Is it OK to refer to God as Mother? Some people freak out over this idea. Western Christianity has culturally conditioned us to think of God as Father, thus leading many to think that God is male. After all, didn’t Jesus call God Abba, Daddy, Father and teach us to pray “Our Father…”?

Yes, he did.

spoiler alert: I think you can refer to God as Mother just as much as you can refer to God as Father.

If you think I’m a heretic, that’s fine. God bless you. You will probably stop reading.

If you want to know why I think this is true, let’s continue.

Here are two simple reasons why I think you can refer to God as Mother that are based in scripture:

  1. In the creation account of Genesis 1, Elohim says, “let us make the human in our image, male and female Elohim created them.” Thus, the image of God is neither male nor female, but is the relationality between difference that makes up creation.
  2. Scripture uses multiple metaphors to describe aspects of God’s character, but never to describe God’s essence. These metaphors include father, mother, fortress, shepherd, wind, fire, etc.

Peter tells us to crave pure, spiritual milk, like newborn infants in 1 Peter 2:2. That seems like God-as-Mother to me.

A Visual Exploration of God as Father, Mother, and the Incarnation.

Let’s use a metaphor to explore the mystery of why we need the image of God as Mother, Father, and the incarnation of Jesus. Let’s think about the relationship between a child and her parents.

The child begins inside her mother. The mother is the universe for nine months.

The child emerges from the mother’s body and draws food directly from her body. The infant is part of the mother.

Then this strange creature shows up. The father. All he does is contribute one tiny cell at the beginning of the process. He could be completely absent from that moment on and the child would grow fully.

The father is “the other” that stands across the room and has no experiential connection to the young child. The relationship between child and father is one that must be taught and developed by walking across the room and trusting that the father is as much a part of the child’s existence as the mother.

The Goal of parenting is to raise a child to become a mature adult that can then enter into a mutual, loving relationship with the parents as friends.

Now let’s transfer the mother/father metaphor to our relationship with God. We are the children.

Humans intuitively and experientially know that we come from the earth and are mysteriously interconnected to all of life. That’s why we call it “Mother Earth.” Many religions focus on the motherhood of God and the dynamic, complex, interconnection of the Spirit in all things. The fancy theological word for this is immanence, which means that God is very near and is in everything.

Then, some humans look around and ask, “but, where did this all start?” Humans intuitively believe that there must be something bigger than the world. We look for a creator that stands outside of us. This is the fatherhood of God. The fancy theological word for this is transcendence, which means that God is beyond the created order.

Some religious traditions focus more on the immanence and motherliness of God. Other religious traditions focus more on the transcendence and fatherliness of God.

Both are correct and good.

Here’s the problem…

Like a small child trying to understand her grown up parents, we cannot possibly understand or connect fully with either the complexity of the immanent God in the universe, or the difference of the transcendent God who created the universe.

That’s why Jesus had to show up. The infinite, mysterious God–the Logos–had to become human so that we could connect to it. We get what it means to be human.

Jesus shows us what it looks like when a human is in full union, in a mutually indwelling relationship with God. This union, this maturity is the goal of our human existence. Yet, without Jesus’ example, we would continually either cower in fear under the transcendence of God, or  live in an enmeshed take-it-for-granted existence with the immanence of God (and usually try to control it).

So, why did Jesus have to die?

Jesus said, in John 14:6-7, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

The only way to truly be in full, mature, mutually-loving relationship with God is when we follow the Way of the Cross. The cross takes on two basic meanings.

  1. For people who have power and control: The cross shows us that we have to die to our own desire to be god, to be in control. We must admit that the universe is far more complex than our ability to understand or explain. I talk about this maturation process here.
  2. For people who have been beaten down by life: The cross demonstrates that God fully enters into our human suffering and takes on all the hatred, violence, and pain that humans have created in the world. Then he walks through it, lets it die, and rises from the dead to show us that there is a new way to walk.

As Walter Brueggemann says, The Gospel comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

In both cases it is a paradox. Jesus holds all the mysterious opposites of the universe in tension on the cross. He holds transcendence and immanence together. He holds human and divine together. He holds life and death together. He holds the mystery that the only way to truly gain the victory over evil is to let it kill you and then forgive it. Some call the way of Jesus a paradoxology.

Whether you need to die to the I, or you need the comfort of a suffering Messiah, Jesus demonstrates that the way to enter into the fullness of the Good Life, the “eternal” life for which we were created, is to not repay evil with evil, but to repay evil with love and forgiveness. As Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live in the faithfulness of Christ, who gave himself for me.”

This is what Jesus meant when he told his disciples in John 15 to “dwell in me and I will dwell in you, just as the father dwells in me and I in the father.” Jesus said that the Spirit would also dwell in them as they dwell in the world. This mutual indwelling, where all people live for the good of all people, is the maturity and the goal of our existence. And, we only get there through the cross of Christ.

The content above comes from a post I wrote in 2017 titled “Why Jesus?” where I was more interested in the Jesus part of the question than the motherhood part.

For this post, let me conlcude by saying that scripture was written and transmitted to us by a patriarchal society. To our detriment, the masculine and transcendent metaphors of God have won the day.

This Mother’s Day, may we embrace the fullness of our Divine parent, and stand in solidarity with all our siblings of creation.


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