God the Mother—It Actually Matters

By Cindy Koch

Opening my front door, I saw a man and woman smiling enthusiastically. “Hi, can I share a few Bible verses with you today?” she said flipping through a well-worn floppy book. I politely consented. “Who can get enough of God’s word?” I thought. After pointing out some nice words about our happy eternity, she said, “Now I sure you are familiar with praying to God as Father, but have you prayed to God the Mother?”

Whoa. Yes. She was actually at my front door on Thursday morning. I quietly shooed the curious little ears of my kiddos inside the house and stepped out on to the porch. “Hmmm…” I said, “I have never prayed to God the Mother before.” And for the next 45 minutes, I had an increasingly frustrating (and loud) conversation with a couple of heretics who believed they were Christian. They severely misunderstood Christ and his relationship to his bride, the Church.

Before Thursday morning, I was riddled with guilt and doubt. Whenever something in particular captures one’s attention, one risks filtering everything through that lens. I was concerned that was happening to me. The particular subject of the female place in the story of salvation has always fascinated me, to a fault. In college, I closely studied the debates. During graduate school, I translated the texts and weighed the commentaries. As a young wife and mother, I wrote my first draft of a book (unpublished and very boring). In churches, I’ve taught women for 14 years. And now, almost 18 years later, I’m still wrestling with a shocking story of woman taken from the side of Adam, working on the last chapter of that severely edited book. Yet, I cautiously back off the subject from time to time to ask myself if this all really even matters.

adam and eve

But these confused people arrived on my doorstep perfectly displaying the foolish logical conclusion of our messed up world. They pointed out that we observe a Father and a mother in a natural family. Therefore, a heavenly family with God the Father must have a mother. And yes, God the Son was born to this heavenly couple. They showed me verse upon verse mentioning a bridegroom and a bride, referring to this supernatural family. They had all kinds of funny delusions about the Mother Jerusalem delivering salvation (outside of Christ, that is). I laughed, I cried, and I was dumbfounded by their lack of understanding and their offense to the atoning work of our Savior.

Now, as anti-creedal and misinformed as these people are, they are not illogical. Arguments for a Mother God can be made if you interpret certain metaphors in Scripture and leave out other key parts. In fact, if you didn’t know it yet, you can make the Bible say just about anything if you are clever enough. The harder part of interpretation is extracting the meaningful part of the metaphor that agrees with the greater counsel of God’s Word. Some things in a picture are important, and some things really are just background. These pictures, analogies, and metaphors shape our understanding of an unseen reality with our God. And so, clearly hovering above all of their skewed interpretation was a terribly perverted answer to my years of questions about the female place in the salvation story.

In that frustrating conversation, they reminded me that how we all understand a woman’s role in the story of salvation does actually matter. She was created to help. He was created to lead. God molded her from the side of her husband. God shaped her from the blood and water that flows from Jesus’ crucified side. She loves him with a quiet, free submission. He clothes her and protects her with mercy and righteousness. And so even if you are not a woman, this mystery still matters. If it didn’t matter, she would strive to be his equal. She wouldn’t listen when he spoke. She would continue to cower under his heavy hand of judgment. She might even call herself Mother God.

The story of man and woman, Christ and His bride, matters to His Church.

Tribute to Addendum 7-A in What Does this Mean?

JaggedWordLogo2

11 thoughts on “God the Mother—It Actually Matters

  1. I’m interested in Lutheran references to the church as our mother. Coming from Evangelicalism, that’s new to me. I know that the church is the bride of Christ, but where is the church spoken of in scripture as our mother, if at all.

    Thanks!

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    1. I’m not familiar with Lutheran references to the church as our mother. I’ve heard it referred to as “mother” in the writings of historic church fathers. I’ve also heard “mother church” used in Catholic expressions of faith.

