BCC Staff Note: You’re reading the second of a week-long BCC Grace & Truth blog series on mothers and Mother’s Day.
When a Maternal Image Helps You Trust God
“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!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
Our experiences in this world were always intended to help us understand God and what He’s like in relationships. While they never substitute for God Himself, they are supposed to point beyond themselves to Him (Romans 1:18-20); the visible creation revealing His character and relational style so that we can learn to trust Him even though we can’t see Him.
Look at how He responds to people’s fear and anxiety when they worry that He has abandoned or forgotten them (Isaiah 49:14). He begins with a familiar maternal image, inviting us to draw the comparison between Himself and our experiences of being mothered (Isaiah 49:15). How could a nursing mother forget her baby? Something would have to be unbelievably compelling in order for her to do so.
Many years ago, a friend from the inner city invited me over to his home. While showing me around, he discovered his infant brother in the living room, hidden under a pile of blankets because their mother was out running the streets, looking for her fix. Drugs drove her baby and his needs right out of her mind. Sadly, that is possible.
The passage in Isaiah, however, goes well beyond such forced forgetfulness. In Isaiah’s scenario the baby is actively nursing—drawing nourishment from its mother, setting off all kinds of pleasurable feelings in her, releasing goodness and relieving the pressure that’s been steadily building in her body since the last time she nursed. How on earth could you ignore that at the moment it’s happening? You couldn’t.
In other words, God is inviting you to conclude, “Wow. If a flawed human being is that good, then how much better must God be? If a mother physically couldn’t forget her child then surely God can’t forget me.”
He’s inviting you to draw upon your experience of living in His visible, physical world in order to better understand His invisible, non-physical self. While not inspired Scripture, our experiences of His revelation of Himself in this world can be valuable in seeing and appreciating God’s nature. They can help us learn to trust Him.
When a Maternal Image Gets in the Way of Trusting God
Our experiences, however, can also get in the way. This world and all those in it don’t function as God originally intended. That means we can often draw the wrong lesson from our mothers and over-write that faulty experience back onto God and His character. When we do so, we turn Him into an untrustworthy and dangerous person that we’d be wiser to guard ourselves against.
The closer Creation was supposed to mimic Him, the greater the distortion that gets written onto Him. Misperceiving a tree does corrupt my understanding of God, but not nearly to the same extent as misperceiving a parental relationship.
Here’s God’s grace again: God understands the distortion I can get locked into and addresses it directly to correct the problem. Even if a mother could forget, God says, He cannot.
And so to convince you of the utter impossibility of His losing track of you, He shifts the metaphor to body piercings. He engraved your name on Himself. He now carries a memory of you on His body. He made you part of Himself. He will not—no, that’s wrong—he cannot forget you.
Lest you think this is simple metaphor, consider the resurrected Christ. When He appears to His friends, He invites Thomas to stick his fingers into the nail holes still present in His hands, the scars He knowingly took on to reclaim you for Himself. Those scars bear your name. When He looks down at Himself, it is impossible for Him to forget you. God has willingly tattooed Himself for eternity. He remembers you.
God’s Relational Style in Addressing Fears
He cannot forget you and as you consider how graciously and gently He’s just interacted with you, you realize it’s a good thing to be remembered by Him. Look at all the ways He engages people who are scared:
- He doesn’t scold you for being fearful nor does he leave you stuck in your fear.
- He starts a conversation with you to talk about your fear.
- He names the fear out loud so you’ll know that He understands you.
- He uses words to convince you that He won’t do what you’re scared He will.
- He doesn’t stop with words, but follows them up with actions that no one else can equal to show you the extreme steps He’s taken to address your fears even before you voiced them.
When you see God’s relational style, you realize that this is a God you want to have remember you because He’s so good in relationship.
Join the Conversation
- How have your experiences of being mothered given you a small positive understanding of what God is like in His relationship with you?
- How have your experiences of a human mother confused your sense of how God relates to you?
- How does what Jesus did on the cross help rewrite your misconceptions and distortions of who God is?
- How has the way God addresses your concerns and engaged you helped reinforce your positive experiences while unraveling the negative ones?
Author Note: The thoughts in this blog post are developed from Day 269 in Grace through the Ages: A One Year Devotional Illustrating God’s Unrelenting Grace and Love © 2012 by William P. Smith.