Tagged: Birth

The Risk of Becoming A Father: A Theo-Poetic Reflection

This is a reflection I wrote back in 2011, when my first son, Rowan, was born. It is, as I call it, a “theo-poetic” reflection, as I could not help but think about the grandness of this event as connected with faith in God.

Some would question whether fatherhood is a valid impetus for religious reflection. What do the two have to do with each other? I am of the opinion that even an atheist, when gripped with the beauty of life’s greatest moments ultimately resort to religious-like vocabulary: words of transcendence like “sublime” or even, “sacred.” There is a reason why the Hebrew prophets were not scientists or philosophers – those who think the mysteries of life can be objectified, scrutinized, and exhausted, those that naively hold that thought begins in doubt and ends in certainty rather than beginning and ending in wonder. Rather, all of the prophets were poets.

Many know their fathers as appearing cold and silent, perpetually poker-faced. After my son was born, my wife turned to me wondering why I did not cry at the sight of my son. I said that I did not know. I almost felt ashamed that I did not. Could I be that emotionless? However, as I reflect on this, and many of the powerful moments of my life, I have found that there are, for me, moments so profound that their magnitude invokes such a complex polyphony of emotions, our bodies do not know how to express one where our minds are wrestling with many. It is not that men are emotionless or emotionally shallow (as some have said), it is, I think, that sometimes we are so complicated, no one expression of emotion does justice. Thus, we appear reductionistically simple.

For this reason the Christian scriptures were not written as pure historical reports, logical propositions, and empirical data – objective yet dry, stale, and irrelevant – but rather as narratives, poetry, proverbs, and epistles – subjective, personal, and thus, real and relevant. Poetry is the enemy of science, as science accuses poetry of un-realism, yet it is poetry that seems to come to grip with what reality is for the human experience more than science. In French, the same word is shared for an account of history and a story, l’histoire, as it is understood that in order to communicate the flavor of life’s memories accurately, one must ironically use the metaphor, forsaking the demands of the factual in order to fulfill it and employing the rich meanings found typically in fiction. The wondrous thing about poetic reflection is that it is the attempt to wrestle into words the things that matter most to us, yet render us silent and speechless.

It is a strange wordless feeling becoming a father. Watching my wife’s pregnancy was just that: watching, a position that intrinsically predisposes a father to a sense of aloofness. Another’s pregnancy, for all its power to produce the sense of maternity, is no process to prepare for one’s own paternity: no inherent connection is formed between father and fetus, no nesting instinct clicks on automatically. A guy does not spend his childhood unwittingly rehearsing for childcare with his toys and their many nursery related accessories. Compared to the astounding ability to produce life from within oneself, to shift seamlessly and intrinsically into a parental-consciousness, men are left feeling as the “weaker sex.” Fatherhood, at least in its initial impulse, far from its place in perceived male headship, subverts the great chains of social hierarchy – hierarchy with all its promise of strength and security – that we as men wish to remain unthreatened.

I take Meagan in to be induced on the evening of Good Friday. We stay the night for observation. I don’t sleep. I can’t sleep: part anticipation part the stiff hospital chair-bed-thing is not actually suitable for sleeping.

Then the labor happens in the morning, Easter Saturday, April 23. Trumpets from heaven might have well of blasted: all the signs were there, all of it expected, however, an urgency sweeps over you that makes you feel you were never ready for what is to come. All preparations feel illusory and inadequate. It is the eschaton of my life, as I know it.

Moments become eternal as memory fragments into snap-shots that somehow also bleed together like a long exposure photograph: At the hospital, Cervidil administered, epidural, lunch from the Hospital’s Subway, contractions set in, the movie Ben-Hur plays in the background, cervix is fully dilated and ready to push. I look at my watch, its 4:25. Ben-Hur is at the chariot race scene. I hold Meagan’s hand. I hold her leg. Meagan’s mother, on the other side, does the same. Breathe. Push. Pause. Breathe. Push. Pause. I see the head.

I am not going to lie, it is gross. Life in it’s most raw forms, we often find disgusting; without all our prim and proper adornments to shield ourselves from the overwhelmingly messy purity that life is, we find it scary before we can properly appreciate it as sacred.

