Our Mother Who Art in Heaven: Examining Rob Bell’s “She”

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Recently, Rob Bell, pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, has caused an uproar among Christian circles for his book,  “Love Wins.”   He argues that a loving God would never sentence humans to eternal suffering. This is just one of the many theological controversies surrounding Mr. Bell.  In 2008,  Bell came out with the “She” video where he focuses on the “feminine images of God” throughout Scripture.

I want you to know I don’t disagree with everything that Rob Bell says in the video; he does have some good points. He is right in saying that both man and woman are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). He’s also correct in pointing out that women have been and sometimes are still treated like “second class citizens.” No one can deny this; it’s evident in history and has happened in almost every culture. Bell does right by praising mothers who care and nurture their children. Sacrificial mothers should be praised by those in their home (Prov. 31:28). Without women like this, we wouldn’t have the C.S Lewis’, Mother Teresa’s, or Albert Einstein’s of this world. They protect and care for their children in a way that no man could.

As Bell states, “There’s this internal impulse, this ancient mothering impulse, a divine impulse.” This is given by God and is a part of our role. While I agree with these few statements he made, he starts to go wrong when he makes God to have a feminine dimension from a few similes (a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared, as in “she is like a rose”) in Scripture.

Early in the video, Bell says the Hebrew word for compassionate is “racham” and that “it’s also the word for ‘womb.’ So, God is compassionate. God is ‘womblike’? This is a feminine image for God.” Racham does not mean both “compassionate” and “womb.” They have the same root (compassionate is racham and womb is rechem) but do not mean the same thing, just because they’re related etymologically. Take the Latin word niceus which means ignorant and the English word nice (which is derived from the Latin). They have the same root but their definition is completely different. This is called a “root fallacy,” and Bell unfortunately falls prey to this.

But if Bell’s assumption about the Hebrew adjective (compassionate equals womb-like) were correct, it would be used mostly to refer to mothers, right? Actually this is far from the case. There are several cases when it’s used for warriors, rulers, and even a father having compassion on his children (Ps. 103:13),most of the time though it refers to God. Surprisingly, only two times is compassion used to refer to a mother’s compassion (Isa. 49:15 and 1 Kgs 3:26).

Midway through the video, Bell uses the “banner” verse of egalitarians, Gal. 3:28. Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” He goes on to explain what he means by saying in 4:1, “What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.” As believers in Christ we are equal, but that does not mean our roles are the same. In Christ, a CEO of a company is equal to one of his employees in a cubicle. However, they have different roles. The employee would not take charge of the CEO and the CEO would not do errands for the employee. They are equal in Christ, but carry out different tasks.

While Bell never says, “We should call God by ‘Mother,’” his arguments are the same as most evangelical feminists who move towards referring to God by “Mother” or “She.” Bell is teeter-tottering on a very dangerous line towards liberalism through this push of God as part-female, and I think it’s important to address the issue of “Mother God.”

Bell then uses the metaphor in Job 38:29 as an example of “female imagery of God.” Deut. 32:18, Isa. 42:13-14, and Isa. 66:13 also use feminine comparisons to describe God’s activities, but just as in Job 38:29, they never use feminine nouns to describe God. Anytime God is referred to in Scripture, the gender markers are only masculine. For example, Deut. 32:18 (give you birth) uses a masculine participle, not a feminine one. He gave these feminine examples to the writers to help us understand what he is like. He uses the image of a mother’s compassion to say “Hey, this is what I’m like….but so much better!” What grace he has on our simple minds!

Just because feminine metaphors are used to describe God doesn’t mean that we then need to start calling Him “Mother” or starting using “she” when referring to God or Jesus. David (2 Sam. 17:8) and Paul (1 Thess. 2:7) are described as a”mother bear” or a “mother caring for her children.” Does that mean they were part woman and we should call them “she” now? If I can change a tire, have a take-charge attitude with projects, or throw a good spiral (football lingo), does that mean people should call me “he” now? Most people would say, “Of course not.” Why then do Bell, most egalitarians and feminists apply this method to God? God never uses female pronouns or nouns to describe himself, only masculine ones. He is, therefore, self-revealed by using masculine pronouns and we should only refer to him as such.

Furthermore, who said that compassion is limited to only women and is solely a feminine trait? Compassion does not come from a female but from the Lord. We would have no compassion, mercy, justice, strength, or kindness without Him. These are God-traits which were given to us when God created male and female. God is the model, women follow God’s example in obedience.

