So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in…
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. -Isaiah 49:15–16
A favorite memory of my mom was when I was ten years old. We lived opposite the Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica, California. When I wasn’t caddying, I searched for golf balls and clubs lost in the bushes and water, sorted and cleaned them, and sold the usable ones. On one occasion, a group of golfers stopped by my little table, picked up all the golf balls, tossed a few coins in my direction, laughed at my protests, and left.
I went home and told my mom about them. I’d never seen my sweet mom so angry. She went after the group, read them the riot act, retrieved all the golf balls, and justice was served! I never doubted my mom’s love for me after that. If mothers love and fight for us like that, how much more does God?
Israel was complaining (as she often did!) in the passage above that God had abandoned his people. The truth is that Israel had jumped ship so many times that it becomes wearisome even to read. You find yourself asking God, why did you even bother? Chapter after chapter in the Old Testament, God’s people turn away from his guidance and insist on their way. They always knew better.
Some things never change. We find the same attributes in ourselves. We know better!
In preferring their way, Israel found themselves upside down and on the outside looking in. Hungry, cold, and beaten, they cried out to God in despair, thinking he had forsaken them. We do the same thing when we go our own way instead of God’s and ask: Why, God?
What’s interesting about this psychology is that the more often we turn away from God, the more we’re convinced that he has turned away from us. How often have we assumed that God is just like us and tossed him aside in a moment of despair or bitterness? We blame him for being what we are, and in our unfaithfulness, we imagine him saying something like, “You turn on me, and I’ll do the same for you. So don’t come crawling back to me when things get bad!”
But God’s astonishing response to Israel’s complaint reflects his all-encompassing love for creation. God responds, can a mother forget her newborn nursing baby and feel nothing for it? Most mothers would never think of abandoning their babies—even sleep-deprived mothers! So God would never desert his people even when they’ve rebelled for the thousandth time.
In times of deep suffering, misperceiving God is the easiest thing to do. Emotions are powerful things and can trick us into imagining all kinds of fantasies and false beliefs. But God reasons with us by using the most recognizable person of human life—a mother.
Mothers throughout history have had an enormous impact on their children’s lives. In Barna Group’s study, The Powerful Impact of Moms in Christians’ Households, the research “finds that mothers—more often than fathers, or any other category of frequent participants in households—are seen as the confidants, providers of support and drivers of faith formation. We observe this dynamic in the responses of adults, who esteem and rely on their moms as sources of strength, companionship and wisdom. In turn, mothers still meet a range of needs and provide support for their grown children or, when applicable, grandchildren.”
God highly esteems mothers—biological, adoptive, or spiritual. Each woman plays her unique God-given role in the place he has chosen for her. And a child’s faith, what they believe and whom they follow, is often guided by their mother.
Maybe you didn’t come from a healthy family. Maybe your mother gave you up for adoption, abused, or abandoned you. So seeing God in the light of a nursing mother doesn’t appeal to you. But what we learn in this case is that what we did not experience as a child is what we do experience in being a part of God’s family. God isn’t saying, “I’m just like your parents,” but rather, “I’m what your parents should have been.” And should be.
There is a second unforgettable image in this passage from Isaiah. In the ancient world, a person often would have the name of their beloved tattooed on the palm of their hand. This would remind them of their loved ones throughout the workday. God says that he has our names before him so that we are always on his mind. He never stops thinking of us and has our welfare at heart, every moment of the day and night. As the parent looks upon the sleeping child at night, he looks upon us even when we are unaware of his presence.
If we take away anything from reading this passage, it’s this: God loves us, will never abandon us, and is wholly aware of our problems and needs. If we are struggling to trust him, ask him to clear our false vision of him—a vision clouded by our experience of a broken or toxic family and messed-up relationships. Pray and ask God to dispel all the confusion and misperception of his faithful, loving, and unchanging character and reveal his everlasting love and best plans for you.
Photo by Dylan McCleod via unsplash.com