Addressing a group of Christian college students, the speaker joked, “Even though God is male, he can totally multi-task.”
I cringed, hardly believing what I’d just heard.
Though correct about God’s omniscience and omnipresence, this speaker committed a major theological blunder by asserting that God is male. Even in the context of a joke, ideas shape the way people think.
It’s an easy default for many. After all, God is referred to with masculine pronouns throughout Scripture, and one of his titles is Father. However, languages both ancient and modern have inherent limitations, especially when we try to put into words the nature of our transcendent God.
The opening chapters of the Bible give us insight into the nature of God and of human beings, “God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27, NET). Genesis 2 goes into further detail about the first woman being created from a portion of Adam’s side. The pair are given a task: together, they are to exercise dominion over creation and serve as God’s representatives on the earth.
The imago Dei is a mysterious concept worthy of much study, but one takeaway from these passages is this: God differentiated his image-bearers into two genders which both reflect him. Therefore, to think of God as male is incorrect and poses a significant limitation to our understanding of God’s nature and God’s ways. God is neither male nor female. God is Spirit (John 4:24). God transcends gender. This simple truth is one we do well to regularly revisit, lest we misunderstand the One we worship.
Downfalls to Seeing God as Only Male
When we see God as male, we see God only as a father figure, not as a mother. This can leave us feeling like spiritual orphans bereft of the nurturing comfort and support provided by a mother.
I am not suggesting fathers are incapable of providing nurture, comfort, and support. I’m simply saying human beings do best with the love and care of both a mom and a dad. Together, both parents reflect the nature of God in family life, which is one aspect of male/female co-regency on earth.
One of the unfortunate imbalances resulting from seeing God as male (whether consciously or unconsciously) is that the concept of a father-wound seems to be addressed far more widely in Christian circles than the idea of a mother-wound. Many Christians understand that the flaws and failures of their earthly fathers deeply impact their view of God. Do we also understand that the flaws and failures of our earthly mothers impact us just as much?
Think of the child whose mother is addicted to drugs or alcohol, or the child who is molested by their mother. Consider children who are verbally and emotionally abused by their mother, or neglected while she pursues boyfriends, or even abandoned entirely. A mother’s negative behavior during her child’s formative years may be dramatically dysfunctional or subtly hurtful. Either way, her actions make an impact—and a mother-wound is equally as devastating as a father-wound.
It’s vital that we recognize this, not just so that we view God accurately, but so we can find healing. For those who have been wounded by their mothers, recognizing and embracing the mother heart of God is a vital step toward recovering soul health.
Discovering the Mother Heart of God
Listen to what God says of his own nature when God’s people (Zion) are afraid God has forsaken them:
Can a woman forget her baby who nurses at her breast? Can she withhold compassion from the child she has borne? Even if mothers were to forget, I could never forget you! Look, I have inscribed your name on my palms; your walls are constantly before me. (Isa. 49:15–16, NET)
And another promise through the prophet:
Look, I am ready to extend to her prosperity that will flow like a river, the riches of nations will flow into her like a stream that floods its banks. You will nurse from her breast and be carried at her side; you will play on her knees. As a mother consoles a child, so I will console you, and you will be consoled over Jerusalem. (Isa. 66:12–13, NET)
Jesus displays this same nurturing heart as he weeps over the city of Jerusalem, lamenting, “How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it!” (Matt. 23:37, NET). Later, he promised his disciples he would send them the Holy Spirit, who is called the Comforter.
Notice the strong bond in these maternal images. The deep compassion and care. The nourishment, delight, and comfort. Maternal love finds its origin in the heart of God. These passages illustrate how God is everything to us that our earthly mothers perhaps could not be.
A woman I know who ministers internationally in various church circles described a time when, right after she had spoken to a group of women, the Holy Spirit prompted her to give an altar call for those who had experienced a mother-wound. Much of the crowd immediately flooded forward to receive prayer. Perhaps it is of particular significance when a woman is wounded by her mother. As females, we desire to see an example in our mothers to which we can aspire. It’s an identity issue.
But the healing of mother-wounds in the soul is not limited to women. Men also benefit from understanding the dynamics of how their earthly mother’s actions have influenced their view of God.
As is true of fathers, the degree to which our mothers nurtured us, comforted us, delighted in us, showed compassion to us, and bonded with us impacts the degree to which we can readily receive the love of God. Perhaps the Psalmist understood something of this when he wrote, “Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me” (Psalm 27:10, NIV).
The God who transcends gender is the God who wants to heal us in all our broken places. May we be enlightened concerning God’s nature, may our souls find healing, and may we fully embrace God’s love.
Photo by Andrei Miranchuk on Unsplash.