Though there are a few feminine metaphors used, we need to look at the rest of Scripture for answers. It was inspired by the Holy Spirit and is God’s revelation of Himself to us. Randy Stinson has a great article on this issue, “Seven Reasons Why We Cannot Call God ‘Mother.’” He points out, among other things, that (1) God’s own Word never calls him “Mother” or “She” but regularly uses masculine terms such as “Father,“ “He,” and “King” (never “Queen”) and “Husband” (never “Wife”); (2) God’s self-revelation in Scripture is His own chosen way of revealing His identity to us, and we should not tamper with that or add to it by calling God names the Bible never uses (and carefully avoids using.) God gave the words to write to all the authors of Scripture. How we think of God is affected by what His name is. If we start calling God “She” or “Mother,” we change God’s own description of Himself and call Him something He did not take for Himself. Only God can name God and He prescribes the language.

While Bell had some good points, he is tiptoeing on a dangerous line. When we try to identify Scripture with our culture, the problems subtly creep their way in. Blurring the lines of Scripture can lead to beliefs that are contrary to God’s Word and we must be careful to test all that we read and hear. It may sound good and right but does it follow Scripture? As it says in 1 John 4:1, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

*Originally published in 2009.

14 thoughts on “Our Mother Who Art in Heaven: Examining Rob Bell’s “She”

  1. You know, I have to tell you, I really enjoy this blog and the insight from everyone who participates. I find it to be refreshing and very informative. I wish there were more blogs like it. Anyway, I felt it was about time I posted, Ive spent most of my time here just lurking and reading, but today for some reason I just felt compelled to say this.

  2. Right on, Diane. One thing I would love to hear Rob Bell (or anyone who holds his position) to explain…

    James 4:7 says, “Submit therefore to God Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

    Where’s their argument that the devil could be a woman? All of their arguments revolve around the desireable notion that God represents the female gender. What about the not-so-desirable argument that Satan could be a woman?

    Just a thought…

  3. Diane, this is excellently written and beautifully researched. Thank you for your comment to scriptures. Rob Bell’s video’s have scared me for a while now b/c there is enough truth in them to fool those lacking in discernment, but the parts that aren’t true are SO very off. Thank you for this great disection of his message and for bringing truth in a world that seems to shun it.

  4. Absolutely fantastic! Well done. Just one note, Bell’s church is called Mars Hill Bible Church. Mars Hill Church is actually in Seattle Washington and doing a fantastic job of communicating the biblical foundations for men and women. Keep up the good work.

  5. Thanks everyone for the comments! Randy, I appreciate you letting me know about the church’s name. I will change that immediately. I don’t want to get Driscoll’s church and Bell’s mixed up! 🙂

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  8. You totally missed the point. He never said God is a woman and never alluded to that.
    Because the spirit of God is living in every believer He will show himself in many ways to others. Through women you may see facets of our God that because of mans personality would not be as strongly seen in and through men. Take it for what it really is. There is a lot to learn about our multi facets of our loving God. Every person has a different personality and God will show himself through one person in one way and another way in another. Rob was sharing the nurturing , loving, proyective of us, etc. facet of God that is expressed through the way he created a woman to be. Let the Holy Spirit be the teacher, do not lean on your own understanding and previous knowledge, listen to the Spirit of God in you and take a beautiful truth about how God loves his children from this video of who our Heavenly Father is and how, how deep his love is for us. (His love, that is more often taught as something to fear rather than something to rest in.)

    • I agree anonymous. Diane you missed totally missed Rob Bell’s point and I agree with him. God is not a gender. He is neither male or female. What Rob Bell said in this video, is absolutely something you will find in the Bible. Rob Bell gave scripture which you can find and look up. He is right on target on this one. Listen again to the video. It’s important to be truthful and accurate when we relay what someone believes even if we disagree.

  9. Paul: There are feminine images for God in scripture. We should not avoid that. I believe scripture to be the inerrant word of God and we are all created in God’s image, both men and women. I am not in agreement with Rob Bell on most things, but on this he is correct.

  10. Great article(s).

    However, as a physicist, I hear Albert Einstein deified much too often (I hear not only the constant references in the media, but also the perpetual worshipping by colleagues).

    Even if Albert Einstein did not plagiarize (which, for the most part, I agree with), he continually “updated” his women, essentially trading them away for others that he all-of-a-sudden found more interesting. He was never in a relationship in which he did not cheat (on both spouses and girlfriends).

    He fathered a child in his first relationship with a woman whom he married and left. He never met the child who was apparently given up for adoption or raised by a relative, and who may have passed away at an early age. If abortion was available at the time…

    His son lamented that he was the only project his father ever gave up on, signifying a son’s wish for daddy to be present more often as well as Einstein’s neglect of paternal duties. Einstein’s grandson notes that he only got to spend time with his grandfather a few times, and that Einstein only had conversation with him once or twice in his life, choosing to end conversation when he realized his young grandson could not talk general relativity with him.

    A man who does not love his wife, who has continuous sexual liaisons with “available women,” and who neglects the children he has fathered is no hero at all.
    Albert Einstein is no hero at all.
    (besides, his discoveries pretty much remained useless for decades, removed from experiment and inapplicable outside cosmology – enough time for real men to make the discoveries with little to no hindering of scientific progression.)

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