May 11, 2012 in Do we undervalue Motherhood or the role of women in faith?, Spotlight Answers by Chris Altrock
In a world in which most religions begin with God the Father or some sort of male image of the divine, and are founded by male figures such as Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad, do we undervalue Motherhood or the role of women in faith?
When God decided to place within creation a creature who would represent him, and through whom we might better understand him, God settled on a man and a woman—not just a man: 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
In other words, God’s image is only fully seen when viewed through both men and women. There are some aspects of men which best illuminate the nature of God. There are some aspects of women which best illuminate the nature of God. Both are needed to comprehensively image God.
Unfortunately, this foundational truth is often obscured. Author Rachel Held Evans draws attention to recent comments by popular evangelical leader John Piper: “God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother–The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter–God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men. . .Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. . .”
Some of the facts listed by Piper are indeed true. But what is particularly troubling is the final statement: “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.” This betrays the reality that when God imaged himself, he did so through a male and a female, not merely through a male.
This explains why, throughout Old and New Testaments, feminine qualities become critically important to understanding the nature of God.
- God describes himself as a “mama bear” robbed of her cubs (Hos. 13:8).
- God likens himself to a mother comforting her child (Is. 66:13).
- God defines himself as a nursing mother who cannot forget her child (Is. 49:15).
- God sees himself as a woman crying out in labor pains (Is. 42:14).
- God is the mother in whose arms we quiet and calm ourselves (Ps. 131:2).
- God is the mistress to whose hands the maid looks for provision and mercy (Ps. 123:2-3).
- Jesus envisions himself as a “mother hen” who longs to provide warmth and shelter to his chicks (Matt. 23:37).
- Jesus speaks of God as a woman who loses a valuable possession and refuses to stop searching until she finds it (Luke 15:8-10).
Henri Nouwen writes about Rembrandt’s painting “Return of the Prodigal Son” based on the story told by Jesus in Luke 15. The visual center of the painting is the hands of the father placed loving on the repentant prodigal son. But, as Nouwen writes, the hands are quite different: “The father’s left hand touching the son’s shoulder is strong and muscular. The fingers are spread out and cover a large part of the prodigal son’s shoulder and back. . .That hand seems not only to touch, but, with its strength, also to hold. . .How different is the father’s right hand! This hand does not hold or grasp. It is refined, soft, and very tender. The fingers are close to each other and they have an elegant quality. It lies gently on the son’s shoulder. It wants to caress, to stroke, and to offer consolation and comfort. It is a mother’s hand.” (Image, 1992), 98-99.
Rembrandt was trying to capture a significant truth of the Bible. We cannot understand God’s nature through only one gender. Both are needed to fully reveal who God is and who he’s called us to be.
So, on this Mother’s Day, let’s remember God the mama bear, God the nursing mother, God the mother hen, and God the woman of the house. We’ll find in these metaphors deep truths we and our world deeply need.