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The Feminine Love of God

Seeing the feminine pictures of God in the Bible

Published on:
November 26, 2016
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We commonly hear about God our Father in scripture. Of course, scripture shows us that within the Trinity God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He reveals this himself and Jesus comes to confirm that reality—of God our Father.

But what about God as a mother? Does the Bible speak at all to feminine attributes of God? For some, it may feel sacrilegious to even think of viewing God in feminine terms. And yet other churches have corporate prayers to Mother-Father God. What do we make of this? And how to we approach this topic with respect for each other and respect for God’s Word?

If the Bible is our ultimate authority as Christians, our study of this topic needs to be grounded in scripture. In going to scripture, we see in the beginning that God created man and woman in his image, the Imago Dei.[1] In this beautiful and wild mystery, he who is beyond gender spread himself across two genders to reveal his nature. Not one or the other alone reveal God, but both—distinctly, uniquely—are a picture of what he is in fullness.

If God created woman uniquely in creation, in his image, then by looking at women we can see more of God. In fact, it is essential to do so to pull back the veil and see a fuller picture of his love than masculine pictures alone can give.[2]

There are at least eight clear instances in scripture that use feminine pictures of God—mainly centering on birth, nursing, comfort, and even his wrath.

There are at least eight clear instances in scripture that use feminine pictures of God—mainly centering on birth, nursing, comfort, and even his wrath.[3] These occur mainly in the Old Testament centering around Israel, God’s chosen people. 

Like a Woman in Labor

One of the first is in Isaiah, where it says that God will “cry out like a woman in labor” as he delivers his people Israel. This comes after God has watched Israel turn from him, forget him, and worship other gods. Yet he preserves a faithful remnant that he will redeem, or deliver

This picture of giving birth is full of meaning. Before a woman goes into labor there are months of growing, stretching, and waiting at the anticipation of what is to come. Leading up to the actual delivery—or losing restraint—the time comes to deliver this new life into the world. Just as a mother gives all of herself in the process of delivery, God gives and loves deeply as he brings new life into the world, through pain and self-sacrifice.

Like a Nursing Mother

The Old Testament also has several illustrations of God as a nursing mother. In Isaiah 49 God himself speaks, asking, “Could a mother forget the child she has nursed?” And David in the psalms speaks of his soul being liked a weaned child with his mother in the presence of God (Psalm 131:2). Nursing is an intimate and unique time in the life of a child, and in these pictures God is revealing what some theologians believe to be one of the strongest pictures of his love in the Old Testament.[4] Nursing is not only a time of feeding and nourishment, but one of affection, bonding, and care that will lay the foundation for a healthy life to come. 

In the same way, God loves his children and is always willing to provide just what they need through every stage of development. A woman does not forget the child she has nursed; how much more is the love of God for his people. It is inconceivable for God to forget them. 

Like a Mother Bear 

There are also pictures of anger and judgment in several passages. Hosea describes God as a mother bear who has been robbed of her cubs, “attacking and ripping open” those against her. This comes in the context of God’s people forgetting him. Their hearts became proud and they lost gratitude for the God who brought them out of slavery.

Though this verse clearly shows anger, what is hidden in this picture is the love of God toward his beloved. A mother bear, like Yahweh, is not passive about being robbed of her cubs because she fiercely loves them. Here we must see the fierceness of God’s judgment on the other side of his strong love. In righteousness, God must display his wrath toward unrepentant people, but this does not mean he is not grieved over it. Love is always a part of grief.[5]

Like a Mother Hen

In the New Testament Jesus himself gave an illustration that is repeated in both Matthew 23 and Luke 13. He laments to Jerusalem saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” This lament is Jesus’ reaction to Israel’s rejection of him.

This grief is addressed to Jerusalem, the heart and center of Israel.[6] Christ is grieved over the rejection of the very people he came to save. Israel—the people that God has formed, birthed, nursed in her infancy, comforted time and again, led through the wilderness—has been given their savior incarnate only to reject him.

Christ’s desire as savior was to unify and protect Israel, like the instinctive action of a mother hen, but they were unwilling.[7] The emotion displayed here by Christ is a sincere passion. He is reflecting the Father’s heart to protect, shelter, and unify his children under the covering of his love. His compassion moves him to desire to bring close those he loves. Just as we have seen previously, God’s deep grief is interwoven with his great love.

Why we don’t value the feminine attributes of God

Each of these pictures show God’s love in a unique and feminine way—a way different from the traditionally masculine view of God. He deeply, and often painfully, loves his children. He’s willing to give so much of himself to grow, deliver, nourish, and sustain his beloved ones.

Yet perhaps when we neglect the feminine attributes of God, we miss some of the beauty and wonder of a God who is not afraid to love deeply, compassionately, and wildly—like a mother bear robbed of her cubs. But would we be afraid to view God in feminine terms if we were more willing to value these attributes in women? There are incredible strengths and attributes of God himself in the emotional capacity of women. This is how we can come to see more of the image of God in women. 

God deeply loves his children, shown so vividly through the love and protection of a mother, but even beyond that. What a love, and what a God that would go to such lengths to create, nourish, and carry his beloved through the course of their lives. He is ever aware of the turmoil in deeply loving, and yet he never stops.

[1] Genesis 2

[2] And still we must tread carefully and respectfully with the words—and pronouns—God has revealed to us about himself. Nowhere in scripture does God reveal his name to be Mother. He does not ascribe himself feminine pronouns. So, we don’t have the right to do so. We cannot ascribe a name, or gender, to God that he has not revealed to us. However, we can and should look at the pictures God has given us to reveal how he is like a mother. If these illustrations are given to us by God, he must want us to see them.

[3] Isaiah 42:14; 49:15; 66:13; Hosea 13:8; Deuteronomy 32:11–12, 18; Psalm 131:2; Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34. This essay will cover six of these verses.

[4] Thomas L. Constable, “Isaiah” (Sonic Light, accessed April 29, 2016. http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes.htm.), 236.

[5] N. T. Wright, “Jesus at the Crossroads of History” (lecture, Dallas, TX, November 16, 2016). Dr. Wright speaks to this idea in more detail in much of his writing, where he notes that this love and grief are most clearly shown in Christ on the cross.

[6] William Hendriksen, Matthew, in the New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 839–840.

[7] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007), 883.

Abbie Reed
Abbie lives in Dallas, Texas, where she is a student at Dallas Theological Seminary and a full-time bank tycoon on the side.

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