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by Henry Brinton, August 20 2020

Bible Study 16: Waiting

Isaiah 46:3-4

Turning to a Maternal God

How is God like a good mother to you?

When I was in divinity school in 1983, northern and southern Presbyterians finally healed the split that had divided them since the Civil War. They reunited and formed a new denomination called the Presbyterian Church (USA). One of their first challenges was to write a brief statement of faith.

I was ordained into the denomination in 1986, but the statement was still being hammered out. We Presbyterians always believe that things “should be done with dignity and in proper order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). Finally, it was approved in 1991 and became part of the denomination’s Book of Confessions, for use in worship and Christian formation.

One of the lines of the statement says, “We trust in God, whom Jesus called Abba, Father.” No surprise there, since the Aramaic word Abba, meaning “Daddy,” is a distinctive sign of the close, loving, and intimate relationship that Jesus had with God. But since we know that God is not truly an old man with a white beard, the statement goes on to say that God is faithful, like “a mother who will not forsake her nursing child.”

This turn toward the maternal side of God is not uniquely Presbyterian. Instead, it is deeply biblical. In the book of the prophet Isaiah, God says, “Listen to me, house of Jacob, all that remains from the house of Israel who have been borne by me since pregnancy, whom I carried from the womb until you grow old” (Isaiah 46:3-4). Isaiah understands God to be one who carries the people of Israel like a mother carries her children, holding them close and protecting them. This God is completely faithful, like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child.

Since many people have positive experiences of their mother’s love, this image of God can expand our understanding of how deeply God cares for us. And since some people might worry that this image weakens God, Isaiah tells us that that this maternal love is steadfast, firm and unwavering: “I am the one, and until you turn gray I will support you,” says God. “I have done it, and I will continue to bear it; I will support and I will rescue” (verse 4).

I am grateful that the language of the Bible gives us a variety of ways to understand the infinite power, grace and love of God. I realize that if I only considered God to be a father, I would miss the maternal side of my creator. If I only called God my “rock” (Psalm 18:31), I would be ignoring that fact that the “LORD is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). Since no single word, image or phrase can capture the fullness of God, we are showing the greatest respect for God by using a wide range of biblical terms, from the paternal to the maternal. 

Thank you, Lord, for loving me like a good mother and father. Amen.

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by Henry Brinton

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