The Parable of Motherhood
Legend has it that the earth as mother, the womb from which all living things
are born and to which all return at death, was perhaps the earliest representation
of the divine in proto-historic religions. The Great Mother Goddess, a powerful
incarnation of the female principle as life-force, reigned over the sky,
earth and underworld and revealed herself to humankind in the ever- renewing
productivity of the earth and the ever-recurring rhythms of the moon...And
woman, who shared the prodigious magic of procreation and nurture, whose
menstrual cycle mysteriously coincided with the lunar cycle was the terrestrial
link in this cosmic orbit of fertility. Fertility statuettes tell us that
for our Paleolithic ancestors the generative force of the universe focuses
in the female body. It is remarkable how many such legends survive among
preliterate cultures of an earlier matriarchal period and a violent uprising
by men in which they usurped female authority.
According to a myth, "...in the beginning the sorceress woman, Kra,
taught women to dominate men through terror, transforming themselves into
spirits by the use of masks. But the sun man, Kran, learned the secret and
revealed it to the men. They promptly killed the women, sparing only the
girls, and to legitimize their seizure of power they took over the masks
and the magic."--From "The Downfall of Woman," by Dena Justin,
Intellectual Digest, October 1973, reprinted from Natural History.
The above mythology is a spurious historical record; nevertheless, it is
an illuminating one. In it we may see the projected distortions of human
thinking, our fantasies, delusions and illusions about ourselves and others.
In it we see the struggle for dominance as it actually exists in human hearts.
How ironic to align ourselves in opposition to others, male or female, only
to find that in the process we are destroying ourselves as well!
It is simply mind-boggling to observe "religious" rituals, so
strikingly similar to the myths just related, being reenacted in contemporary
scenarios. It is amazing that the lessons of the past should have so completely
escaped the reckoning of educated, intelligent persons. It is appalling
to see the perversity of some who once claimed to be "biblical feminists",
in their "naming God" and arrogant claims of theological preeminence.
It is vividly reminiscent of the satanic manipulation of Eve in Genesis
chapter 3. They have remained in the forbidden garden, continued to eat
of the forbidden fruit, and to heed the beguiling strategy of the enemy.
The moral and spiritual carnage remains.
We return to the words of Genesis 3:20, where the one true God reveals his
cosmic, loving purpose for woman:
"The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the
mother of all living."
It is understandable that pagan philosophers have misapplied and misinterpreted
this Divine edict. One wonders, however, how such a man as Thomas Aquinas
should derive from it that woman is "a misbegotten female...made in
the image of man, not God."
Others, some Christian women included, have found these words, as well as
some of the Apostle Paul's, threatening and demeaning. These individuals
are reacting defensively to the misconceptions rather than looking for God's
Simone de Beauvoir, the eminent French feminist, says:
"It is in maternity that woman fulfills her physiological
destiny; it is her natural 'calling,' since her whole organic structure
is adapted for the perpetuation of the species. But we have seen already
that human society is never abandoned wholly to nature. And for about a
century the reproductive function in particular has no longer been at the
mercy solely of biological chance; it has come under the voluntary control
of human beings."
She then refers briefly to the use of contraceptives, from which is launched
a plea for legalized abortion. It is not my intention to attempt a critique
of Ms. de Beauvoir. However, she raises some issues which cannot be ignored
since they are realities with which we must live and reckon.
It is heartening to find this articulate feminist acknowledging that maternity
is woman's physical calling. Granting this innate sense of physiological
destiny, one can scarcely avoid the conclusion that abortion is a serious
assault on the female psyche, quite apart from any religious connotations
of guilt. A deep sense of frustration and even worthlessness is the common
experience of many childless women as well. Much of the argument for legalized
abortion seems to equate it with the surgical removal of a malignancy. It
seems to me that quite apart from the religious and societal factors, nature
demands a more sensitive evaluation.