A haze of helplessness, ignorance, and anxiety from watching my wife have contractions, have pain, have labor, have something I have never witnessed before and can never understand, leaves me unsure of what is going on, what I should be doing, what I could even do at all. Men are supposed to “fix things.” I don’t know what to do. I say, “Good job,” as if I am the expert, as if I am not feeling awkwardly pathetic.

It all comes to the pivotal moment I see the little body and the loud cries begin. The sur-reality of labor splits sunder by the sharpness of the in-breaking reality of delivery. Adventus at 4:57.

The image behind the shadowy ultra-sound phantasms and amorphous movements within the belly manifests itself for the first time in one tiny distinct form: the crying naked body of a tiny baby boy. The tohu-wa-bohu of childlessness break by the bara of conception, that leads to the badal and miqveh of pregnancy, and culminates in the final barak of birth.

I give my wife a kiss, no longer simply between two lovers, but from the father to the mother of our child. A mature love is affirmed, love that culminated in new live, a new journey: our family. I hold my wife, my wife holds the baby, the baby holds my hand. Bone of my bone holding flesh of my flesh: we are three, yet, in love, we are one.

We named him Rowan Albert Boersma, Albert after my dad, John Albert Boersma. However, I was so tired after the birth that when I called my family to tell them the news, I told them the wrong name! It was the most pleasant point of exhaustion, I’ve ever felt!

I take my son in my arms and I look at him, and he opens his eyes and stares at me. Some refer to a religious experience as an “I-Thou” encounter, the finite “I” encountering God’s absolute “Thou.” The presence of the infinite being produces a sense of being infinitesimal, under the weight of the wonder of that which is Wholly Other. To hold my son for the first time is an similarly unspeakable feeling, apophatic yet oddly inverse: I feel like the thou, staring down at this being that is in my “image and likeness,” this person that is utterly dependent on my providence: so small, so fragile, so vulnerable, so innocent, but above all else, just so. With all that I am, I pronounce blessing on this being: I see him as “very good.” His finger reaches out and touches my finger in Michelangelo-esque sublimity.

As I sense myself as the Thou, the child becomes the I. And thus, I see myself in something other than me. In doing so, eye to eye, I sees I, self-hood is seen in another and otherness in self, an infinite reciprocal circle of identity and alterity. A type of self-transcendence occurs. The I-Thou reverses as I stand before a new tiny Thou. All senses of deity, the feeling of being bigger than you have ever been, paradoxically permeates with the sense of being smaller than you ever have been, feeling the full weight of fatherhood, the magnitude of responsibility, and the fear of innumerable potentialities of failure. The future in all its awesome potentiality presents itself, simultaneously dazzling as dangerous.

In holding that child for the first time, with the instantaneous love, you feel that you are more sure about what is right in the world than ever before, yet at the same time the most unsure. With love, an kenotic agape occurs as someone other than yourself becomes the measure of your essence. As you love this little someone, you see yourself in them, and your own idenity as a loving person becomes bound to them, covenantally. You bind your self-hood to something other than yourself, freely allowing yourself to be taken hostage to this someone that you know has the uncontrollable judgment to pronounce you a success or a failure in your task of loving, in your ability to be loving. The certainty in love appears also as the greatest risk. For those that define masculinity as a man’s self-sufficiency, power, and ability, fatherhood appears as a threat-to more than a fulfillment-of manhood.

Is this what God felt like as he beheld Adam? Is this what the Father felt as he looked down upon Christ lying in a manger? Through the divine tzimtzum, is this the risk of God’s essence as love entails as he constantly proclaims to his children, those other than himself yet from himself? Is this the mystery of God’s promise and proclamation to all humans, when he says, “I am love; I created you from love; I love you; I will always love you”? Is it in the finite response of gratitude for God’s love that God’s infinity is realized? Did God, as a being whose supreme ontological predicate is love, risk his very deity in the act of creating humans? It is only when every “knee bows and tongue confesses” the Spirit’s love, Christ’s lordship, and the Father’s paternity that God will truly be “all in all.” The marvel of God’s sovereignty is his willful vulnerability.

