Maria came from a rural sheep farming community. As a child, she was molested for years by a shepherd. For years, she hated to go to church, with the pulpit cloth in her church proclaiming: “I am the good shepherd.” To make it worse, her preacher liked to call God a shepherd in his sermons. Maria had to escape from that. As an adult, she started attending a church which does not have any reference to God as shepherd on the pulpit cloth, and started immersing herself in other images of God: God the Father, the groom, the bread of life, the living water. She even found help in images like the Great Physician or the Rock of Ages, terms not in scripture.
Would you say that Maria is denying an important Bible truth, being unwilling to admit God is the Good Shepherd? Or that her theology is driven by her emotions?
Of course not. We assume she intellectually understands why God is called a shepherd. It is simply not the image she needs to focus on, in order to understand God better. Anthropomorphic (humanized) images of God are all well and good when it helps you to understand God better, and a lie the moment it gives you a false image of God. God is “the Mighty Warrior” (Zephaniah 3:17), but if that causes you to see God as a powerful enemy, the image is taken too far.
What about this one:
As a child, Maria was molested for years by her father. For years, she hated to go to church, as her preacher liked to call God “the Father” in his sermons. Maria had to escape from that. As an adult, she started attending a church where God is seldom referred to that way, and started immersing herself in other images of God: The shepherd, the groom, the bread of life, the living water. She even found help in images like the Great Physician or God as mother, terms not in scripture.
In this case, a lot of people will claim Maria is denying an important Bible truth, being unwilling to admit God is a Father, and allege that her theology is driven by her emotions.
But for all we know she could still intellectually understand why God is called a Father. You may now want to remind me: “Mother” contradicts “Father”.
In humans, that makes some sense: There will probably never be someone who biologically fathers and mothers children. God is not our biological father/ mother, though. We are God’s adopted children, not biological. How is an adoptive father different from an adoptive mother, in a being with no physical body?
And God is called a lot of things which, taken literally, contradict each other:
> He is a rock and living water. Jesus is the door, and the bread of life, and a pearl of great price. – those are different substances, something can’t be water and rock at the same time.
> God is the vine (John 15) and the owner of the vineyard.(Mat. 20)
> God is the Father, and the groom to his bride. In the material world, the same man being both father and groom to the same woman is very wrong indeed!
We sometimes call God things that seem to contradict one another. These things, which cannot literally be true at the same time, add to our understanding of God.
Or you may want to say: “God never taught us to call him mother!”
True, God did not. But how far does that bring you? God never taught anyone to call Him the Rock of Ages either, yet by Isaiah 26:4 we find the term meaningful. Not everyone even agree that Song of Songs indirectly speaks of God, much less are the terms in it names God calls us to use for Him, yet we do not regard it as heresy to call God the “lily of the valley” or “the rose of Sharon.”(Songs 2:1) We are not offended to hear of God being called the Great Physician, even though neither that term nor that image is from the Bible.
You may now say: “But there is at least Bible texts which describe God in terms of an everlasting rock, a healer, or (maybe, if God is in view) the lily of the valley. Where are texts where God is described in motherly terms?”
> God is like a mother eagle (Deut. 32:11-12)
> God gives birth (Deut. 32:18)
> God is as a comforting mother (Isa. 66:13)
> God is as a woman in labor (Isa. 42:14)
> God is like a mother to a weaned child. (Psalm 131:2)
> God taught Ephraim to walk, was like those who lift infants to their cheeks, God bent down to feed them. (Hos. 11:3-4)
> God is like a bear robbed of her cubs. (Hos. 13:8)
> “El Shaddai”, usually translated as the all-sufficient God, could mean “the many-breasted” one. What does breasts have to do with being sufficient? Think of a nursing mother for one possible answer. (48 appearances in the OT)
> God is as a Mother Hen (Mat. 23:37 and Luk. 13:34)
We have way more Biblical examples of God as a mother than of God as the Rock of Ages, the Lion of Judah, or the Lamb of God. I am, therefore, shocked when I see how people – the latest example being Jory Micah – are attacked as heretics for suggesting that God could, among other terms, be called a mother. By God’s images for Godself, God could be called a mother. Don’t get me wrong: I am completely against denying the Fatherhood of God. Motherhood images of God, like any other images should add to our understanding of God, not subtract from it.
I think this text gives a relevant principle for this issue too:
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. (Mrk 2:27)
God seemingly gave us anthropomorphic (humanized) images of the Divine to help us understand him. Anthropomorphic images of God was probably also “made for people, not people made for the images.” Does it help your understanding of God to imagine God as a Father/ Mother? Then look at God that way. Does it hinder you? Then do not deny the truth that is present in the image, but focus on images that do help.
I suspect that most of the people who react strongly to God being called a woman/ mother have as much an emotional reaction as the hypothetical Maria above. The gut reaction of shouting “heresy” and “blasphemy” comes from a place of seeing womanhood itself as lower than manhood, and females as less than males. Seeing womanhood as an insult should be confessed to God, and needs to be changed deep inside.
Note: The traditional Christian view of God is that God does not have a sex, as God is Spirit, and because male and female both reflect his image. And God say He is “not a man.” (Numbers 23:19 uses a word that should rightly be translated “man” as in “male”, not as in “human.”)
The exception is Jesus in his earthly incarnation, which was male. God uses both male and female images for Godself. However, “Father” is a very major way in which God is revealed in the text, while motherly revelations in scripture are a lot rarer.