In the one paragraph quoted, Ms. de Beauvoir raises two issues which are
at once separate yet inextricable: the woman as an individual, and woman
woven into the fabric of society. For while it is true that each of us must
be autonomous in some sense, it is also true that "no man (or woman)
is an island." Society is us! A deteriorating, sick society is made
up of deteriorating and sick individuals. Our legal system is a vital factor
in controlling the brutality of one human against another, but the analgesic
to pain will not cure its malignant cause. We must be prepared to face the
consequences of the misuse of our sexuality, individually and corporately.
The function of the church has always been to direct compassion toward the
symptoms of evil, and redemption to the cause. The true church of Jesus
Christ is not an organization, but an organism comprised not of antiseptic
superhumans, but redeemed sinners in varying stages of Christian maturity.
The greatest hypocrisy of the church is not our political ambivalence, but
the credibility gap between our verbal witness to truth and lives which
deny it. The corrective to society's ills must be found in honest, pure,
sensitive and loving sexual relationships within the community of Christ's
disciples. Since we are God's ordained witness to truth, we must face the
sexual inequities and ignorance within the community of believers with repentance
and a relentless commitment to seeking and enacting God's truth with love.
My generation has inherited and perpetuated error, which, judging from much
of the current literature, has provoked a reactionary response. The reactionary
response in turn, will be over-corrected by their progeny. Truth out of
balance becomes error! Let us pray for clear heads, and emotions controlled
by a Spirit-directed focus on God's Word. Such a focus always faces life
realistically. Only the Spirit of Truth can chart our course through the
mish-mash of fantasy, illusion and intellectual speculation which comprises
"And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments
of skins, and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21).
This beautiful picture of God ministering redemption to his creatures remains
the only solution to the human dilemma. The way out is the way back to the
God who made us for himself, the God who made woman so that he could "mother"
mankind through her.
Eve, we are told in Genesis 3:20, was so named "because she was the
mother of all living." It seems apparent from the biblical account
that only Adam and Eve and the animals were then living. Her name was prophetic,
of course, because she would bear physical children. However, it seems evident
that her motherhood was far more extensive and of deeper significance than
the merely physical. I am convinced that the physical, sensory life is a
parable of the spiritual. Eve was mankind's mother equipped for her function
by a special sensitivity toward life in all forms. Her physical anatomy
symbolizes that she is equipped to nurture life, not as a mere "baby
machine" but in every dimension--physical, emotional and spiritual.
Few would claim that all life exists in only a physical dimension. Most
will acknowledge that humans are three-dimensional. The Apostle Paul acknowledges
the whole person as spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Surely
the all-wise God who created us in his own likeness and image and designed
us male and female would not fail to coordinate the functions of our humanity
into an integrated unit. Since there are evident complementary physical
differences between the sexes, there must also be a complement of emotional
differences as well, spiritual equality serving as the basic human identity
out of which the soul (mind, emotion, will) and body function. Our sexuality,
then, must encompass the whole person, and being a woman a distinctive way
of expressing our humanity, equal in value but different in mode from maleness.
The implications of Eve's name, together with the evident physical characteristics
of the female, added to the cultural pattern most frequently acknowledged
by society, indicate that the female mode is primarily one of nurturer.
In the fourteenth century, Lady Julian wrote The Sixteen Revelations
of Divine Love. In this work she says: "God Almighty is our kindly
Father; God All-Wisdom is our kindly Mother." Quoted in Time
magazine, film critic Sandra Chevey says, "The consistencies of a patriarchal
society are science, reason, and law, and in a matriarchal society they
are art, magic, spirituality, and mystery."
My read on all of this, based on what I believe the scriptures clearly teach,
is that a patriarchal society is the necessary structure for societal order.
The "humanities" which nurture and develop the subjective gifts
are woman's contribution within the patriarchal structure. They are indeed
a complement, when God's order for sexual function is maintained. It is
adversarial chaos when his design is preempted and disdained.