How can God be vulnerable? In Greek mythology, Cronus the Titan devours his children so that none can challenge his sovereignty. Zeus the all powerful, Cronus’ son, slays his father, only to become an absent uncaring father himself to myriads of bastard children of the women he seduced. He, the “father” of all gods, is a god that intervenes to win wars for his subjects – wielding the symbol of his power: the lighting bolt – only for the profit of more temples, more worship, more reputation, more fear of his might. The gods of the Greeks were defined as timeless, impassible, unchangeable, omnipotent and omniscient. And because of this, the Greeks logically concluded, in all their metaphysical sophistication, that the gods do not care about us. They must not care, or else they would not be gods! To care is to be weak. This is what the world conceives of as divinity: power and control.

Some wonder why an infinite deity would choose to identify himself as gendered and allow himself to be named by his people as “our father” (although there are many parts of scripture, I should point out, where God is depicted as motherly too), yet everywhere in our world we see absent fathers – people, perhaps, afraid of the risk of love – broken homes, abandonment, even abuse. And yet in our darkest moments something, someone, beyond all our experience, beyond all notions of how the world is, pierces the veil of despair and shines through in glorious consolation: God as love appears as the one that never abandons, always keeps his promises, always protects, is always proud, is always daring to love.

The God who identifies himself with the stories retold by the community that claims their brother is Christ is a God that we profess does nothing like what a god is expected to do: he comes into history, changes himself into a sacrifice, suffers with us, becomes weak and helpless choosing powerlessness over violence, chooses compassion over wrath, and even is said to have become the very thing God is not: the misery of sin and death. Though the vile yet beautiful cross – the symbol of the Christian God’s awesome ability – all this was done to say to all the fatherless: to all victims those crying out for rescuing, to all the abandoned that will never understand themselves as being worthy of a father’s proud smile. All this to say to all people: you have a father! Daddy loves you. He is proud of you. He will rescue you. He is never going to leave you.

Indeed, no psychological projection, no philosophical system, no misguided mythology constructed by human minds could invent the notion that a God would choose to use masculine language to define his magnificent characteristics yet fundamentally in his very essence, in his very being and becoming, be something so unbecoming of the impassible power and sovereign invulnerability of our notion of “male” deity, that is, the unfathomable and ineffable reality that God is love.

Hearing my crying child, holding him for the first time, and not knowing what to do to end the crying is an absolutely terrifying experience. Something so small renders someone so much older, bigger, and more capable that itself, ultimately incapable: omnipotence dissolves into omni-incompetence. However, he calms down and sleeps sweetly, and I pause to take in the strange soothing fragrance of a new born baby at peace on my chest, his soft head against my cheek. We both rest, I in pride and Rowan in purity. I think to myself that this is how God must have felt on the seventh day. Shalom, the peace that all existence strives for, engulfs us.

I use the blue musical teddy bear to comfort him, the same one my father used to comfort me. Now I understand what my parents felt, and I regret every moment that I ever took their love for granted. My father has passed away, my mother also, yet I am here. I say, “Daddy is here. Daddy is never going to leave you.” A generation passes, a generation comes, and yet in the flux of life’s frailty, for all its uncertainty, love is what remains eternally and assuredly the same. Death is no competitor to the renewing power of life through love. The “risk” of becoming a father, love’s risk of being inadequate, vulnerable, and the potentially a failure, in turn, is then what becomes illusory, dissolving into epiphany, as love’s jeopardy becomes life’s victory, as love demonstrates itself as the essence of immortality, as love demonstrates that love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, never ends and never fails.”

The Motherly Love of God: Theological Reflections on Mother’s Day

motherpainting

A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she held him, she sang:

I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.

This is from the story by Robert Munsch. It is very dear to me because my mom would read it to me. She read it to me to remind me that she loved me no matter what. That one day she won’t be around, so she wanted me to remember how much she loved me and how I should pass on that love.

That sounds a lot like the love of God, don’t it?

Today we are going to reflect on mothers. We are going to reflect on the significance of the gift of our mothers, and how the love of our mothers remind us of God’s love.

