The Motherly Attributes of Our Heavenly Father

[I posted this thought-provoking tweet on a Facebook discussion group page:

My concern is not whether God is portrayed with what we would call female attributes. That happens in the Bible. It’s the issue of whether God should be addressed as Mother when Jesus (in the Sermon on the Mount) said we are to address him as Father.

Mindi Silich gave a thoughtful response. It was so good I asked if I could run it as a guest post here. Mindi said yes, and I’ve reproduced it below.]

***

My mother, whose father died when she was 3 and had a mother who never showed love to her, came to the Lord a few years ago. She dove right in and began reading the Word, praying, it was a beautiful sight. Then her sister, whom she admired greatly, invited her to her Catholic church. (Now I’m not looking to spark debate on church doctrines and whether or not they line up biblically.)

My mother stopped reading the Bible as much and spent her time reading book upon book about Mary and the Saints. She even traveled to Medjugorje with my Aunt and trekked up the hill where a sighting of Mary was “seen” and supposedly gave messages to the world.

All that to say, the subject of doctrine became a sore spot between us. I saw her pull away and look at me and my understanding of the Lord as inferior and full of error. I grieved a lot as I watched her knowledge of Jesus dwindle and her knowledge of Mary and saints greatly surpass.

One night when she was in town visiting, and after several stories she shared about this thing and that thing that Mary or a Saint had done, I felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to ask her why she speaks more of what Mary did and nothing of what Jesus has done for all.

Her response I’ll never forget, as God used it to help me better understand my mother and where she was coming from. It was understanding I had prayed and asked the Lord for. She said, “I guess I love and admire Mary because I never had a mother that loved me, and the Catholics talk about Mary as the mother of all; about how much she loves us, and I guess I relate with that because, I really need a mom.” And then she broke down into tears in front of me.

So when people talk about calling God “Mother” I often wonder what battles they’ve gone through that makes the idea of “Mother” more comforting to them. I also wonder how many people wouldn’t need to call God “Mother” if, as a church, we didn’t soil the reality of God’s femininity by degrading women, insulting them, and making them “less than.” Or worse, using them as the butt of a joke.

From the pulpit and beyond the church has marginalized, sexualized and ignored women that God created in His own image. All the while also hammering into the minds of many men that they don’t measure up. They aren’t “manly” enough, they aren’t stepping up to lead in an area that, deep inside, maybe they may know they aren’t gifted or called to lead in, and being who God made them to be just simply isn’t enough.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … ! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings … !” (Luke 13:34) Enrique Simonet, He Wept over It (1892)

I was reminded of things I had believed in early in my own walk that looking back, weren’t very aligned with or rooted in scripture but yet were used mightily by God to meet me in deeply hurt places that later propelled me into a better (and later more scriptural) understanding of Him.

What if we preached on the feminine side of our Father in such a positive way that one could relate to Him by way of those feminine traits too? So that people can grasp and understand that He encompasses a father and a mother, not just a father. Even though Jesus instructs us to call him “Father.” What if we preached that these “feminine” traits are not something bad or shameful, but rather they are part of who God is and part of who He made us to be.

The church has oppressed one half of the body of Christ and those in that half that are coming up for air and seeing the REAL truth are looking for validation, and for some that means looking at God’s motherly aspects. I believe God understands the hearts of people such as these who call him Mother and gives grace in this area.

***

Mindi Silich blogs at Ramblings, where she describes herself as: Wife, Mother, Photographer and writer. Born in Arkansas, moved to Iowa, and now live in Racine, Wisconsin with my husband Ryan and daughter, Kinder. I left the life I knew in small town Iowa for a job transfer in Racine in 2002, where God has since grown me into a place of great freedom in knowing who I am in Christ and the purpose he has on my life. In 2013 God called me into ministry and I have since been letting Him mold me and prepare me for what He has in store.

***

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27 Responses to The Motherly Attributes of Our Heavenly Father

  1. Colleen says:

    “I believe God understands the hearts of people such as these who call him Mother and gives grace in this area.”

    Thank you for this Mindi. When you tweeted yesterday, Tim, that you were going to run it today my stomach flipped. I was dreading it and determined not to read it. While I do not pray to “Our Mother” personally, I was shocked at being told it was “wrong” to do so if it allowed me to be in relationship with God when calling Him father prevented it. I may not use the actual word ‘mother’, mainly because I was raised with ‘father’ and it’s what I know, but I have thought about Him as a mother often. I could not read the entire thread because many comments felt hurtful and legalistic (which was NOT the intent of the poster), and I haven’t been able to shake the feelings of being wrong, frustrated, confused, and less than. I wondered if I was putting my needs ahead of honoring God. The more I read, the more it felt true and the further away I felt from Him which is already a huge struggle for me.

