As in the Form of Similitude

May 4, 2022
Tim Lien

"As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you."
Isaiah 66:13

“Ain’t no ‘hood like motherhood.”

The danger of describing motherhood as very much a non-mom, borders on irrational mansplaining with a splash of ignorance and a fresh sprig of stupidity. Yet here I am inching out onto the thawing spring ice with an armload of building supplies destined for my Motherhood Ice-Fishing BlogHouse 2022. What could go wrong?

With even greater stakes, there is also a danger in describing how God is as very much non-Gods. There is much mansplaining in this category, as well, with all the attendant splashes and sprigs.

As I write, I like to employ the classic Human Shield Strategy—quoting other people who say the things. If a reader becomes agitated, I can quickly point to the offending author. Many times, I will also offer to carry the odd torch and/or pitchfork—just out of sheer helpfulness. Secret pro-tip: A disarmed mob is loud but burns less buildings and is less stabby.

Isaiah says it, not me: “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.” If we were playing mansplaining BINGO, you could cover 3 squares: women, mothers, and God. Gutsy, Isaiah.

It’s hard to express the ancient Hebrew here, but you can see the English translator struggling hard to retain its sense. There is good, honest work in translation, but it is most definitely underappreciated when we stumble across unwieldy English constructions. Why didn’t the translator keep it simple, colloquial and simply say, “Just like a mom comforts her child, God comforts you?” There, Mr. Translator, I fixed it for you. God is a lot like your mom.

Those sounds you hear are the ice creaking and the translators sharpening pitchfork tines.

Because that would be a horrible translation.

The translators are placing their pitchforks back in the shed, but now the moms have placed a 12-pack of torches in their online cart. You gotta problem with moms, buddy?!

What’s behind that awkward English phrasing of Isaiah? The translator is trying to convey some beautiful, poetic Hebrew without mansplaining God (or motherhood). He’s saying that there is an experience of being comforted by mom that we know well. We can put adjectives to the soothing, patience, care. We have felt this comfort. It is real and it is received with gladness while we are yet grumpy-pants. Isaiah is centering on the person experiencing this great kindness. As one who has experienced the inexplicable loving momminess of a Mom, then, so too, you will experience a great inexplicable gentle kindness from God. You will recognize it as patient, kind, and comforting. You will be able name it in kind, precisely because you had an experience of it. You will not say, oh God is a lot like my mom. No, you will say that God provides great comfort, because your mom loved you enough to help you recognize the difference between comfort and a command to run to the corner store for cigarettes.

But there is a tad more here. Isaiah is also saying this: as one who has been comforted by a mom (in a time necessitating comforting action and words), so, too, you need the comfort of God. You are in a place where comforting is necessary. You need God to comfort you, just like you needed mom to comfort you as little gal/guy. He will do the comforting you are longing for as an older gal/guy. So be comforted, you. By Him.

Yes, we should probably give translators a break, but let’s start with hugging a mom. And end with gratitude to the God who supplies us with moms and superior comfort. Remember to delete the torches from her cart, though.

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