Monday, May 14, 2007

God as Mother? (Mothers' Day Message)

Happy Mothers’ Day! On Mothers’ Day I will respect tradition and offer a Mothers’ Day Message. I offer it to you without apology and with appreciation for that time-honored institution—because if it weren’t for motherhood, none of us would be here!

Even so, you always have to be careful about these messages. I have to take care not to get too sentimental or over romanticized about motherhood because for some, motherhood is an accident and not always welcome; for some, biological motherhood is not possible, for some we remember our mothers have passed away—feelings of sadness, even regret may overwhelm us, and for some—mothers weren’t always that nice. Comedian Bill Cosby always complained to his children when their grandmother would spoil them. He would say: This isn’t the same woman who raised me. What you see is an old person who wants to go to heaven!

So with all of this, why even celebrate Mothers’ Day? I’ll tell you: for all of its problems, its broken dreams, for all the soiled diapers and soiled plans; we are talking about a beautiful ideal, a natural part of God’s creative plan to show us his love and character.

Did you hear that right? Motherhood demonstrates God’s character? What do you mean, Darryl?

We’ve often focused on God as Father, haven’t we? It’s a legitimate metaphor. The Bible certainly refers to God as Father. But we always have to be careful not to settle on just one metaphor to describe God. He is much bigger than that! One of the key elements of idolatry is to focus on just one aspect of God and then to solidify it—ignoring all of the other aspects.

So I wonder: are there any maternal descriptions of God in the Bible? Guess what? There are.
We find most of these maternal figures of speech in the book of Isaiah. They are also in Hosea and in Matthew. Here are a few of them:

“Listen to me, descendants of Jacob,
all you who remain in Israel.
I have cared for you since you were born.
Yes, I carried you before you were born.
I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
I will carry you along and save you.
(Isaiah 46:3-4)

Sing for joy, O heavens!
Rejoice, O earth!
Burst into song, O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted his people
and will have compassion on them in their suffering.
Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;
the Lord has forgotten us.”
“Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?
Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?
But even if that were possible,
I would not forget you!
See, I have written your name
on the palms of my hands.
Always in my mind is a picture
of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.
Soon your descendants will come back,
and all who are trying
to destroy you will go away.
Look around you and see,
for all your children will come back to you.
As surely as I live,” says the Lord,
“they will be like jewels or bridal ornaments
for you to display.
(Isaiah 49:13-18)

This is what the Lord says:
“I will give Jerusalem a river of peace and prosperity.
The wealth of the nations will flow to her.
Her children will be nursed at her breasts,
carried in her arms, and held on her lap.
I will comfort you there in Jerusalem
as a mother comforts her child.”
(Isaiah 66:12-13)

In some of these passages we notice that God is pictured as one who gives birth to Israel. Which is not really a surprising picture is it? God is seen as creator throughout all of the Bible. He is the source of life. This is carried over into the New Testament. Christ-followers are “born from above” or “born anew” according to John 3. And how is that? We are born by the Spirit of God—he is the source of our lives!

One of the words constantly associated with God is compassion. He is compassionate toward Israel. He binds them up with bandages of compassion. He leads them in compassion. Now here’s the interesting thing: the Hebrew word for compassion is rachamim. It comes from racham which is the Hebrew word for womb!. The word points to a natural affection a mother would have toward her newborn child. In a much greater sense, God has this kind of affection toward his creation. He never gives up hoping for his children. He is longsuffering and patient.

Another maternal characteristic of God is his protectiveness. Jesus even uses this imagery of himself in Matthew 23:37-39 when he cries over Jerusalem. This is the picture of a mother hen that would offer her body as a protective covering for her young.

James S. Hewett tells the story about the mother of an English Prime Minister David Lloyd George. When he was a tiny infant, his mother was making her way over the hills of South Wales with him in her arms. She was overtaken by a blinding blizzard. After the storm was over, workers found the body of the young mother coving a bundle. She had taken off her clothes and wrapped the infant and then covered him up with her own body to save his life.

These passages also describe God as a comforter. "I will comfort you as a mother comforts her child." Isaiah is a message to a rebellious people who had been exiled into Babylon. God is telling them: “You will be enslaved, but I will not abandon you. I will still love you. When you realize your sin, I will not say: I told you so! I will be there to give you comfort and rescue you.”

So what do we do with all of this? First, we look at our mothers and recognize even if they have not been all they should have been, they have shown some of the characteristics of God toward us. So we say: “God bless you mothers! Thank you for showing us God. You have given us life, compassion, protection, and comfort!” Secondly we recognize even the best parents among us have experienced failure. God is presented as both mother and father to Israel. He was the perfect parent. His first children on earth were raised in the perfect environment. Still they broke his heart. Israel constantly rebelled, even against this perfect parent. If God had trouble, we shouldn’t be surprised when we fail, too. Finally, we recognize we are holding up an ideal. As moms and dads we recognize there are so many times when we don’t exhibit the compassion and patience we need to show. We understand how easy it is to give up on our sons and daughters when they don’t behave as they should. We are saddened by our inability to live perfectly. So we repent of our anger and impatience. We ask God to change us into parents who reflect his compassion, his protection and comfort.

Why celebrate Mothers’ Day? Because God has given us mothers and it is certainly appropriate to thank God for one of his greatest gifts to all of us! Let’s also thank him for being the source of our life, for his compassion and protection. Let’s dedicate ourselves, starting this day, to strive to develop his character in us, whether we are moms, dads or children!

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