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Should Christians call God 'Mama'?


Divine Mother (from God Talks With Arjuna, copyright Self-Realization Fellowship)
Should God be referred to as mama?

Some feminist theologians think so. One of the reasons they give is that the Bible was written in patriarchal days. It is argued that in these days the idea of a female God would never have been accepted. Now that we live in more enlightened times, we can accept that God is equally masculine and feminine and so our terms should reflect that.

But history shows us that the Bible’s use of exclusive masculine titles for God is not some sort of sinful misogyny. 

Israel was actually radically countercultural by NOT having a high female deity. Having a maternal and paternal deity to oversee and spawn lesser powers was a normal part of the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cosmology. In surrounding culture ‘Tiamat’ was seen as the main goddesses that begat other powers before time began. Other high female deities existed at the time too and feminine title were normal – especially that of ‘mother’:

'You are mother and Father of all that you made.'
-Akhenaten, Short Hymn to the Aten

'I have no mother - you are my mother!' 
- Gudea, The Harps that Once...

Referring to God exclusively as King and Father (never the titles ‘Queen’ or ‘Mother’) was not due to Israel being a product of some extreme patriarchal culture. Rather, it showed that they were radically counter-cultural. The same could be said of the Greco-Roman world in which the New Testament was written - where Hera sat with her husband Zeus at the top of the divine pyramid of power. It would have been very normal to refer to the divine as ‘she’ in Ephesus – but Paul never did.

But... Imago Dei... and other stuff!

Others propose that we refer to God as 'mother' due to the fact that both men and women are created in his image. Both certainly are! But this argument presupposes that God is referred to as a man in the Bible. He isn’t - he's referred to as Father. And he was a Father before he made humans. 


Others argue for the use of 'mother' for more pastoral reasons. They rightly point out that some have a cold, distant, or even abusive fathers. They do not want people to project those associations onto God and so they propose that the term 'mother' be used in such cases.

But this only begs the question: what if the person has a bad relationship with their mother as well? Do we then go on to the next or the warmest familial relationship? Could we give God the titles of uncle, auntie, or little sister if those relationships hold the most emotive value? 

Though it may be rooted in the best of intentions, it becomes a therapeutic idolatry. 

Some may argue that referring to God as Father somehow gives men a holier place than women – they think that somehow men will be able to relate better to God. But does experience really lead us to believe that sons are always closer to their father than daughters are? Surely we all know daughters that have close and affectionate relationships with their fathers - and we know of sons that have distant ones.

I have two sons and two daughters. I am not any closer to my sons because we share the same gender. My daughters don’t need to refer to me as ‘mother’ to be close to me.

Also, if we adopt this reasoning, aren’t here are other terms in Scripture that would make it harder for men? The church is referred to as the Bride of Christ. Some men may have trouble relating to that. Should we call the church Christ’s 'Husband'? After all, no one really believes the church has a specific gender – almost half are male.

Revolution or Revelation 

God never reveals himself with a feminine title in Scripture. Some may point out metaphors that have feminine connotations – but that is quite a different thing. Because God compares his love for Israel in the Psalms to the love of a mother hen for her chicks doesn’t mean that we should refer to God as a mother any more than we should refer to him as a chicken.

European revolutionary ideas of equality may try to lead us to call God 'mother' - but this is not a choice rooted in Scripture. There's not a lot about equality in the Bible in the sense that some seem to want. God sometimes chooses some for one purpose, but not others. To some he assigns the task of being the eyes of the body, others as ears (1 Cor 12). 

As clever as we think we are, we don’t have the right to pick new titles for God because they seem right to us. He chooses to reveal himself in the ways he thinks best. Jesus – in whom the full expression of God was revealed – only ever called God ‘Father’, never ‘Mother’. He didn’t do that because he was a limited product of his culture. If Jesus’ example doesn’t fit in with our cancerous theological idealism, then it is our theology - not the Scriptures - that need to change.
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Comments

  1. Thanks again Josh for an excellent post! The UK is blessed to have such a brave, knowledgeable and well articulated defender of biblical faith. Keep up the good work!

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  2. Jesus referred to "God" as "Father" for mere convenience, I believe, because he preached in a patriarchal context during patriarchal times. To say now that the Deity isn't literally male, yet to persist in addressing the Deity with exclusively masculine titles, is to fail to honor the depth of Divine substance above mere linguistic form. To say you're not referring to "God" as a man and not giving him a man's title is simply not true. "Father" resonates viscerally as exclusively masculine. And this isn't about being "anti-dad". I loved my own father dearly, I resemble him in a great many ways, and we had a close and loving relationship. But it was my mother, not my father, who did most of the work in my physical creation: carrying me in her own body for 9 months, going through the pain of a 22-hour labor, nursing me at her breast, giving me most of my immediate care as a baby and child. If the Deity shouldn't be called "Mother" as well as "Father" according to a religion's official tenets (especially considering that the world's first parent deity was seen as a Creatrix/Mother Goddess, backed by archaeological evidence), something is very, very wrong somewhere with some of the perceptions and practices of that religion. If Jesus preached today, I believe he'd refer to the Deity as a Mother too.

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  3. You refer to the difficulty Christian men may have in viewing themselves "in a white dress" in view of scriptural reference to the Church as "The Bride". This term obviously refers to the Church itself symbolically, as a spiritual entity above all, so of course, there is no real need for individual Christians, male or female, to picture themselves physically wearing dresses, white or otherwise. (Bridal colors vary according to culture and time period.) Your otherwise droll example is simply not comparable to what women may experience when the Universal Source Itself, in All Its Vast & Awe-Inspiring Might & Mystery, is repeatedly, exclusively called "Father", while at the same time it's proclaimed (by SOME Christian men, at least nowadays) that BOTH men and women are made in "his" image. That just doesn't jive. There is NO actual evidence that the Deity Itself wishes to be called "Father". Why create BOTH genders in One's own image, then insist that only ONE of those genders be represented in sacred titles for Oneself? Doesn't that strike you as just a wee bit suspicious of the MEN who wrote the scriptures during times of male-dominated, patriarchal society? It seems obvious to me it was THEY, desiring to continue to dominate the women in their society, apparently wishing to stamp out the worship and memory of the most ancient Mother Goddess archaeologically known to have come before, who wanted to call the Deity exclusively by the masculine parental term. Nor are examples of other relatives like "auntie, "cousin", or "little sister" remotely comparable to all that's involved in or represented by "Mother". In this context, it's not simply a matter of which relative one may feel closest to emotionally. It's a matter of accuracy and fairness in describing the act of (pro)creation itself on the Cosmic Level in anthropomorphic, parental terms. The Universal Source seems to me (and seemed to the ancients) much more like an All-Containing, All-Sustaining, All-Generating Womb than an intermittently ejaculating phallus. Not at all to dismiss the importance of the latter in human terms, but considering we women contribute 9 months (normally) in our own bodies (at the VERY least) to the equation, shouldn't we be represented in parental Deity language too? The only false witness here was borne by the men who selfishly left out women and the Divine Mother when referring to the Deity in the not always inspired scriptures they themselves wrote.

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    Replies
    1. If the bible is a collection of books that were just scribbled down by some blokes then gender does not matter as they are just fairy tales. If it is the God breathe, inspired word of God then He is Father God because He declared himself so.

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