First I’ll tackle the tough stuff of metaphors we used to understand God: Is God a he or a she, a father or a mother? Or neither and both? Second, with that ground work laid, we will survey the rich images of motherly love in the Bible.

Understanding God as Father to understand God as Mother

First, we need to understand what God as Father means. Why in the Bible does God refer to himself as a “father,” or at least as a “he” rather than a “she” or both? I have often wondered that.

God in the Bible is always referred to as “he.” Jesus teaches us to pray to God as “Our Father.” Some people get offended at that. They think that is sexist. Some Christians have advocated modifying liturgical documents, editing out male references on that basis. I think that misunderstands why male references are used. Changing, for instance, the prayer, “Our Father” to “Our Mother” misses why it is the way it is.

Nevertheless, many conservative Christians don’t understand why God is portayed this way. One feminist objector to the faith, Mary Daly said, “If God is male the male becomes God,” and sadly, a lot of Christians think that. And so, church history has seen the Bible has been used to value men more than women under the notion that men are closer to God than women because God is male and not female. Their concern is not without warrant. Some Christians have argued on theological grounds that women were not in the image of God (based on a misreading of 1 Cor. 11) or that women are less human then men (which followed the Greek philosophical traditions of Plato and Aristotle that saw women as “defective” males). However, this is not why God refers to himself as a father. The abuse does not necessarily invalidate the use, but it does reiterate that to call God “Father” is not so much correct as why you are saying it. If you are calling God “Father” because you think these things, your notion of God has been reduced to something idolatrous. God is male because God is not a thing.

Why does God get communicated as a father in the Bible?

First off, God in beyond gender, but God communicates with us personally, so he takes on gender. God is the “I am that I am” (Ex. 3:14) indicating  freedom of existence, but God is not an “it.” So the use of the personal pronoun, “he,” is not to insist God is male so much as to prevent God from being abstracted. God is beyond creation and therefore beyond gender and sexuality. God is beyond everything. Yet he reveals himself to us using the good things around us. God allows himself to be imaged in order to have relationship.

God uses many images, not just gendered ones. Anything that is good can be used to communicate God’s goodness to us. God is a shepherd, a warrior, a king, a servant, a midwife, an artist, rock, light, fire, etc. This includes fatherhood as well as motherhood, because these roles are intrinsically good. While the Bible uses “he,” God is not more a he than a she. God is these things to get to the inherent goodness of himself that his created order shares from him.

God is understood as a “he” and a “father’ in the Bible for a very good reason. We, just like in the world of the Bible, have many absent fathers. God constantly communicates himself as a father, because there are so many people out there that, while they have a good mom, they don’t have a father. God communicates himself to us as a father, primarily because that is the love that most of us our missing, the love of a father. God seeks to be a father to the fatherless. God is a loving father in a way that says to absent fathers, true fathers do not do this. God communicates himself primarily as a father not because of patriarchy but to counter its abuse.

In fact, one of the first displays of God as a father in the Bible is the blessing and protection of Abram. God acts like a father to him as Abram leaves his father’s household. Abram is left fatherless, leaving his father’s idolatry for God’s call of obedience, and here God promises to be his father, protecting and blessing him. God is a father to the fatherless.

God is a father and the Holy Spirit is a “he” as well, particularly in the New Testament to reiterate the closeness of relationship they have to Jesus.

So, God primarily communicates to us that he is a loving father, the Father of Jesus Christ. However, many people neglect that God often does in the Bible speak of himself as a mother, loving us like a mother. This only makes sense:

God’s love is good.

Our mother’s love is good.

All that is good is of God.

Therefore, our mother’s love shows us God’s love.

Or, God’s love is good like a mother’s love.

Specifically, God loves like a mother.

Now this is important. While the Bible only uses the pronoun “he” for the reasons sketched out. To call God a “mother” or even to provocatively say “she,” is not actually against Biblical faith. While God is not referred to in the Bible as a “she” there is no reason to say God is more a “he” than a “she” or that masculinity is closer to God than femininity. The pronoun is not used in Scripture, but that does not necessarily mean it is “unbiblical.”