Dr. John Wakefield, a gifted industrial psychiatrist, has observed that
a female executive who functions as a mother can maintain harmonious relationships
and excel as an executive, because in the sensitivity of the female mode
of nurturing she does not compete with men nor intimidate other women. A
male executive, he continues, functions best as a father. If either attempts
to reverse these sexual distinctives, relationships suffer and their executive
function is jeopardized. Here again we see evidence that the mother-father
functions are more than biological.
It is God's intention that every woman should function as a mother in society--as
a spiritual mother, of which physical motherhood is a paradigm. An interesting
corroboration of this is found in John 19:26,27. The Lord Jesus spoke to
his mother from the cross: "Woman, behold your son," indicating
John the disciple. Then, to John: "Behold your mother." John was
of course not Mary's biological son, but the Lord, addressing her as "Woman"
to acknowledge her full-orbed womanhood, then assigned her to John as his
Jesus, the master teacher, frequently taught through parables. Nature is
replete with parables of spiritual truth. Our plastic, urbanized society
has deprived us of rich lessons from soil, plant and animal life and a general
relatedness to the world of nature. One such parable, however, surrounds
us persistently: the parable of natural birth. From the beginning, God gave
us this living stereograph diagramming the method for nurturing life in
Someone has said that "soul sex" (meaning sex enacted in the context
of spiritual unity) is the "ultimate trip" of humanity. Actually,
it is but symbolic of our "ultimate trip," which is our relationship
with the Lord Jesus Christ, without which the symbol would be empty and
irrelevant. The act of sex functions out of our identity; it is not our
identity. Motherhood is also a function, expressive of life in its three
dimensions. Each may be seen in the three stages of physical pregnancy:
inception, gestation, delivery.
Genesis 4:1 records in three small words the first conception in human history:
"Adam knew Eve." The word, "knew," suggests that life
is produced, results from, intimate relationship. A relationship in which
those involved really understand one another. This approach would restore
sanity, meaning, and fulfillment to human sexuality. Life is intended to
emanate from intimate love relationships. The matter of "knowing"
one another implicates body, soul, and spirit.
"True sexuality is a function of the total personality,
and is experienced and expressed only in the lives of genuinely mature people.
Anybody listening carefully understands that many people use sex as a language
through which they whisper reassurance to themselves. That is the meaning
of it for women or men who are uneasy about their own sexual identification
and who use it to assure themselves of their femininity or masculinity rather
than to communicate something to another person. It is perhaps the most
tragic of all the uses of sex, because it leaves the man or woman fundamentally
in isolation from another individual. This 'reassuring' use only underscores
our human capacity to make other people into means of achieving our own
ends. Such an attitude is the death of any genuine reaching out to another."
These wise words are quoted from an article in Redbook magazine,
May, 1972, "The Sex Mystique," by Father Eugene C. Kennedy. We
cannot really know one another without communicating as whole persons. God
communicates his life to us in all three dimensions; we are to communicate
the beauty of his character in every area of our lives.
We can have "knowing" relationships, when we learn to receive
others as living, redeemable human beings--not as inferiors, and therefore
"projects," nor as superiors and therefore "objects of worship.
Receptivity is the beginning. The next step in the nurturing process is
that of response, or relatedness. Once the initiated life is received, the
whole body of the woman responds to that life within her. Her entire metabolism
matches the demands of that life. Followed by this is delivery, or the release
of that life. Pregnancy terminates, the umbilical cord is severed. This
is a natural process with emotional and spiritual connotations.
The same pattern is followed in the new birth, or spiritual regeneration.
We receive life; we do not initiate it. Spiritual life also emanates from
relationship. "I know my sheep, and am known of mine," Jesus says
(John 10:14). We cannot have spiritual life without that mutual, intimate
knowing. Christ in me, and I in Christ, is not a casual relationship, a
mere profession, a polite gesture, but a genuine possession of one another.