      I commend your inquiry about drawing the metaphor from the text of Scripture. My point exactly 🙂

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  2. I was wondering – if Adam’s masculinity is rooted in God, then where does Eve’s femininity come from? Does God transcend gender? Is God masculine, feminine, both, or neither? I think the discussion does matter, but it helps to be better informed as to the nuances of ancient Hebrew and Greek. Throughout the ancient world, the divine masculine tended to have a divine feminine counterpart, we see it in the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, in various regional gods and goddesses. Christianity seems to lack a feminine equivalent for God. What I see, is a religion where men worship a Father and a Son, where men pray, preach, teach and have priority. What I don’t see is a place for women to worship, to pray, to preach, to teach, and have equality. But what can we expect when God (himself?) doesn’t seem to have his (her?) own feminine side equal his (her?) masculine side? How can churches be any different if they follow his (her?) example.

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    1. Interesting thoughts, Jamie. We know about our God by his Word. Just as there are records of dieties from the ancient world, there is a ridiculously unified story of God’s work and words among his people. The metaphors from this Word of God are important – this is the picturesque way God has chosen to reveal himself to us. It is important to take note of the controlling metaphors for God from scripture are more of the masculine image, like “Father”.

      In the Creation account, we are only left to wonder what is the “image of God” that is reflected in man. Is it simply masculinity (and therefore Eve reflects God’s femininity)? But what if the image of God refers to care and compassion, or reason, or freedom and NOT gender?

      Actually, I don’t think a feminine equivalent to God would really do anything more for women. In the Christian Church, what I see is a family who has been knit together because of Christ. Men who screw up, women who fail, we are all declared perfect by the blood of the Perfect One. Christ submitted his life to God’s eternal judgement for you – what else could you want?

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      1. A faith system that doesn’t have a hierarchy of male over female, where only men may be priests and pastors and elders and deacons and teachers and women can always learn but never teach. A religion where your gender doesn’t determine your role for you, but lets you heed your calling and use your gifts to build up the body. A faith that doesn’t require extra rules of women for the sake of the men and has no extra rules of men for the sake of the women. Because we don’t see any femininity in God, the church has favored men because of the masculinity they see in God. Women are out of sight, out of mind. Men participate in and lead worship in a way that women are not permitted to, but women often have to sit out of worship to watch the nursery.

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      2. The Bible says that “in the image of God He created them, male and female,” so it isn’t just Adam that was created in God’s image, it is also Eve. Eve is just as valuable as Adam because Eve is also created in God’s image. The image of God is what gives humanity a value surpassing animals. Both Adam and Eve possess the image of God.

        Keep in mind that wisdom, in the book of Proverbs, is personified as a woman. Also remember that the first person Jesus appeared to was a women. Jesus was born to a virgin named Mary, and the Bible speaks very highly of her. Mary Magdalene is also a very positive character in the scriptures, a women who often seems to get Jesus’ message in a way that the 12 disciples even fail to understand. Elizabeth, the Mother of John the Baptist, believed the angel when she was told she would have a son, but her husband did not. Pilate’s wife told him not to condemn Christ, but he ignored her. Again and again, the New Testament gives us examples of women of faith that we should emulate (whether we are men or women). I really don’t think the Bible is mysoginistic just because it says that men and women occupy different spheres.

        At the same time, Adam and Eve are assigned different roles in the family, in the home and in the church. Although the Bible assigns differing roles to men and women, at the same time it speaks very highly of women in a number of places and gives them the dignity and respect that was denied to them by most ancient religions and philosophies.

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    2. Jamie,

      I’ve been reading through your comments and I think you are reading into something that is not preached, practiced, or in scripture – masculinity and femininity in the social and philosophical terms we have come to know in Western culture. We confess “…Paul shows in the Epistles to the Ephesians 5:9, and Colossians 3:10, that the image of God is the knowledge of God, righteousness, and truth.” (Ap, II) to envision God as having sex and gender and a physical appearance as we do and to construe that as His “image” is wrong.

      Describing virtues as “masculine” or “feminine” derives from cultures which have, as you put it, divine masculine or feminine. We do not worship an anthropomorphic construct, an idol, as these other peoples did. We have no cause to project ourselves, His creatures onto Him. Nor is it our option to address God as He chooses to be addressed, as Father, or to believe that He had other than a Son. This is how we are commanded by His Word. But anything that is good, right, true, and virtuous is of God. Therefore, any virtue, if it be one, masculine or feminine as the world may assess it, is of God.

