This is probably one of the harder questions that I have been asked in recent days, but I think that it is the one that needs to be answered first. Not only because it is the first of my most recent set of questions, but because how we view God somewhat determines how the other questions will be answered.
I spent some time searching the Scriptures, and these are the only verses that I could find that would warrant any use of mother language in reference to God.
As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:13 ESV Emphasis mine)
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (Matthew 23:37 ESV Emphasis mine)
These are the only two verses that I found, and, if you notice, both of them are analogies for something that God is doing or Jesus would like to do. In the first case, God is saying that He is going to comfort His people. But, if you notice the order of words in the text, the mother language is not pointed to God, but to the people being comforted. God is saying, in essence, “You will be comforted as if it was your own mother who had done it.” God is not saying that He is like the mother, but He is saying that the people will be comforted in a like manner. And how does a mother usually comfort her children? She shows compassion and holds her children. She gives them some warm milk maybe. She dries their tears. But this kind of comforting is not limited to mothers only, but fathers comfort in this same manner. The comforting that God id promising His people is going to be a deeply intimate comfort. So, strike one for the use of “mother” language for God.
The second verse is Jesus talking. This creates a delimma, though. Jesus was a man who walked on the earth. He was a male. Prophecy stated that He would be.
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21 ESV)
It seems to me that Scripture is blatantly clear that Jesus was a man. He was not merely a child, but he was a little boy. This deviates us from the subject at hand, though.
Since Jesus is the one who said, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” it is obvious that He is not telling us that He is without gender or is female. Jesus is saying that He wants to gather the Jews under His protective cover, just as a mother chicken does her babies. It is the same type of analogy used in the first verse mentioned. Strike two for the use of “mother” language for God.
As Christians, Scripture is to be our final authority in how we refer to God. Scripture uses specifically male gender in its description of God. In fact, God uses masculine language to describe Himself, and I believe that it is very dangerous for us to arbitrarily decide that this language isn’t adequate. God always gives us exactly what we need to understand Him and His will and how He works and relates to humankind. God has named Himself in Scripture in the masculine and I believe that we need to remain faithful to that. If describing God as “He” is inaccurate, how much else of God’s description of Himself is inaccurate? Is it inaccurate to say that He hates sin? Is it inaccurate to say that He is in the heavens and does what He pleases? I agree with all who say that God transcends gender, and I hold this view myself, but He has chosen a gender to explain Himself to His creation, and I believe it is, as I said above, very dangerous for us to decide that He got it wrong or that He didn’t do a good enough job of explaining Himself. It is also very dangerous for us to claim that we can do it better, which is exactly what is being done by attempting to change the language used to refer to God from what He has inspired and given us to something that is more in line with a particular cultural shift.