God initiated our spiritual rebirth in the giving of his Son; it is up to
us to receive him.
J.B. Phillips, in paraphrasing John 1:11, captures so well its poignancy:
"He came to his own home and his own people received him
Natural and spiritual life are both contingent upon our willingness to be
receivers. John 1:12 says
"...but to all who received him (the Lord Jesus Christ)
he gave power to become children of God."
We are spiritually reborn when we receive the life introduced by the Spirit
of God, symbolized by the inception of physical life.
Our Lord said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Giving
is the end of the process. Receiving is the means by which we learn to give;
indeed, we have nothing to give until we have first received. Ephesians
3:19 says, "...and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." Fullness of life
results from intimately knowing Jesus Christ, whom we have received by faith.
The Apostle Paul beautifully expresses this again in Philippians 3:10,
"...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection,
and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible
I may attain the resurrection from the dead."
This is the way in which God's image is restored in us. The more we know
him and understand his ways, the more demonstrable our likeness to him.
This intimate relatedness with Christ results in true self-realization.
In this reciprocal knowing, we truly learn to know ourselves. Being identified
with Jesus Christ means to live responsively to his life within us, to express
the uniqueness of our individuality within the context of his character.
We nurture God's life within us in the same way the mother's body responds
to the growing fetus. We feed that new life with the milk and the meat of
the Word of God. And as we submit to the demands of Christ's life within,
our identification with him grows until we are able to say with the Apostle
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who
live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life I now live in the flesh I
live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me"
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent
power belongs to God and not to us" (2 Corinthians 4:7).
Then, as in the natural life where the fetus becomes the focal interest,
the new taking precedence over the old, so,
"though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature
is being renewed every day." (II Cor. 5:l6)
As the mother's body is intent upon giving over all the nutriments necessary
to the development of that new life within, so all we have and are is to
be given over to the development and expression of the indwelling life of
Release is the third stage. There is a beautiful freedom in the Christian
life, a freedom to be our true selves. But it comes from being subject to
the lordship of Jesus Christ. This is the continuing paradox of the Christian
life. We are released from the bondage of the old law of sin and death to
the new principle of life and resurrection. We are liberated from the agonizing
bondage of the old life, ("I do not do what I want, but I do the very
thing I hate..." Romans 7:l9)--to a totally new principle, the law
of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, that sets us free from the law of
sin and death. (Contrast Romans chapters 7 and 8.) In the physical sense
we may have sterility, abortive pregnancy, or the full development and release
of the child to a new life dependency. There is sterility if we do not receive
life, abortion if we do not nurture it, abundant life if we release it to
its intended purpose.
It is so also in the spiritual life. We have spiritual sterility (experienced
emotionally and physically) if we do not receive Christ, aborted maturity
if we do not nurture the new life with his Word and submit our will in obedience
to him, and abundant life when we release his life to others, reproducing
the character of Christ and making him incarnate for others to see and know.
Released from the old self-centeredness, to the new liberty of dependency
on Christ's life, we may teach and nurture that freedom in others.
The life of Jesus Christ which we receive by faith is meant to be disseminated
into society. In receiving him we are reborn to a totally new resource for
living: the love of God which serves and gives, forgives and accepts, for
the sheer joy of loving. That quality of life is nurtured in us by knowing
and communing with the Lord Jesus Christ, allowing his written Word to instruct
us and his living Person to possess us. That relationship with him is consummated
in fruitful relationships with others.
Romans 15:7 tells us how to begin:
"So open your hearts to one another as Christ has opened
his heart to you, and God will be glorified" (Phillips paraphrase).
Limitlessly Christ receives us; we can measure our receptivity to him by
our openness toward others.
Christ received us when we had nothing to offer but hostility and death.
We too must learn to receive others where they are. Some have never experienced
the new birth, but their physical, natural life is God's gift and we must
be respectful of God's investment in every person. We must identify with
other's needs as he identifies with ours, meeting us where we are, gently
drawing us to himself.