      You say, “What I see, is a religion where men worship a Father and a Son, where men pray, preach, teach and have priority. What I don’t see is a place for women to worship, to pray, to preach, to teach, and have equality.” I am led to ask just what church have you been in? Women do teach and have since the early church as we know from scripture (Romans 16:3, 1 Cor 16:19, 2 Tim 4:19). Both parents are tasked with bringing up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Where you err is in deciding that different roles means unequal roles. I cannot think of a proper use of language where “same” means “equal” and “different” means “unequal.”

      Scripture gives to men the role of publicly preaching the Word and administering the sacraments. But it by no means gives this to all men. The vast majority of Christian men have roles in the church not much different from women outside offices pertaining to Word and Sacrament. We worship, pray, receive, teach – just as women do. You also err is deciding that not preaching is to have an unequal part to the one preaching, that the preacher is a master and lord over others. “For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:27) Lay people like you and I recline and the Lord serves us through pastors. Where does that place the pastor?

      Any difference in responsibilities that comes from scripture does not constitute a “religion” that does something superior to men or causes men to have a role superior in God’s eyes. God commands us to serve each other in different ways. Has this been abused, in the past? Certainly. Have people created from Christianity false religions, false practices, and projected man onto God? Certainly. But you do the same when you speak of human culture as an origin of religion or compare the dictates of scripture with human reason. As soon as you presuppose scripture to be a tainted product of masculine bias which creates a false voice of God, you are left to form your own religion worshiping a god of your own design to your own satisfaction sifting through texts to find agreeable “truths”. This is not what we do.

      Finally, as to “calling”, while only men are called to public proclamation and administration in worship, all Christians, men and women, preach the Word in living their vocations, their callings, in daily life – mothers, husbands, children, siblings, employers, employees, rulers, pastors, doctors, nurses, etc. When we serve our neighbors and families, God is serving through us. This is how He provides and cares for us. When we, as Christians, serve, we are living the new life created in us (1 Peter 1:23), it is a living word filled with the Holy Spirit that calls to the lost.

      I wish you peace in your struggle and search for truth and urge you to simply let God speak to you through His Word. Don’t let the false faiths and the abusive practices of society and churches determine the shape and direction of your belief. Seek God where He has assured us He will always be, in His Word.

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      1. I grew up in Southern Baptist Churches, ones that increasingly emphasized Calvinism and complementarianism. They were edging closer and closer into reformed territory. I watched as women were “phased out” from teaching, girls were told that “God really wants to hear from the boys”, I saw churches idolize families and marginalize singles, fawn over men and side-line women. I heard over and over about how God is good, and man is good because he’s directly created in God’s image, but woman is indirectly God’s image because she’s made from man. Then with the whole male headship thing, what that means is that certain women submit to certain men. A woman submits to her father, then her husband, and always the church elders in authority over her. A man need not submit to his mother or his wife because that’s not how male headship works. I even read a document that said that in mixed gender bible studies, single women should defer to single men in a way that stops short of full submission. And since only men may preach, be pastors, deacons, elders, and in some churches take up offering and serve communion, there’s really no visible part that women play in worshiping God other than singing the high notes. It’s like going to be in the audience for The Price is Right, but only men are called up to the stage to participate; so the women can only sit there and root for the men. The audience is full of women who don’t have a space or a place to be called and do something for God.
        The Bible is written mostly in male-centric terms, it’s human authors were all men who lived in a day and age where women’s second-class status was an undeniable fact. Today that remains in how the story of Deborah was taught to me, God couldn’t find one single man who was worthy to be a Judge over all of Israel, so he chose a woman as a punishment (Isaiah 3:12) because all of the men were weak and cowardly and even Barak wouldn’t go into battle without her. I can easily see how Paul would lay down male headship in an attempt to teach the men to treat women better in his day and age, but I don’t think it was meant to last. I don’t think that God’s word is so fragile that if a woman recites it or reads from it, that His word will return void. Perhaps women teaching might point out the fact that Deborah’s leadership wasn’t a punishment or curse, but exactly who God raised up for the task just as He had all the other judges. Right now, all the men preaching are all alone in leadership and that’s not good. Men need a check on their power and a balance on the teachings they’re creating, without women, they’ve opened the door for all the confusion there is. After all, since the vast majority of Christian history has favored male leadership, then the vast majority of false teachers are men who have the gall to say that it’s women who are easily deceived. Now me, I really don’t know what I believe – I probably think more on these things than I should. I always try to look deeper than the surface level, or for the other side. The more I investigate what has been said, the more flaws I see with it. The thing is – no two Christians give me the same answers. So it’s difficult to know what is really true.
        God might have revealed himself to be male when the Bible was written. But that was thousands of years ago, when his word was written to usually patriarchal societies. Today our society is increasingly egalitarian. Were the Scriptures written in our time, I think they would reflect our beliefs and answer our questions – we might find that there is room for ideas and beliefs to change us, from a male-centric focus on the word to one where women are included. Unfortunately, our Bible is rooted for 55 a.d., a time of inequality, slavery, Roman rule, and antiquated attitudes about women; all of which have been interpreted as a trans-cultural and trans-temporal virtue. It really broke my spirit to read an account of a widow who kept searching for a church where “I can be silent like the Bible says”. She found one, a church were women don’t speak might be the most biblical of all, but I doubt it’s a good one. If it’s not good for men to be alone, then it’s not good for men to be the sole leaders or the sole speakers in the worship of God.