To use the term “she” to refer to God is similar to referring to God as a “Trinity.” No where in the Bible is the word “Trinity” used. Nowhere is the language of “three-in-one” used. While they are not explicitly found in the Bible, they are compatible with its logic. In fact, the trinity makes sense of its logic, helping us to image the God of the New Testament. If God is good and motherliness/femininity is good, then their goodness can be used to communicate God.

Think of a similar example.  In the Chronicles of Narnia, God is portrayed as a lion: majestic and powerful. One could just as easily use a dog to represent God. Any dog lover will understand this simile: God is loyal, a companion, a protector, a friend. Yet God is not a lion or a dog.

Scripture goes further to use non-living objects to communicate God. God is a rock, connoting secure firmness. God is a fire, indicating warmth, power, the capacity to purify and even to destroy.

Now, like I said, when we understand why Scripture uses “he” and “father” we know that it is not in a sexist or patriarchal way, although some abuse them for that purpose. We don’t need to jettison that language, nor do we need to have such a fuss about conceptualizing God as feminine. All the goodness of creation communicates God, not least of which is motherly love.

So, this is what we are going to mediate upon today. God’s love is like the procreative, unconditional, sacrificial, protective love of a mother. Our mother’s love points us to the love of God, and this will allow us to appreciate both God and our mothers today.

1. We come from God like how a mom gives birth to us

“You have forgotten the Rock who bore you and put out of mind the God who gave you birth.” (Deut. 32:18)

Deuteronomy warns don’t forget that you came from God. God is your creator like how a mom gave birth to you. Don’t forget that you owe who you are and what you are because God created you like a mother.

My earliest memory was when I was a little over three. I remember the day we moved into our house that I grew up in in Stoney Creek. I don’t remember anything of the house before that. I don’t remember anything of what my parents had to do for me before that. At three I was walking and talking.

That means for three years before that, I don’t remember how much my mom had to work to feed me, clothe me, bath me, brush my teeth, change my diaper, put me down for naps, comfort me when I was upset.

My mom told me that I cried incessantly for months after I was born. My mom brought me to the doctor, concerned about how much crying I did. The doctor told my mom that it was nothing, and she was just being crazy. After several times insisting to the doctors that she was not crazy. They ran some tests to find that I had a herniated stomach from birth. It took six months for them to finally get around to diagnosing it and operating on it.

My mom told me that the operation happened late December, and on Christmas morning, my mom woke up in a panic. I did not wake her up in the night, so she, like most mothers naturally do, assumed I had died and ran to my bedroom. She found me waking up smiling. My mom, until that day, had not slept a full nights rest in six months up until that point. You can imagine the patience, the perseverance, the devotion that takes? That is the same patience, perseverance, and devotion God has for us.

Deuteronomy warns don’t forget God who bore you; don’t forget the God who gave you birth. You are not a self-made person. You exist because someone cared for you while you could not care for yourself.

God here feels forgotten and under-appreciated like a mom!

I admit that I am a man. Red Green has taught me the important mantra “I am a man; I can change; if I have to; I guess.” Nevertheless, I forget special occasions often. I am also a human. There is something about me that causes me to be very forgetful of God some days.

In the times that I have forgotten Mother’s Day, I don’t think my mom was mad at me or disappointed because she missed out on her reward for all her good work in my life. Moms don’t do what they do for any recognition. Saying “thank you” to your mom on Mother’s Day is not rewarding her because she needs a reward, right? But every parent wants to know that they have raised their kid right. That means they have come to recognize goodness done to them when they see it, whoever is doing it, and they respond appropriately: with gratitude and appreciation.

The same goes with God. God wants to see us mature in his goodness, and that includes learning to have gratitude towards him and responsibility towards others. This is why praising God in church is so necessary. It is not necessary to God. God does not need us to sing to him. We need to sing to God. We need to be constantly thankful so that we can dwell deeper in the awareness of all that is good.

Thus God reminds us: Don’t forget the one who bore you, says Deuteronomy. Don’t forget.

2. God protects us like a mother bird

God guides Israel like a mother bird teaching her young to fly:

“Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the Lord alone guided him” (Deut. 32:11-12)

This is a fascinating picture of God’s providence:

How often do we refuse to trust God in order to guide us?