    I also wondered why how I personally engaged with Him in my heart was egregious to other people. I had a Benedictine monk tell me once I was praying wrong during contemplative prayer and I felt chastised and ashamed. I felt as though God refused to hear me because I wasn’t praying right. I felt similarly while reading the thread. If my heart connected with His heart because I was able to talk to Him without the pain of past hurts by calling Him mother, and calling Him Father prevented that connection, why were so many people using scripture to show how it was dishonoring God? Would God refuse to hear my prayers as that monk had suggested?

    Jesus tells us how to pray using “Our Father”, but is it the only way at all times? I think about Mary and Martha both going to Jesus when their brother died and saying the exact same words to Him. He met Martha with a bit of a bible study and later with a firm reminder that He told her if she believed she would see the Glory of God; with Mary He wept. He met each one where they were. He knew what each heart needed and He gave it to them. Would the same response have comforted both of them? It would seem Jesus did not think so. Why does one manner of prayer fit all when every relationship with Him is unique? Is He truly offended if I need to call Him mother or I can’t trust He will carry my pain? Does He say the pain in my heart is irrelevant and He will not accept it because I called Him Father when in this season of my life it is too hard?

    Maybe I interpreted the entire thread incorrectly because I filtered it through my own lens, and maybe the thread changed to be more accepting of personal choice of prayer after I stopped reading. Perhaps people were more focused on using the word ‘mother’ in corporate worship and I totally missed it. However, if it was about pointing out the error in personal prayer by using the word mother I am still left wondering why it is important to others and it is just as important to God.

    Thank you for your excellent and calming perspective, Mindi. This was particularly helpful:

    ‘I was reminded of things I had believed in early in my own walk that looking back, weren’t very aligned with or rooted in scripture but yet were used mightily by God to meet me in deeply hurt places that later propelled me into a better (and later more scriptural) understanding of Him.”

    Sorry for the length. I struggle to embrace brevity sometimes.

    • mindiranae says:

      Hi Colleen, thank you so much for sharing your story. I had a long response and for some reason because I was mobile is not showing up. I am headed out the door for a little bit now but will respond again on my computer when I get back home. Be encouraged my sister, you are deeply loved!

  2. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Very wise and gracious post, Mindi; thanks for your thoughts, and thanks Tim for sharing it here.

  3. Gwen Jorgensen says:

    This was so good, Mindi. Yes, I think God does go ahead and step around some of our misunderstandings, and into our hurts and scars, to heal us. Good theology important, but if it leads us away from a growing relationship with a God and Savior who heals, it hasn’t done the work of Jesus. I am so thankful for the many mothering attributes in God’s character, that I find in scripture. I don’t feel the need to adress him as mother, but I have surely flown to him for the mothering side of his character, many times. Jesus did say ‘Our Father, who art in heaven’, so I am content with that. But I know many who were so hurt by an earthly Father, that they cannot receive that, before healing. There’s just no one who can fold me under the shadow of his wings, like God. Thanks for these thoughtful and well- expressed words.

    • mindiranae says:

      “that they cannot receive that, before healing” That is so key. I’m reminded of a quote Joyce Meyer used from an evangelist she had traveling with her about Christians trying to “clean the fish before they catch them,” referring to the way Christians often want to make sure every person saved or unsaved has a correct theological understanding before they consider the hurting heart before them. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Rick says:

    Years ago I heard a Johnny Cash song in which he refers to the God as the Father hen; at first it caused a somewhat dissonant reaction in my literalist heart. Now–I love it. God created us, male and female, to express, in as full a measure as possible His glory and character. To focus only on the character of God revealed in what are traditionally thought of as male attributes is to present a very distorted view of God–it is no wonder so many cannot relate to God in ‘traditional’ church settings.

    Mindi, I appreciate your voice–

    • mindiranae says:

      “To focus only on the character of God revealed in what are traditionally thought of as male attributes is to present a very distorted view of God–it is no wonder so many cannot relate to God in ‘traditional’ church settings” -Amen Rick

    • roscuro says:

      I know that song, ‘When the man comes around’ and love it. When I first heard the words, I recognized that Cash was partially quoting Christ’s words when he wept over Jerusalem, “How often would I gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34). Jesus himself was making reference to the recurrent Old Testament image of being under God’s protection as being under the wings of a mother bird, found in Ruth 2:12, Psalm 17:8, 36:7, and 91:4.

