May 12, 2019

The Other Side of God – The Mother Side of God
Genesis 1:27

When our daughter Ginger was a preteen she had just one request. She wanted a cat. Now, to be honest, I’m not a cat person so I did my best to discourage her feline urges, but still, on a regular basis she’d cuddle up next to me and in one of those melt your heart voices she’d say, “Daddy, please. Will you get me a cat?”

I’m not sure whether it was providential or just a stroke of luck, but one night as I was leaving my office, this beautiful black and white stray kitten greeted me. As it cuddled and purred around my ankles I tried to shoo it away, but it would not be dissuaded. Finally, I picked it up and delivered home to my adoring daughter.

Of course, our first cat decision was a name. After a preliminary investigation I determined our kitten was a girl, so Ginger lovingly name her cat, “Precious,” and within minutes Precious lived up to her new name.

A few days later I took Precious to the vet to get her shots. As he was filling out the initial record on the cat he asked, “What is your cat’s name?” I told him Precious. “Hum” he said, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard the name “Precious” used for a male cat.”

“We have a male cat?” I asked.

“As male as they come,” said the vet.

“Well, why don’t you hold off on that name,” I told him. “I think we’ll probably pick another one.” And so when I got home, “Precious” got a new name, a name that left no question about his gender. Forevermore, “Precious” became “Mr. Cat.”

Most of the time determining gender is pretty easy, but sometimes we all make honest mistakes. Sometimes we’ll see somebody’s hair cut or build and determine that a he is a she or vice versa. Believe it or not, one of the places where we encounter some gender confusion is in our religion, especially when we think about the gender of God.

So let me ask you a question. What is God’s gender? Is God a male or a female?

Now, if you’re like me, you grew up seeing God as a male, and rightly so. The Lord’s Prayer begins, “Our Father who art in heaven,” and the most often pronoun used to reference God in the Bible is - he.

But on this day, Mother’s Day, I want you to think out of the box for a minute. I want you to realize that God not only embodies everything related to a male, but God also embodies everything related to a female. In fact, to be precise, God is neither a he nor a she. God is a spirit.

To better understand where I’m coming from I want us to look at today’s short biblical text. It’s a text that talks about God choosing gender in the creation of humankind. I’m sure you’ve heard this text hundreds of times, but listen carefully today and you may just hear it in a new way. Genesis 1:27. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

As we look at this verse, I want us to examine the Hebrew word often translated as “man” in the English Bible, as it is in today’s text which says, “God created man in his own image.”

At first glance it would appear that the image of God is masculine since God created “man” in his own image. But the Hebrew word translated “man” is not a masculine word. The Hebrew word in that passage has no gender. The word often translated “man” is the Hebrew word, “ah-dam” or as we would say, “Adam.” In the Hebrew, when the Bible uses the word “adam” it does not denote a name or a gender. The word is best translated as “humankind.” And so the verse would read, “God created humankind in his own image, male and female.”

Here’s what The Dictionary of Biblical Languages says about the Hebrew word, “adam.” “Adam” is a person, a human, a single human of either sex.” Secondly, “adam” is best understood as humankind, a class of being created by God without regard to sex . . .

Yes, human beings were created in the image of God. And according to Genesis, what was God’s image? Male and female created he them.

Yes, the male side of God has always been obvious and predominant, but today, on this Mothers’ Day, I want us to look at the other side of God, the mother side of God.

Believe it or not, there are several passages of Scripture that emphasize the feminine side of God. Take for instance Hosea 13:8. God says, “I will fall upon them like a mother bear robbed of her cubs.” There, God is depicted as a mother bear.

Then from the book of Deuteronomy we hear this description of God. As a mother eagle stirs up her nest, fluttering over her young, and takes them and bears them on her wings, so the Lord led Israel. (Deut. 32:11).

Listen also to a couple of passage from Isaiah. In Isaiah 49:15 God says, Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you, says the Lord. And in Isaiah 66:13, the Lord says, As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.

Then there are the words of Jesus, as he talks about what’s going on in his own spirit. In Matthew 23:37, Jesus stands at the outskirts of Jerusalem and says, Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often have I desired to gather your children together as – as a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings.

Now some of you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? Why are you spending so much energy telling us about the mother side of God?” Haven’t you really gone out of your way to conjure up a Mother’s Day sermon?