How often do we think God is making us fall when actually he is helping us fly?

God, in the Bible, is often described as a mother bird protecting her young.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, or in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by. (Ps. 57:1)

Jesus even looks at Jerusalem and longs to protect them like a mother bird in Matthew 23: 37-38:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!.. How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me! And so your Temple will be abandoned and empty.”

Paul, similarly, guides the church not as a father but as “a mother caring for her little children” (1. Thess. 2:7). Both examples, taken to their ultimate conclusion, poses the possibility that gender identity is porous with regards to roles and abilities, roles like be an apostle or a pastor not necessarily being “patriarchal” or innately “fatherly” roles.

Again, God is often described as male, as a father, as a king in the Old Testament to draw on the cultural experiences of men as protectors of the home. However, have you ever seen a female bird defend its nest? You can see what even Jesus prefers a motherly metaphor here, particularly, that of a mother bird.

Hawks have the ferocity to beat up bears if their nest is disturbed. Think about that. A 4 pound bird has the ability to send a 400 pound bear running for its life. Go ahead and look it up on the internet. It’s amazing. When a bear disturbs the tree where a hawk nest is, the mother hawk in a protective frenzy swoops down and claws the bears back. The bear runs yelping as the hawk continues to fly down, dive-bombing it. It’s incredible. The hawk beats up an animal 100 times its size in order to protect it’s young.

How confident that God will fight for you when you are in trouble?

How often to you think the things that are attacking your life are too big?

How often do we forget that God will fight for the death for us?

Believe it or not, God is fighting for you right now. The terrible thing about some of our sins – some of the dark things we are trapped in – is that we don’t know what trouble we are in. We don’t worry about all trouble we could be in.

Two things I look forward to seeing when I get to heaven. The first is all the moments God protected me in life that I did not realize. I imagine we will get to see the play by play of our lives in heaven, sort of like on sports channels. When that happens we will see all the moments God was there for us, saving us, protecting us, providing for us, and we did not even know it.

The second thing I look forward to seeing is all the prayers my mom prayed for me. How many times I went out and goofed around with my friends late at night and my mom could not sleep because she was waiting, worrying, and praying for me.

Moms fight for their kids, physically and spiritually. Moms want to protect their children with every ounce of their being. God is fighting for us right now and always. Do you realize it?

3. God also is wrathful like a mother

God’s wrath is often attributed to male metaphors, emphasizing power and patriarchal authority. However this appeal is not uniform. God is also seen as wrathful in a special way that only a mother can be.

“I will fall upon them [disobedient Israel] like a bear robbed of her cubs” (Hosea 13:8)

Notice that while God does not directly get the pronoun “she,” here the simile employs the feminine pronoun “her” to speak of God. God is wrathful like the awesome ferociousness of a mother bear whose cubs are in jeopardy.

Similarly, the salvific wrath of God is likened to a woman angrily in labor:

“For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant…I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation…I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isa. 42:14-16)

I remember when my wife was in labor with our second son. Labor came on so quickly by the time we figured out that she had gone into full labor and got to the hospital (this happened in about three hours) our son was born within minutes of her arriving.

I will never forget on the way to the hospital seeing my wife in pain. She furiously tried to hit the wall of the van. I grabbed her hand trying to stop her, so that she would not damage a knuckle. She looked me with a killer look in her eye and lunged at me to bite my hand like Bilbo when Frodo did let him see the ring. That was a whole other level of wrath I had never seen before. I have never felt that angry.

Understanding God’s wrath as motherly helps to understand it rightly. God has wrath not because God has stopped loving us but because God loves us passionately. When I have done wrong, my mom was angry at me because she knew I was capable of better and would do anything to help me be the best I can be. That is God’s wrath. It is a loving wrath that wants to help us not hurt us.

4. God as motherly by professional role

There are other uses of feminine language that employs cultural language that refers to typically female roles. God is portrayed as a midwife attending a birth in Psalm 22:9-10, 71:6, and Isaiah 66:8-9.