  5. Doug says:

    Thanks, Mindi, for your gentle Truth. We are all called “sons” of God, and we are all the “Bride” of Christ. Recently finished two helpful books; “The Malestrom” and “The Gospel of Ruth” by Carolyn Curtis James.

  6. I think a lot of Christians forget what God making men and women in His image really means. Women do not reflect God’s image less than men do- men are not more like God than women. The character of God encompasses everything about what it means to be human (except without sin) both male and female. God invented motherhood and it reflects aspects of His character just as thoroughly as fatherhood does.

  7. Reblogged this on Funhouse and commented:
    Culturally we’re very confused about gender, but the church remains differently but equally messed up, also. Mindi writes a thought-provoking post here. Let’s start a conversation.

    Give it a read, and comment below if you like…

  8. Muff Potter says:

    With respect to Debbi’s tweet, I fail to see how referring to God as mother is adding to Scripture. If one insists that one must follow without deviation the writings of a bronze age desert culture based on absolute patriarchy, well then yeah, I can see it from that angle.
    Needless to say, I no longer see it that way. How can the God who created all, and especially the goodness and loving kindness of idealized motherhood, not in a very real sense also be mother?

  9. God's Blog says:

    Greetings and Blessings to you!
    I pray we all continue to search the Scriptures and go to God seeking answers.
    I will only say this and not to enter any debate Fact:
    “I AM” and may the Holy Spirit continue to illuminate this to us! 🙂

  10. Mindi, what a kind, loving and generous post. Clearly, from what you described, your mother _needed_ mothering. I suspect God understood her struggles and her heart, and came alongside of her over the years in just the way she needed at the time.

    I came out of an Evangelical background, then trained as a chaplain with Clinical Pastoral Education. As I found time and time again in my years of chaplaincy work in hospitals in Chicago (an extremely multi-cultural city), God/Higher Power reveals Himself (and, yes, Herself) in a myriad of ways. In their time of need, God can come alongside of patients and their families in remarkable ways.

    I think it is a beautiful thing to view God as masculine, feminine, and everything in between–because that is the All-in-All, the Alpha and Omega, the nurturing mother hen that Jesus describes in Luke 13. (Just what I described in my sermon, Sun Feb 21 Sermon – Luke 13:34 “Love, Under His Wings” @StLukesChurch2 #pastorpreacherprayer http://wp.me/p5Nfg4-4u )
    @chaplaineliza

  11. Angie says:

    I appreciate the original comment and this post. Mindi, you write with a refreshing gracious tone. I’m not compelled to address God as Mother either, and, agree, grace is in order for those who do.

  12. Ruth says:

    A heart-felt post that attracted some rather unkind comments. You see, I cannot use the term Father God, or Papa, or any really masculine terms. I use My Loving Redeemer, Dearest Lord, Loving God, Jesus my Perfect Friend, and others. Knowing God made all things in His image, I know there is no male or female such as we can recognise, past our imperfect perceptions.
    Having taught in Catholic schools where we would do morning devotions, but leave other parts to the class teacher, I can say there was as much sincere love and belief in the children as any others, a really enjoyable time of prayer and praise.
    I read the new lessons that were to be taught about Mother Mary, and I have to say it pulled at my heart, and helped me deconstruct the things I had experienced to make me not use Father to God in prayer. It was truly beautiful and satisfied a longing in me for knowing a gentler, kinder, sweeter God. See clearly why the veneration of Mary calls to so many…..
    He is our Mothering Father in Heaven to me. I don’t pray that term, but it fits the the place I am at very well. After all, my beloved mother is with Him, so, soon, will my mother in law be too and that cements it all in place.

  13. Pastor_Bob says:

    Must we ignore the attribute of the “Loving Father” who does so much for his children that we also speak in the ways described about women? Must that contradiction exist? if so why?

    Having o bio-kids of my own, I have filled the role of the loving father figure in the live of many children. I have lovingly protected, guided so many, yet I hear and see men who do not act this way. I have seen the extremes from the mother yelling at the tired child to the parents who permit their children to create many problems in a store.

    Why do we label the correct behaviors by masculine and feminine? Both should exhibit such, although we will often some coming from one more than the other… Both need to come from ALL.

