he stands revealed in God’s giving of His Son and the Son giving of Himself as evidenced in the pages of Scripture.
The fact is that we could not know what God is like let alone know Him personally unless He revealed Himself. But He has indeed revealed Himself most fully and comprehensively in the person of Jesus, in His life, death, resurrection and promised return.
The reason that God is not to be conceived of nor addressed as ‘mother’ is that this notion is quite simply not supported by Scripture.
Texts referring to God as Father are extensive, emphatic and univocal.
Texts referring to Jahweh as the Husband of Israel are equally extensive particularly in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea.
Likewise Jesus is consistently referred to as the Bridegroom to the Church, His Bride.
All these references are unequivocally (some would say scandalously) masculine.
However, if our prevailing sensibilities regarding gender equality are offended at this point, we have simply to conclude ‘so be it.’ We do not have the prerogative to create God in an image which is more acceptable, because He is who He is and He has not chosen to reveal Himself as ‘mother’.
If one looks for texts that support the concept of God as mother, one ends up clutching at textual straws. Some discussion on certain of these suggested texts follows in the appendix.
Apart from these, the only one that bears scrutiny is Genesis. 1. 27 from which it is clear that there is ‘femaleness’ within the Godhead. If this be the case, it is certainly somewhat mystifying as to why when God stands fully revealed in the person of Jesus, it should be in the form of a man who proceeds to address God as Father. All one can say here, is that the prerogative rests with God as to how He chooses to reveal Himself.
However, perhaps the following may prove helpful:
Within the Godhead there exists an intimate love-relationship between a plurality of persons.
Such is the depth and oneness of this relationship, that it can best be represented by the one-flesh relationship between a husband and wife.
In John 17 Jesus refers to this oneness saying that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him.
Astonishingly and almost incomprehensibly, God desires the same depth of intimacy with us (see John 17. 21) and so again we have Jesus as the (male) Bridegroom while we, as the Church (both male and female) are the Bride.
So where then does the ‘femaleness’ of the Godhead come in?
Here is my best understanding:
When Adam was created and before Eve was made from a part of Adam. Adam held within himself all of mankind both male and female. This is why he was appropriately named ‘Adam’ which means ‘mankind’.
Likewise Jesus, ‘The Second Adam’ as Redeemer of mankind, holds within Himself all of mankind, both male and female.
This does not mean that He is some kind of androgynous being. He was and is quite clearly a man. He had male genitalia; He was after all circumcised on the eighth day.
Yet He was more than simply ‘a man’, He was and is “The Man”- the one Mediator between God and man.
“Ecce Homo.” Behold ‘The Man’ says Pilate.
A key hermeneutic principle is that Jesus Christ is the lens through which the whole of Scripture is to be understood. Using this lens, there is no way in the world one can arrive at the notion of ‘God as mother’.
This can only be done by attempting to view Scripture through the lens of prevailing political correctness.
The Father seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth, and the truth is that He has revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and as such He must be worshiped.
In the light of this, to address God as ‘mother’ is quite simply heresy.
Suggested texts for supporting the concept of God as ‘mother’
Matt. 23. 37 –how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings
This is clearly a ‘gathering metaphor’. It would not make any sense to talk about a rooster gathering chicks because roosters don’t. In any case, working from this metaphor back to a concept of God as mother would require a convoluted line of theological reasoning in which Jesus was viewed as an androgynous being who was both son and daughter.
Isaiah 49. 15 Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget I (Jahweh) will not forget you.
This is a Hebrew literary device known as a ‘more-than’ metaphor.
God is saying, “If even a mother will not forget the child she has borne, how much more will I (Jahweh) not forget you (my bride see verse 18) There is no suggestion that God is claiming to be a mother.
Psa 131. 2 I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother.
This is a metaphor for quietness of soul. The inference that the mother here represents God is speculative and at best tenuous.
Job.38. 29 From whose womb comes the ice? who gives birth to the frost from the heavens?
It is worth noting that the previous verse (28) says:
Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of the dew?
This is a striking example of the Hebrew poetic device known as ‘double parallelism’
Both verse 28 and verse 29 have the common device of parallelism where the same thing is repeated in slightly different ways. However what is remarkable about this example is that verses 28 and 29 say similar but opposite things in which ‘rain’ is contrasted with’ frost’ and ‘father’ is contrasted with ‘mother’
The book of Job is poetic in its literary form and richly metaphoric. To assert that the reference to womb in verse 29 is to be taken literally and gives grounds to conceive and address God as mother is to place considerable strain on the exegesis and would require confirmation from other texts which confirmation is plainly lacking.