Question: Why are there so many references to God and Jesus being Father and Son in the Bible ? The Bible tells us that fathers teach their sons and that sons should listen to their fathers. Did Jesus learn anything from his Father? Did He have a Heavenly Mother ?
Answer: To answer your question effectively we will have to touch on the limits of language, as well as the limitless aspects of the Godhead—especially as it relates to the Father and the Son in the Trinity. Although the relationship between father and son among humans tells us some things about the God’s relationship to Jesus, it does not tell us everything. With analogies, we must always test their limits, being careful not to drive a comparison beyond the author’s intent. Also, we have a category issue when comparing God to his creatures. For instance, some aspects of our humanity (like a father teaching his son) cannot apply between the persons of the Godhead who individually and mutually know everything. There is nothing left to learn for either the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit. Finally, we will see that there are no references to Heavenly Mothers in the Bible; what’s up with that? Let’s explore.
You are correct in your assertion, “The Bible tells us that fathers teach their sons and that sons should listen to their fathers.” The Scriptures are full of references to this dynamic (Deut. 4:9-10; Prov. 1:8; 2 Tim. 3:15; [and there are many more]). However, your question implies that since the Bible reveals that God the Father and Jesus have a father/son relationship, and since the Bible tells us that fathers should teach their sons and sons should learn from their fathers, that that God should teach Jesus in the normal sense of the word. This is not true on at least two levels. First, this teaching describes a general law of behavior, but it is not the type of law that even earthly fathers must follow. Mind you, we ignore it at our peril—but this teaching does not have the same force as does “thou shalt not kill” in the Scripture. It is advice, not a law. Secondly, there is a category issue. God the Father and God the Son are deity; the rest of us are not. So, rules that govern restricted natures like ours cannot be forced into also applying to an unrestricted nature like God’s.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses cult loves to play off this father-son relationship. Since they are hell-bent to keep Jesus out of the realm of deity, they will not acknowledge what is actually meant by the term Son of God. They wrongly interpret Jesus’ behavioral subordination as qualitative subordination and feel justified as they chip away at the God-man Jesus. But the Bible will have none of that (nor should you if they come knocking). The father/son relationship is a positive thing in the Bible; it does not pare Jesus down into a non-deity. He remains equal to God even when he subordinates himself to his Father’s will (Mat. 26:39; Phil. 2:8).
Why are there so many of these Father/Son references in the Bible? First, to communicate efficiently to humankind, God must reference its common motifs, and what is more common than a father/son relationship? (You can see why is Satan so busy destroying traditional family identities. Special interest groups and our governments continue to usurp God’s prerogative to our mutual destruction.) When God evokes the father/son relationship in his word, he is using a cultural scaffold to build understanding. He had to explain the unknown (what it means that God became a man and dwelt among us [John 1:14]) in terms of the known—that fathers beget sons, and that the sons do the will of their fathers.
Additionally, you must understand that the relationship between father and son is not always used to show difference (as in subordination), but it is also used to show unity (as in shared essence). When Jesus referred to the apostles James and John as the “Sons of Thunder,” (Mark 3:17) he was not saying that their father was a cloud or a lightning bolt; he was describing their personal characteristics, saying that they were like thunder itself. That is what is happening when Jesus is called the Son of God. The Bible is not teaching a mere begetting/begotten relationship; it is teaching that he and the Father are the same essence. They are both, and co-equally so, God.
“I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30, ESV)
“…Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (John 17:11, ESV)
Jesus did not learn anything from the Father as we understand the term learn. Being God, Jesus already knew everything; there was nothing left for him to learn. Yet, we understand that Jesus learned obedience by going to the cross (Heb. 5:8). What this is not saying is that Jesus gained some academic knowledge of the cross which he did not have before. This is a different type of learning that only comes through experience. For example, I know academically not to stand on a chair to change a light bulb…but I’m a guy who would do this anyway. So, if I fell to the floor, then I will have learned something on another level. In fact, the phrase, “Have you learned your lesson?” comes to mind. You see, even though I had an academic knowledge of the safety issues, going through something is its own kind of learning. In like manner (except in more wisdom), Jesus approached the cross with full knowledge. He had known about the cross from before the foundations of the world (1 Pet. 1:20)—even before and outside of time—but his crucifixion had to occur at a moment in time. So, although Jesus certainly knew the cross in every dimension and in every way, he also had to learn cross in that single aspect called experience and in that single dimension called time.
Concerning a Heavenly Mother, there is none. There is only the Heavenly Father. This does not mean that God is a male in any restrictive sense; God is a Spirit being, and as such, he has no gender. But he must continually communicate with people who do have genders, so part of his great anthropomorphic process is to relate to us as Father, Protector, Provider etc., all of which had been traditionally male roles when the Bible was written. This is not to say that God has no feminine aspects. Indeed he does.
- God comforts his people like a mother comforts her child (Isaiah 66:13)
- Like a woman would never forget her nursing child, God will not forget his children (Isaiah 49:15)
- God is like a mother eagle hovering over her young (Deuteronomy 32:11)
- God seeks the lost like a housekeeper, trying to find her lost coin (Luke 15:8-10)
- God cares for his people like a midwife that cares for the child she just delivered (Ps 22:9-10, Ps 71:6, Isa 66:9)
- God experiences the fury of a mother bear robbed of her cubs (Hosea 13:8)
- Jesus longed for the people of Jerusalem, like a mother hen longs to gather her chicks under her wings (Luke 13:34)
Feminine aspects notwithstanding, God is nowhere called (nor understood to be) our Heavenly Mother. That term shows up in paganism, because wherever there is a concept of a heavenly father, there will also be a concept of a heavenly mother. Mormonism has that concept as well as some other cults. Roman Catholicism holds to the extra-biblical tradition that Jesus’ mother Mary was assumed into heaven; some Catholics ascribed Heavenly Mother to her, but such a title would be extra-biblical, and the Bible is where we draw the line for such things.
For more information on the term Heavenly Mother, see this article from Got Questions Ministries at the following link.