    • mindiranae says:

      I hope I am understanding your comment correctly. I think I am and agree I don’t believe we should ignore the attribute of the “Loving Father” however for some that whole concept is lost. My mother for instance, lost her dad when she was 3 years old. She never understood the love that can come from a father figure. And in many people, admittedly myself at times, it is hard to separate what we read about our loving Father and what we know from our own experiences and background here on Earth.

      As humans I think we often try and relate to the things of God by any means necessary to help wrap our minds around Him and all that He is. Of course we can never really wrap our minds around God, his majesty and mystery are so great. In my case I attributed things/characteristics of my earthly father onto my Heavenly Father. Thankfully He is full of grace and mercy and has corrected a lot of those since. In others, pains go much deeper and causes an inability to relate to and feel God’s love through the understanding of a “Loving Father.”

      Take for example children who were abused by their father. It makes sense to me (now) that some need to relate to the “mother” as is understood by our culture, wrong definitions or not. Fathers absolutely are loving, it is unfortunate that the patriarchal roots of our culture have deemed a “good” man to mean “strong, cold, and unemotional.” Labels that’d be best let go of… and none of which are my husband’s traits, in fact he, at times, is warmer with our daughter than I am inclined to be. Yet that doesn’t mean I am not loving toward her. So yes, both need to come from all.

  14. Kate says:

    “I believe God understands the hearts of people such as these who call him Mother and gives grace in this area.”

    I like this article, but this last night erked me alot. I don’t understand why you think grace would need to be extended to those who call God mother, when both male and female are made in His/Her image, and They want us to relate to them in an intimate relational way, which is why Jesus told us to refer to God in a parental way – and yet you appear to be suggesting in that final phrase that choosing one parental title over another is somehow offensive (even if mildly) and requires God’s grace – almost as if it’s leaning towards a sin?

    It’s possible I misunderstood what you were saying in that final line, which is why I wanted to comment and ask

    • mindiranae says:

      Thanks Kate, I appreciate your question.
      I’ll start off by mentioning that I hold the belief that when Jesus gave instructions on how to pray and addressed God as “Father” that he worded it that way for a reason. So for me, it is a personal conviction of mine that I do not want to change God’s word. However, my comment as whole was more about the work God was doing in my heart to pull me out of religiosity and the cold disregard for others that disagree with me and into a place of grace-filled love for his people despite differences. Because doctrine had become such a sore spot between my mother and I, I had allowed myself to fall into a judgmental and self-righteous place and paid little attention to how deeply my mother’s heart was hurting or regard for the journey that had her there and instead focused on our differing theology. Since this situation I have grown into a place of being able to embrace others better through differences and let my focus be on loving them as Jesus has called me to.

      In all honesty, I can’t say if calling God “Mother” vs “Father” is a sin or not and wouldn’t be so bold as to state it one way or the other. It is a non-essential in terms of salvation so I’d rather keep peace than to bicker over it. I think it’s an avenue some take to relate with Him and feel his love. What someone else calls the Lord in their personal walk with Him is quite frankly none of my business and doesn’t affect me personally.

      However through the lens of my understanding and aforementioned personal convictions, I would err on the side that IF it is a sin, God has grace abounding for those hurting hearts and their need to relate to him on a personal level, whatever that may be. And if it isn’t then the fact still remains that God is full of abounding grace and therefore I should walk in love and give grace for certain things that don’t coincide with my beliefs for the sake of being Jesus to those around me.
      So perhaps my wording choice could be better on that last line, but it was stated through the lens of my belief based on Jesus’ illustration. Not as a claim of special knowledge or an aim to alienate those who believe differently.

      I hope I adequately answered your question and again, am grateful for it as it encouraged me to re-evaluate my heart once again on this matter.
      God Bless ❤

  15. roscuro says:

    Jesus, who is God the Son, spoke to God the Father during his earthly ministry. Because we are adopted into the family of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we also may speak to God the Father. The terms Father and Son, as well as Holy Spirit, are a revelation of the Trinity. It is important to remember that when we pray to the Father, we are addressing God the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit, which is why when someone absentmindedly says something like, “Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for coming and dying for us” I wince at the garbled theology. It should go without saying that the Trinity is far greater than any earthly shadow resembling its form, but sadly, as in the recent conflict over the theological error of the Eternal Subordination of the Son, we are always reducing God to our human understanding of relationship.

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