“In her major ‘thought experiment’ on the model of God as mother, Sallie McFague’s analysis makes an unexpected, beautiful connection between mothering and justice. Drawing on women’s experience, she sees that mothering involves three elements. First of all, mothers give the gift of life to others and, when it appears, exclaim with delight, ‘It is good that you exist.’ In addition, maternal love nurtures what it has brought into existence, mainly by freeing the young and also by training the young to acquire personal and social behaviors. Finally, this love passionately wants the young to grow, to flourish, and be fulfilled; it rises up to defend against anything that would do them harm. Good paternal love does all of these things too. …But the irreplaceable role of women’s own bodies in giving birth and their close connection with breast-nursing and child-rearing lend a special resonance to the maternal model. The maternal love of the living God is characterized by these same three elements. Like a mother, God gives life to the world, nurtures this precious and vulnerable life, and desires the growth and flourishing of all. The practice of mothers everywhere shows that, far from being a passive relationship, this entails looking out for everyone in the household. If there is little food, a mother sees that it is fairly distributed. If one child has a special need, she tries to provide what is necessary. ‘The mother-God as creator, then, is also involved in ‘economics,’ the management of the household of the universe, to ensure the just distribution of good to all.’ God’s preferential option for justice for the poor is the expression of a mother’s strong instinct to care for the child most in need. And as mothers rise up to defend their young, so too when people do violence to one another, neglect the poor, [or] aggrandize themselves through unjust systems of exchange … the maternal love of God is active to defend, seek justice, and heal. Like the mother bear in the prophet Hosea, God the mother rears up to protect her cubs … (Hosea 13:8).” Elizabeth Johnson
“We were like a mother
feeding and caring for her own children.”
1 Thessalonians 2:7
Moving From Head to Heart
- Notice how exploring the metaphor of God as “mother” contributes to our understanding of God’s care for us. (like with the metaphor of God as “father”)
- Can you connect God’s maternal love and God’s concern for justice?
- Have you been taking your metaphors for God too literally (“father”), causing you to miss the benefit from other metaphors used of God (“mother”)?
Mother-Bear God, thank you for your tenacious – and tender – love for me.
For More: Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth Johnson