In order to nurture life in others we must be willing to learn to know them.
This cannot be rushed. It requires a willingness to be imposed upon and
a commitment to listening. And a willingness to be candid about our own
lives. I wonder if the well-known "woman's intuition" may not
be at least partially due to a more highly developed faculty for listening
than is commonly found in men. We must learn to know one another according
to God's wisdom, evaluating our needs and desires by his standards, so that
we may nurture his life and character in one another. This is "body
life" relatedness, growing together through mutual response to God's
will and purpose for our lives.
This quality of relatedness must begin with our most intimate relationships
if it is to have relevance elsewhere. We cannot live double lives, showing
one face at home and another in public. Spiritual motherhood, the nurturing
of Christ's life in ourselves and others, is a total lifestyle. It is the
outward function of our identity, the evidence that we are God's woman.
We are all surrounded by needy, hurting people. Recognizing these needs
and responding lovingly to them is what life is all about. If we are living
from day to day just grudgingly doing the necessary elementary things without
exposing ourselves to involvement with others' needs, then we have not even
begun to really live! We are aborting life, rather than nurturing it. God
intends for us to project his life into the human stream. This we do in
very practical ways, finding where people are hurting, establishing the
level of need in our homes, our neighborhoods, the church community, or
wherever our lives touch others. All too often we know others only in terms
of how they relate to us, whether they suit us temperamentally or satisfy
the demands we make of them. There may be strangers in our own homes, maybe
even in our own beds.
In ministering to others, both they and we must be aware that as spiritual
mothers we are only channels of life, not Life itself. We are only qualified
to nurture life in others when we, as the Macedonians, have first given
ourselves to the Lord and then to others (2 Corinthians 8:5). The recognition
that we must continually draw upon him will prevent inordinate and unwarranted
dependencies. We will then faithfully direct others to Jesus Christ as the
source of life and encourage full dependency on him. We and all to whom
we minister must learn to feed on the bread of heaven. When we develop dependencies
on individuals, rather than on Christ, we are developing spiritual invalidism,
True spiritual motherhood is described in Galatians 4:19:
"My little children, with whom I am again in travail until
Christ be formed in you!"
We who have mothered physical progeny are often guilty of trying to reproduce
ourselves in our children--our tastes, our culture, our frustrated ambitions,
our image rather than God's. This can be extended to other relationships
as well. Thus it is important that we do not use ourselves as the criterion
for what is right and good, rather Christ.
Responding to other lives and nurturing Christ's life in them is often at
least as painful as the process of natural birth. We cannot love without
being vulnerable. However, while it hurts to love, the sterility of lovelessness
is still more painful. The hurt we experience in order that Jesus Christ
may be made known is the way in which we identify with his death, and that
kind of identification is always followed by resurrection. It fulfills our
humanity, gives significance and beauty to woman as nurturer and obeys our
Lord's directive to be salt and light in the world.
Love is best experienced against a background of hostility; joy is greatest
in contrast with sorrow; peace is at the core of the tornado. The quality
of Christ's life transcends life circumstances. The expressions of his life
are best displayed against the negative situations of our lives. Fully exposed,
we may experience the full dimensions of genuine life.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I
have continued my faithfulness to you" (Jeremiah 31:3).
In the Hebrew text the word "love" in the verse is in the feminine
form. G. Campbell Morgan says, "This is another of the great texts
in which that supreme and too often forgotten fact of the motherhood of
God gleams out through the sacred declaration 'I have loved thee with an
everlasting mother-love.'" God who is Spirit transcends gender, but
as our All-sufficient provider, he nurtures us as a mother her child.
Mother-love is here characterized as everlasting and faithful--but again,
this is God's love! Human love is conditional and profligate. But God offers
to love through us; it is "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
Weak human gestures at alleviating distress are merely a projection of our
need to be needed. Providing emotional crutches, symptomatic salves, amplifying
self-pity by coddling and pampering, is not nurturing the character of Christ.
