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Is God our ‘mother’?

Published: 9 January 2021 (GMT+10)
Bible

A.L., from the U.S., writes:

I read an article by a pastor who proposes that God should/can be understood as “mother”, because of a few verses in the Bible that uses maternal language when speaking about him. I am aware that the “maternal” language used of god is different from the language used of him BEING the father, but there is one verse in particular the pastor brought up in his article that I haven’t thought about enough. The verse is Isaiah 49:15. The first time I read it, I thought it meant that the intimate connection a mother has with a child couldn’t begin to describe the closeness God has with his people. But the pastor understands it differently. He says that it is referring to god as a mother, very specifically actually. The more I read over the verse and compare the translation to others, the verse does seem to say that! Such as in the NLT, CEV, and, with the most confusing translation of them all, in the ISV. I believe that God IS Father, but what if, in some “hidden” way, he is our mother too?

Lita Cosner, CMI-US, responds:

First, I cover this in a lot more detail in the article What’s in a pronoun? The divine gender controversy. I would recommend reading it in its entirety.

Both men and women are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), so it shouldn’t surprise us that sometimes God uses feminine imagery to describe the ways He cares for us. Sometimes He is said to be like a mother in the way He cares for us, though even those types of comparisons are rare. However, when gendered language is used to describe who God is and how He acts in relation to us, He is always unambiguously relationally male. It is somewhat ironic in today’s climate that some refuse to accept God’s self-identified ‘preferred’ pronouns in Scripture!

Using a feminine comparison doesn’t make the subject of that comparison female. Paul compares his gentleness with the Thessalonians to that of a nursing mother with her children (1 Thessalonians 2:7); Paul was not calling himself a woman! When Moses wanted to complain to God about the burden of the Israelites, he asked, “Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers?” (Numbers 11:12). Moses obviously was not female, yet used a comparison to make his point.

Isaiah 49:15 is not even saying God cares for us like a nursing mother, but more than a nursing mother does for her children. The fact that it’s a superlative comparison makes it even weaker to suggest it says anything about God’s gender. And the three translations/paraphrases you cite actually all communicate the fact that this is a superlative comparison.

God consistently refers to Himself as a Father, and Jesus taught His disciples to do so as well in the Lord’s Prayer. He is King and Lord, not Queen and Lady. And when the Son of God became incarnate in a human body, He did so as a man, not a woman.

God has revealed everything He wants us to know about Him in Scripture. Attempts to find ‘hidden truth’ are often the beginning point of heresies. People mistakenly think it would somehow be empowering or beneficial to women to find some feminine aspects of God. However, women’s true value is found in being created in God’s image, not in reimagining Him in theirs.

Helpful Resources

Affirming God’s Image
by J. Alan Branch
US $17.00
Soft Cover
From Creation to Salvation
by Lita Cosner
US $14.00
Soft Cover
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover

Readers’ comments

Howard K.
Right on point! Just a suggestion... wouldn't it be more accurate to say that God is masculine, rather than male? Mankind was created male and female. This is a merely physical attribute, used of animals as well as humans; and I cannot think of a place in common or Scripture usage where it is used of a spirit. Masculinity and femininity, however, are terms that apply to our souls, our spirits, our deepest selves. God is clearly a masculine being who was incarnated in a male human being, and whose servants, the angels, always appear as men.
E. K. JOHN J.
Lita, Thank You! There is not much to be said but to just thank the Almighty God for this succinct response you have given.
As pointed out in the Scriptures 1 Cor 2 v 7-9. "That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. 6 Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: 8 Which none of the princes of this world knew"

We must continue to confront every heresies on these last days. Saran- inspired carnality will continue to make people pervert the Scriptures. But as concluded by the Scriptures 1 Cor. 2 v 14 "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

The God of this Universe bless you abundantly!
Pratha S.
Christ refers to God as his Father -- that's all that needs to be said!
Micki M.
Remo W. Thats right!!!
This is very sad that people try so hard to conform God to their personal desires, I love this article short and to the point, Thankyou Lita Cosner.
Mauritz V.
I sometimes wonder how some people read Shakespeare, poetry or any other book for that matter. I see it with young people, especially those who do not read a lot anymore. Etymology, semantics and hermeneutics properly done are basic human communication skills and were eroded by educational systems that are worth nothing. Logic flew out the window and are actively resisted by a certain (recent) mindset. Not to even start with teasing correct implications from history or even scientific writings. Belief in God supports a whole structure of thinking which is currently being pulled from under us. Eventually, in the decades to come we will have ONLY the Word of God to point to and we will be ridiculed for it. Be prepared.
Bruce C.
Very well written Lita !!
Sam K.
I really appreciate the work of creative ministries. The issue with cults and false beliefs come through twisting scripture to conform to trends of the time. Thank you Lita for clear, well presented discussion. It is no trivial matter as all scripture is true and as christians we believe this. Continue in the good work of deepening the depth of insight into the word that we may be built up into the mature body of him who is the head - Christ Jesus.
David S.
Frankly, I think this is trivial. God, most of the time, does act as our Father, but there are occasions where He is very mother-like. Did not Christ say, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not!" I cannot think of a more motherly anguish than that.
In my opinion, God is both a Mother and Father to us all.
Lita Cosner
If God actually does reveal Himself as relationally male, it is not trivial to defend that against the unbiblical idea that He is also relationally female. We can all have theological opinions, but we must judge those opinions by what God has said in Scripture.
Wanda G.
I would very much enjoy an in-depth article on this subject, specifically the consequences of substituting the male pronouns God uses for female pronouns. I'd like to read an exploration of how this would affect theology and how important it is that God relates to the earth as male. This is becoming a very hot topic, and I'd love more information on it so that I can better discuss this with contemporaries who are already using the Mother/Father tags for God. It is a very underrated topic, even though to some it may seem fairly obvious and plain.