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      2. Cultural/ patriarchal influences can be an issue. That aside, there have been great and significant women – Eve, Deborah, Miriam, Esther, Phoebe, Prisca, Anna, many Marys. Jesus even brings the Gospel, personally, to a Samaritan woman. Not preaching does not diminish them or their examples to us.

        In my experience, Reformed/ Calvinist theology focuses, not on God’s fatherhood but on his sovereignty and majesty according Him the station of punishing sinners when and where He deems appropriate. Know that God is disposed toward us in love, look to the cross. On that cross, Christ took all of the punishment for mankind’s sin. Not the sin of some, but the sin of all. Because of this, we are offered free grace, the forgiveness that we do not deserve, and mercy that holds back from us what we do deserve. We receive this through faith created in us by the Holy Spirit. If you leave church or come away from a sermon not feeling that you are safe in the arms of a loving and merciful God, you should leave that church and never return.

        Deborah was a prophetess, one who speaks God’s Word to the people. “And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” The disgrace, not punishment, was on Sisera, not Israel. If we take it as admonishment to the men of Israel for shirking their duties, we should see it as correction not punishment inflicted. God does no evil. He would be acting parentally, not majestically. In the end, it was another woman, Jael, who killed Sisera. So, a woman routed his army and another took his life. God chose to deliver Israel and He is faithful, even if the men of Israel are not and there is no reason to leap to the conclusion that Deborah was a second choice. Rather, dealing with the text of Isaiah, God is saying that there is an order and man, being sinful, upsets the order. This is not something that requires a male or female POV, simply a reading of scripture through a Gospel filter.

        A child, male or female, submits to authority, including parental authority, both parents. Any other teaching is false. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph 6:1-3; Ex 20:12)

        We all submit to authority but authority is not license. A husband does not rule as he wishes but according to God’s commands (1 Peter 3:7, Col 3:9). If a man is abusive or does not consider his wife’s interests, he is not exercising God’s authority, he is exercising his own, that is, no authority, at all, because we have none that is not granted us, by God. The Law of God is our curb, our restraint, our guide, in every aspect of life. No one, man or woman, is silenced from speaking the Law where it is needed in life. That is not scriptural, it is a construct of human religion and society.

        Since all are to be brought up in the fear of the Lord, silencing any who are learning and discussing the scriptures is not a Christian practice. If anything, society teaches women too much deferral and many back down too easily. But we should not be concerned with the teachings of society, of culture.