This is our human misconception of mother-love. Speaking the truth in love
is God's way of building and nurturing us, and this is the method we are
to use with ourselves and with others.
The godly woman ministers to others, not for ego-satisfaction (either her
own or theirs) but that God may be glorified in his creation. This is her
lifestyle and her life's goal. In the process of nurturing we learn authentic
tenderness, compassion and sensitivity.
And what we have learned and demonstrated will become an example to others.
Subject to our Father authority, we may be mothers in society, whether or
not we have produced physical progeny. Some of the most beautiful nurturing
I have witnessed has come through childless women who have extended surrogate
motherhood to the needy with Christlike compassion and godly wisdom.
"Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into
singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in travail! For the children
of the desolate one will be more than the children of her that is married,
says the Lord." Isaiah 54:1
We return to the parable of birth, and what we have termed the principle
of release. When a woman delivers a child, a new and different kind of relatedness
develops. As we release, or express, Christ' life to others, we experience
him in new ways. In loving others we are loving him; the cup of cold water
dispensed in his name is our gift to him. Bearing fruit in every good work,
we increase in the knowledge of God.
Spiritual motherhood is the expression of the femininity of God's character
as seen in the servanthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a dimension of
maturity intended for every Christian, whatever our function.
Paul reminds the believers in Thessalonica in his first letter, chapter
2 verse 7, "we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her
children." The word "nurse" translated from the Greek trophos
is best translated "nursing mother." Paul also related to these
believers as a father, described in verse eleven, "for you know how,
like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged
you and charged you..." Here we see the demonstrated maturity of one
whose expressed goal for himself and others is to "lead a life worthy
of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory."
Paul is free to demonstrate the perfectly integrated character of the Lord
Jesus Christ, in whom all the fullness of the godhead is expressed bodily.
Paul, whose natural temperament was aggressive to the point of violence,
exhibits in his mature Christian manhood the gentle strength of his Lord.
But though he was a spiritual father-mother, one could never think of Paul
as an effeminate man. He faithfully assumed his male leadership-responsibility
in which he manifested the fruit of the Spirit, which is the character of
the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:22, 23).
Deborah, Israel's beloved prophetess and judge, led the nation as a "mother
in Israel" (see Judges 5:7). Although God gave her a unique position
of counselor to the nation, she used her God- given insight to support and
encourage sagging male leadership-responsibility. In the account related
in Judges chapter 4, she maintains a position of wise and supportive counsel
while at the same time recognizing the command of the Lord to Barak to assume
his leadership-responsibility (see verses 6 and 7). Deborah, wife of Lappidoth,
prophetess, judge, was careful to preserve the delicate male-female roles
even in an irregular situation. She preserved her sexual distinctive even
in a position of counselor to a timid and insecure man.
Receiving others as lives whom God has given, to whom we may respond with
adaptation and availability, is the way God intends all humans should live
together. God intends us all, male and female, to share mutually all of
the character-attributes of his Son, by the power of his Spirit, and in
the exercise of his spiritual gifts. It is his intention that the distinctives
of the male-female functions of loving authority and responsive, redemptive
submission be clearly recognizable in our function. Our identity as whole,
integrated people in the Lord Jesus Christ, gives us the freedom to be what
we are, male or female, so the world may see demonstrated in our sexuality
the love relationship between God who loves them and his people who are
Like Mary, we may, subject to God's Spirit, make Jesus Christ incarnate.
By her example, a woman may teach family, church and society the beauty
and dignity of serving, nurturing and loving in order that the Lord Jesus
Christ may live in us and among us. When we learn to live in this dimension,
we will no longer be silent in the church or in society, but a living, vibrant
mother to humanity's needs.
Then it may be said of us: "You've come a long way, baby!"
Copyright 1975 by Elaine L. Stedman
A Key-Word Book
Word Books Publisher
Revised May 1996.