Sometimes in the 21st century we can arrogantly or naively believe we are inventing new ways of thinking about God, but, to use the words of an ancient preacher, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1.9).
In early September, I was researching the extent of Hebrew scholarship among Christians in the 15th century and a quote from early humanist and theologian Wessel Gansfort (1419-1489) caught my attention. The quote comes from his reappraisal of the Lord’s Prayer.
As part of his discussion on the character of “our Father in heaven”, Gansfort showed that two Hebrew words describing God’s love in Psalm 25.6 prove that God’s love is both maternal and paternal. Gansfort said:
“Here, instead of compassion, the Hebrew has rechem, which we have said signifies a mother’s affection from the womb, and, instead of mercy, chesed, which signifies a father’s affection for children (p.69).”
After more discussion, he concluded that we are to pray to God as mother and as father. And, so he enlarges the scope of the two words, “our Father,” with which the Lord’s Prayer begins.
The two Hebrew words Gansfort was discussing are rechem (רֶחֶם) and chesed (חֶסֶד), the first normally translated as “compassion” or “mercy” and the second as “steadfast love” or “loving kindness”. He argues that the first can also mean “womb” in Hebrew, thus representing maternal love.
The fact that rechem can also mean “womb” has always fascinated me when reading Psalm 25.6 in Hebrew. I connect the concept of this word to the idea of a mother’s love for those children of whom people sometimes say, “Only a mother could love them.” I love the idea that God’s love is maternal. God loves me even when I am not lovable by any but Her.
In my arrogance or naivety, I thought I was discovering something new that no one had seen before. Clearly, this was not so. Sometime in the last half of the 15th century, Gansfort had a similar thought and he wrote it down.
There is nothing new under the sun, and Mother God still loves us.
Editor’s note: If you found this feature fascinating and you would like to know more about studying theology, come to the St Francis College Open Day and find out about our wide range of study options. Visit the St Francis College website to register or for more information. The virtual Open Day will be held on Tuesday 2 November at 7 – 8.30 pm and the on-campus Open Day will be held on Thursday 4 November at 12 noon – 2 pm and 5 – 7 pm.Jump to next article