“‘Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children. Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?’ says the Lord. ‘Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?’ says your God” (Isa. 66:8-9)

Paralleling God as shepherd (male) in the parables, God and his kingdom is described as being like a woman working leaven into bread (Lk. 13:18-21) and a woman seeking a lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10), both chores of Galilean peasants woman. Jesus identifies God in these parables as women.

This again reiterates that if something is good it can communicate the divine. If a role is good, it can in some way, metaphorically communicate God’s goodness.

5. God refuses to let us go like a mother

“Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all who are left of my people.
I have cared for you from the time you were born. I am your God and will take care of you until you are old and your hair is gray. I made you and will care for you;  I will give you help and rescue you.”
(Isa. 46:3-4)

God here is described as a mother, who bares her child Jacob, but continues on for the rest of our lives, providing, caring, rescuing. What wouldn’t a mom do to rescue their child?

Fire broke out in Harrison, Arkansas of January 7th of this year. Police and firefighters worked to search the homes of a burning multiplex to evacuate anyone inside. One of the homes was engulfed in flames on all sides. The firefighters sprayed through and ran in the home to check it. In the upstairs bathroom they found a woman, Katherine Benefiel, 41, heavily burned, arms wrapped around her five year old son, covering him from the flames. Both were rushed to hospital, but the mom succumbed to her burns. The son, while badly burned himself, remained in critical care, but lived. The story continues to mention that the pastor of the nearby church stepped in to help the family.

Katherine Benefiel with her last strength, when it was apparent that there was no way out, used her self as a shield to protect her son.

What wouldn’t a mother do to rescue her children? She would give her very life. Is it any wonder why Scripture uses the metaphor of the love of a mother to teach us about God’s love for us? Isn’t that exactly what God did for us in Jesus Christ on the cross? God loved us so much that God would die to save God’s children. God died so that we could have life, eternal life.

So, it goes much further than that. God’s motherly love goes beyond any earthly motherly love. Creation is limited. God is infinite. Thus, the love of a mother is similar, but also infinitely dissimilar.

“But God’s people say, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a mother forget the baby she is nursing, and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isa 49:14-15)

Here Isaiah in his poetry enacts a similar move to the apophatic traditions of Christianity where God is ineffably more than all created things. God’s love is unspeakable better than any metaphor we use to talk about it. God reminds us that even the beautiful love of our mothers, while it points to his love, while God uses it to illustrate his love for us, it is inadequate at fully representing the perfection of love God has for us.

God bore us like a mother to physical life, but even more than that. God causes us to be born again of his Spirit to receive everlasting life.

God protects us like a mamma bird, but more than that, God protects us perfectly.

God has wrath like a mother, but perfectly, never doing so abusively.

God refuses to let us go like a mother, only God has laid down his life for us so that we can not only live this life, but for ever and ever in heaven afterwards.

This mothers day I am deeply reminded of this. My grandmother passed away this year. This means this year I do not have any of my families mother’s life alive. This week is a particular bizarre week. This week marks the anniversary of the passing of my grandmother (my Dad’s mother 16 years ago and the passing of my Dad from pancreatic cancer 8 years ago. My mom passed away 5 and a half years ago. That means, like I said, I don’t have any of the mothers directly related to me left.

Yesterday was also my wife and I’s six anniversary. We have been married for 6 years. It makes this time odd. It means I go out to celebrate the gift of having Meagan in my life, but it also reminds my that I don’t have my mother or grandmothers left to celebrate.

I do have a wonderful step-mom and mother-in-law, but of course, the can never replace my mom.

God, as I have been saying from Deuteronomy, says don’t forget where we came from; don’t forget who cared for us; don’t forget who gave us birth. He is urging us never to forget him, the author redeemer, sustainer of life, but to truly understand what God is communicating to us in these metaphors, we cannot take for granted the love we get from our mothers. Sadly, we won’t have them forever. I learned that the hard way.

May you cherish your earthly mothers as a gift from God that points us to his perfectly love.

May you know that God loves you like the perfect mother, who cares for you, protects you, even disciplines you when you are have strayed.

May you know that God in  motherly love has died your death and given you  life in Jesus Christ.