Obviously, Mother’s Day got me thinking about this sermon, but the importance of this sermon has little to do with Mother’s Day. I think it’s important for us to understand that there’s a mother side of God, because knowing that will affect how we relate to God.

Just think about it. Our traditional emphasis on God’s masculinity has, too often, painted a picture of God that makes him hard, stern and unapproachable. When I was growing up, I always pictured God as giant warrior with lightning bolts in both hands – often I saw him as an angry giant man. That masculine image of God was not an image that made me want to cuddle up in his lap and whisper my secrets. To the contrary, the masculine image of God often made me afraid of him.

To be perfectly honest, the overemphasis of God’s masculine image has, too often, allowed extremists to turn God into an advocate for violence. It’s easy to envision a male god telling his sons to go to war and strike down all the heathen, but a mother God wouldn’t do that, would she? A mother God would do all she could to keep her children from waring, to do all she could to keep her children from hurting each other.

Granted, it’s important for us to sense the security and majesty of God, our Father, but I think we also need to embrace the grace and tenderness of a god with motherly qualities. When I allow myself to see God as a Divine Mother, my relationship with God takes on a whole new perspective. When I think of God as a mother, I think of her as someone who holds me in her arms when I’m frightened, someone who picks me up when I’ve fallen, someone who caringly wipes away my tears. When I think of God as a mother, I think of her as someone who is tender and full of grace, someone who takes me on a walk to see the lilies of the field, someone who tells me to stop and listen to the chirp of a sparrow.

In saying that, I don’t mean to imply that fathers are people who lack loving grace. I’m thankful I had a father who was tender and loving, one who was affectionate and caring. Yes, men can be tender and caring, but to be perfectly honest, we never quite duplicate that tenderness found in the heart of a mother. It’s just not in the makeup of our masculine image, but that motherly tenderness is a real part of the image of God.

When I was 16 years old, I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to take my driver’s test. For over a year I had practiced driving and felt like I was ready to pass the test with flying colors. I did well with the test until I had to parallel park and then I got so nervous I could barely keep my clutch leg from shaking. When I backed up, I knocked over one of bright orange traffic cones and immediately failed the test, a failure that was devastating to my adolescent pride.

As I drove home with my father, I didn’t say a word. Inside, I wanted to scream and yell and cry but that’s not the kind of thing a 16 year old boy does in front of his father.

I’ll never forget what happened when I got home. My mother was in the kitchen and when I walked in the front door she asked, “How did the driver’s test go?” Perhaps it was the tenderness of her voice or the grace of her feminine spirit, but instead of answering her, all I could do was to fall in her arms and cry. And that was okay, because she was my mother, and that’s what mothers are for. Mothers are the kind of people with whom 16 year old boys can cry.

Could I have cried with my father? Of course I could, but there was just something about my mother’s spirit that allowed me to take comfort in the warmth of her arms.

Now do you understand why we need to see both sides of God? We need to see God the Father who is strong, secure and commanding, but we also need to see the other side of God, the Mother Side of God who is tender, compassionate, and loving; the God who allows us to take comfort in the warmth of her grace.

In 1912, C. Austin Miles wrote a hymn he that he described as “sympathetic in tone, breathing tenderness in every line.” Kind of sounds like a phrase one would use to describe a mother, doesn’t it? Today, Miles’ hymn is a favorite of many, and while Miles used the masculine pronoun to speak of God, I wonder if the feminine pronoun might have been more appropriate. So with apologies to Miles I leave you with a hymn that is “sympathetic in tone, breathing tenderness in every line,” a hymn that reminds me of the Mother Side of God.

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.
And the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses.
And She walks with me, and She talks with me,
And She tells me I am Her own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.
She speaks, and the sound of her voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that She gave to me, within my heart is ringing.
And She walks with me, and She talks with me,
And She tells me I am Her own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.

Yes, there's certainly a side of God that is "sympathetic in tone, breathing tenderness in every line."

God, indeed, is our Heavenly Father, but he also has all the caring, loving instincts of a mother. So when you need a Father God, don’t hesitate to rest on his masculine strength. But when you need a god with whom you can cuddle; a god with whom you can cry; a god who will loving stroke you with tenderness as you bare your broken heart . . . remember that there’s two sides of God. There’s the Father side and the other side – the mother side of God.