Is God our ‘mother’?
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 Sanders, 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.