When I was a little guy, I suffered from numerous ear infections. I screamed through the night as my ears pounded with unbearable pain, at times making me delusional. Doctors, nurses and surgeries were common in those early years. My mother tenderly held me, rocked me through those dark nights, doing all she could to comfort me. Memories of her tender compassion are unforgettable. She is a picture of God. “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you" (Isa. 66:13).
The Bible focuses on God as our father yet speaks of him as our mother too (Deut. 32:18; Ps. 131; Isa. 49:15). For example, just as a mother has compassion for her newborn baby, God has a natural bond of affection for us—“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you” (Deut. 7:7–8). And like a brokenhearted mother, he weeps for his wayward children—“[Israel] forgot the God who gave [her] birth” (Deut. 32:18).
Another reason we can think of God as our mother is because the Hebrew word for “compassion” (rachmin) is derived from the word for “womb” (rechmen). God’s affection for us is like a mother’s affection for her child (Isa. 49:15). Just as life is conceived in her womb, so is her compassion. They’re knit together. Inseparable. And so with scandalous compassion God our mother yearns for his wayward children, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isa. 49:14–16).
I am so unlike God when I allow sin and self-centeredness to work its evil in my soul. In those moments I can forget God and all that’s dear to me; hardening my heart against the most tender bonds of affection. When I was a teenager, I became hard and turned against my mother. I broke her heart. Drugs, alcohol, bitterness, and rebellion made me into someone she didn’t know. I became cruel. I told her I hated her, wanted her dead. I’m ashamed to admit I wanted to hurt her. Though I broke her heart, she turned toward God, not away from him. She chose to surrender me to God and stopped all her desperate efforts to control me. She learned to show me grace and compassion in the face of my cruelty. My heart began to soften toward her and toward Jesus. Today I know God as a compassionate mother, in part, because of my mom.
Sin causes us to forget God and all that’s dear to us. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast,” the Lord asks, “and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” The question is supposed to be rhetorical. Certainly a mother can't forget her nursing child can she? Yet when Israel’s sin had grown the darkest, she forgot. She sacrificed the very lives of her nursing children to the false gods of her day. Tragically, we are no different. 42 million children are aborted every year to the gods of sexual freedom and choice. In America the womb (meaning compassion) has become a slaughter house.
But here's something far more astounding—No matter what you or I have done, no matter how hard or self-centered we have become—adultery, murder, abortion, pornography, passivity, addictions . . . we are never beyond the reach of his compassion and forgiveness. Speaking of anyone in Christ, God our mother cannot forget us; he cannot give us up. “‘My people are determined to desert me. . . . Oh, how can I give you up, Israel [Put your name here]? How can I let you go? . . . My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. No, I will not unleash my fierce anger. . . . I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy. . . . I will bring them home again,’ says the Lord” (Hosea 11:7–11 NLT).