I'd just like to see more on how important it is that God calls Himself Father. This article was beautiful and far too brief.
Lita Cosner
I did write a more in-depth article on the subject several years ago: What's in a pronoun?
Paul S.
Thank you for this article. Although you write both men and women are created in the image of God, 1 Cor 11 instructs: "A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man." Already early Christians recognized that it was man who created in the image of God, and because woman is taken from man, she shares his human dignity, but cannot be properly called to be truly created in the image of God, only indirectly so. Hence we have God the Father, God the Son, the Messiah, and the man Adam; all are expressions of masculinity, not femininity.
Lita Cosner
We've answered this before in Are women made in God's image? I recommend reading that article.
Linda Lee E.
Thanks, Lita! You come through every time. Well done.
Scott P.
Lita Cosner, thank you for your response in this article. I support the content, but have a question about the use of "gender" and "sex" in how you wrote the article - and this is a struggle for all of us in how we use those two words and concepts. It is easy to use the word "gender" when we really mean the word "sex". It doesn't help that the word "sex" is not only used to describe the biological reality of male and female but also used to describe the activity between the sexes that specifically centers on the difference between them. It is even more confusing when that word is used to describe activities between males or between females that is not based on the difference of male and female (can we really call that "sex"?).

In the second paragraph, you wrote, "...when gendered language is used to describe who God is and how He acts in relation to us, He is always unambiguously relationally male." The way I understand gender is that it is more related to cultural expressions of sex (which may differ among different cultures), while sex is related to biological reality. It seems confusing to, on one hand, to refer to "gendered language" while on the other hand conclude by making reference to the sex of "male".

Is it "gendered" or "sexed" language to describe a mother's natural female response to her child? Is it "gendered" or "sexed" language to describe "...who God is and how He acts in relation to us...."

Can you clarify? I am more and more convinced that it is very important to use the correct language since it will assist others in knowing exactly what we mean, as well as bring clarity into the very confused use of words in our day.
Lita Cosner
God does not have a biological body (aside from the incarnated male body of Jesus--but the human and divine natures coexist without mixture and confusion), so God does not have a biological sex. While gender once only referred to grammar, today it is commonly used in the way this article uses it, so I do not regard it as incorrect. It would be more confusing to imply that God has a biological sex, in my opinion.
Christopher L.
There is a different question to ask: Is God male or female?

Of course, He is neither. He is altogether something far more than human. Certainly, God relates to us as a parent, but also as a friend. He uses this relational construct because it is easier for us. We can more easily relate to Him that way, since we have an analog (our human parents!).
Lita Cosner
But Jesus does not teach us to pray "Our Parent who art in heaven," but "Our Father who art in Heaven". God does not have a body and so is not biologically male, though Jesus was incarnated as a human male and remains in a glorified male body as He intercedes for us before the throne in Heaven. However, God reveals Himself as relationally male. He is King, Lord, Father, Master--all inescapable male-gendered terms.
John C.
It is certainly a sign of the culture we live in, when even the plainness in Scripture is subject to the whims of the times. does not have to BE a woman to behave in caring ways LIKE (or as Lita so aptly puts it, more than) a woman. I do so appreciate the fact that it was one of the most Biblically sound and capable theologians I know, Lita Cosner, who gave such an able answer to this statement. Thank you for such an appropriate response.
Michael B.
Nicely written Lisa. When I've been confronted with claims that the Church was sexist for holding that God is male I point out that all of the male members of the Church must at some level view themselves in a female tense as the Bride of Christ which totally runs counter to their claims of sexism. Thank you for helping equip the saints for the days we are in. Your Brother in Christ, Michael
Ken C.
I agree with all that you have said Lita… It appears though that God’s reference to “Man” in Genesis 1:27 is done so in a gender neutral and both a plural and singular context… “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” I’ve had a difficult time wrapping my mind around this verse and have resolved to accept it as one of the mysteries of Gods creation. That said does it really matter with respect to our salvation whether we believe that God is a man and/or a woman?
Lita Cosner
It matters that believers accept God's statements about Himself and worship Him as He has revealed Himself to us. And He has revealed Himself consistently as relationally male. One Person of the Godhead, the Son, was incarnated as a man and currently stands interceding before the Father in a biologically male body. Given that all sorts of other eisegetical nonsense seems to come with gender-swapping God, it seems that it is very important indeed to affirm His maleness.
Kathy K.
I read all those versions plus many more and not one of them imply that God is a woman. That’s why reading the true Bible every day, meditating and studying the verses, words, context is so very important. It teaches discernment to pick out false statements or false teachers.

Trust in God’s word, not man’s. You can read man’s word but by being prepared biblically, you’ll know whether it agrees with God’s word or whether it needs burned up! Many godly people write good sound books, but always read God’s word every day.
Peter Boaz Jones K.
Wisdom is personified as female throughout the Book of Proverbs and "your mother" (1:8).
Also God - "Elohim", in Genesis in creating both male and female is characterized as,"Let Us", and therefore, "in Their image" - yin and yang.
Lita Cosner
Yes, wisdom is personified as female in proverbs--as is folly. While God has perfect wisdom, wisdom is not a Person of the Godhead. The plural in Genesis 1 refers not to male and female but to the plurality of the Godhead.
Adrian M.
Lita, this is succinct and poignant argument, that is faith affirming. Thank you for your excellent contributions on this topic, that retorts this skewed view of God attributes. Isn't all idolatry just another attempt to create God in an image which suits us for our own desires?
Remo W.
For that matter, in Psalm 91.4, God is referred to as having wings and feathers. Nobody is likely to think God is a chicken.

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