        Speaking to a world immersed in cultures possessing goddesses, there was nothing preventing God from choosing to present himself as a supreme goddess. Anthropologically, the goddess is antecedent to the god. But what do we know? “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:19-21) A human perception of the divine, from nature and reason, is flawed.

        All scripture is “God breathed” (2 Tim 3:16). The Bible is God’s Word given to us in the manner He chose to be understood using the people He chose. This is where we face the majesty of God – He chooses the way He is to be known. These are not the words of men, they are words used by the writers to express the inspiration of God. The scriptures are timeless and speak to us, directly. Certainly, context is part of study but content is what comes to us. Human behavior, human need, human sin is the same as it ever was and since the Word speaks to that, it does not go out of fashion or out of date. Once you reject the Bible as the Word of God and embrace, instead, that it is man’s word, you are lost, left to fate Paul speaks of in Romans 1. If, however, you accept the scriptures for what they are, you are free to be in the role that God has chosen for you, not the one that you reach by seeking or reason (what am I meant to do?) but one that awaits you and one that is simply commanded (Micah 6:8). It sounds like you are seeking a human religion counter to another human religion rather than God’s truth. Again, search the scriptures, let God do the talking and accept what He says – we are sinful, we have nothing to offer, no merit, our only life is in Christ, that life is one where we die to ourselves in order that we live in Christ in loving service to others, and that service requires that we be in the roles God intended since the fall of mankind and intends for our good.

        There are loving churches out there, faithful to God’s Word and generous with grace.

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      3. I was a part of a church that used to be Anabaptist (i.e. Brethren), but had successfully transitioned to being a Reformed Baptist Church. They had some of the same issues that you’ve described, though they weren’t as pronounced. I think the problem is that they take some things that are Biblical, but they take them to a whole different level and it can get really nuts. Reformed Baptists today seem to be about the looniest type of Evangelical you’re going to encounter, with the exception (maybe) of Pentacostals.

        In Romans 16, Pheobe is mentioned as a “servant” in the ESV, but the Greek word is the same word for deacon. The early church had female deacons, going back to the time of the Apostle Paul, so biblically there is an important role that women can fulfill in the church. I’m not sure about the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, but in the American Association of Lutheran Churches, we have no problem with female deacons, or with females leading worship, or with females distributing communion. The only issue is that females cannot pastor a church, because the Bible tells us that that is a role specifically for men.

        The Catholic Church is considering allowing women to serve as deacons now, as well.

        As far as submission to the elders, in Reformed Baptist circles they talk a lot about submission to the elders. The pastor feels free to dictate all kinds of things that have nothing to do with biblical commands. I experienced that myself, as a male. Biblically, the pastor’s authority is derived from Christ, and Christ’s will is contained in the scriptures, so the pastor can only tell you to submit to the Word of Christ. The pastor has no authority outside of scripture, whether that is over men or women.

        There is also nothing in the Bible that tells young women to submit to men in general. Children, whether male or female, submit to their parents so long as they live under their parents roof. Once children become adults, they must honor their parents but no longer owe them the same kind of obedience. Wives are to submit to their husbands, but husbands are to love their wives according to the self-sacrificial pattern of Christ. A husband who lords his authority over his wife is a terrible husband. Primarily, a husband leads his family by serving them and meeting their needs, not by being a dictator.

        Since leaving my old, Reformed Baptist church, I’ve personally had to rethink my approach to a lot of issues. I’m still unlearning a lot of the crazy ways of thinking that I developed there. I was, honestly, pretty misogynistic when I left there. Now that I’m a Lutheran, I’m learning to respect people in general more than I did in the past. There is just a general attitude and approach to life in Reformed Baptist churches that sort of leans in the direction of the Westboro Baptist crazies, though most people never take it that far.

        I would just encourage you not to let your experience with one particular movement within Reformed Baptist churches turn you off to churches in general, or the teachings of God’s word. There are always people who are going to abuse God’s word and use it to promote their own power and authority, but they will be held accountable to Christ, so don’t worry about keeping them accountable. Find a congregation that sticks to God’s word. Stay away from those who add to God’s word (fundamentalist types) and stay away from those who detract from God’s word (liberal types).

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