A Mothering God
In the Psalm, the Psalmist compares God to a mother, and he compares himself to a weaned child at peace on its mother’s lap. This is a striking image, and worth reflecting on.
How can a child who is being weaned and is also on his mother’s lap understand the suffering of the weaning? What he wants is right there; there is nothing bad about his having it—it costs his mother nothing to satisfy him; the pain of doing without it is sharp and urgent. And so for a while the child will be overwhelmed by the misery of his situation.
But sooner or later in his affliction he will also see his mother, and that makes all the difference. His desire for what she will not give him is still urgent, and the pain of the deprivation remains sharp. But in seeing her, he feels her love of him. He senses her goodness, and he comes to trust her. As Isaiah puts it, he sucks consolation to the full in another way (Is 66:11).
And that is how he can be both weaned and also resting peacefully by her side.
If a truly good God rules the world, then the world has a good mother, and life is under the mothering guidance of God. Even the most loathsome evils and the most horrendous sufferings are in the hand of a God who is truly good.
Nothing in this thought makes evil less evil. Suffering remains painful; violence and greed are still execrable. We still have an obligation to lessen the misery of others and our own troubles retain their power to torment us. But it makes a great difference to suppose that the sufferers of evil, maybe ourselves included, are in the arms of a mothering God. Tasting the goodness of God makes seeing the world's evils and our own compatible with joy in the Lord.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University