XXV. In his characteristic way of encountering secular culture and its questions about the Faith, Pope Benedict also addresses the question: “Is God also mother?” He notes that the Old Testament does compare divine love to that of a mother: “As a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13); “Can a mother forget her infant? … Even if she forgets, I will never forget you” (Isaiah 49:15).
In Hebrew, the term rahamim (literally “womb”) is sometimes used to describe God’s compassion. The Pope notes that Hebrew is a highly concrete language, relying on things of the created world rather than abstract concepts (as in Greek culture) to convey in the inner life of God or people – just as we still might refer to someone with “heart” or “brains” to mean courageous or intelligent. “The womb is the most concrete expression for the interrelatedness of two lives and of loving concern for the dependent, helpless creature whose whole being, body and soul, nestles in the mother’s womb. The image language of the body furnishes us with a deeper understanding of God’s dispositions toward us than any conceptual language could” (p. 139).
Yet God is never named “mother” directly in Old or New Testament. While the Pope asserts we can only speculate as to the reasons, he points to two related factors: first, the mother-deities that surrounded Israel in other cultures. To differentiate this Chosen People with a new covenant, the image of Father provided a vivid contrast. Further, the mother-deities, so intrinsically bound up with the transmission of visible life from the earth and the womb, were not adequate to underscore the absolute Otherness of the one, true God Who could not be manipulated into serving human ends, but had His own unique plan for salvation, to do something new (see Isaiah 43:19).
Recall the previous point about understanding God as Father and Christ as King starting with revelation and not with our imperfect human experiences. The references to God as Father in Scripture, and in the words of Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer, do not depict God as an elderly male in contrast to a female; rather, their point of reference if the sovereign, beneficent, and merciful creative love of the One God in whose image we are made, both woman and man, receiving life and grace and responding in love and gratitude.
However we understand this, we are following the words Jesus Himself teaches us. While this does not answer every question, it can help us ask the right questions and keep our perspective on where His words lead us.