Hannah Whitall Smith on the mother-heart of God

I am not totally convinced by the theological method here but my heart does warm to this.
My problem is that I think that our understanding of God's love must be grow from and conform to the revelation of divine love that we see in the story of God's engagement with creation, with Israel, with Jesus, with the church, etc.. It must be an understanding following the contours of the story of the cross and resurrection.

That said, I do think that our reflections cannot even get off the ground without some prior experience of love. I also think that our experience of love will inform our theological reflections as we go. So whilst Hannah's comments here cannot be all that must be said (and she would be the first to agree) they are nonetheless helpful.

Hannah Whitall Smith was a 19th century Quaker-turned-Wesleyan-holiness-preacher from the USA. She was an influential holiness speaker and writer and was one of the inspirations behind the Keswick convention (though I don't think she was ever directly involved with it). The following is from her autobiography:

My children have been the joy of my life. I cannot imagine more exquisite bliss than comes to one sometimes in the possession and companionship of a child. To me there have been moments, when my arms have been around my children, that have seemed more like what the bliss of heaven must be than any other thing I can conceive of; and I think this feeling has taught me more of what are God’s feelings towards his children than anything else in the universe. If I, a human being with limited capacity, can find such joy in my children, what must God, with his infinite heart of love, feel towards his; In fact most of my ideas of the love and goodness of God have come from my own experience as a mother, because I could not conceive that God would create me with a greater capacity for unselfishness and self-sacrifice than he possessed himself; and since this discovery of the mother heart of God I have always been able to answer every doubt that may have arisen in my mind, as to the extent and quality of the love of God, by simply looking at my own feelings as a mother. I cannot understand the possibility of any selfishness on the mother’s part coming into her relation to her children. It seems to me a mother, who can be selfish and think of her own comfort and her own welfare before that of her children, is an abnormal mother, who fails in the very highest duty of motherhood . . . Since I had this insight of the mother-heart of God, I have never been able to feel the slightest anxiety for any of his children; and by his children I do not mean only the good ones, but I mean the bad ones just as much.

Only three of Hannah's seven children lived to adulthood (one went on to marry the philosopher Bertrand Russell)

Comments

Jason Goroncy said…
Nice post Robin. FYI, Hannah Whitall Smith was once invited to preach at the 1874 Broadlands Keswick Convention. (Back in the Keswick's 'Liberal' days obviously).
Anonymous said…
Very interesting.

Our experience of love must be a good indicator of God's kind of love.

Is there anything said about her daughter's influence (or lack of)on Bertrand Russell ?!
Robin Parry said…
Anonymous - he had an affair and they got divorced (click the link to see the news item)

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9E00EEDD1E3FEE3ABC4E53DFB366838A639EDE
mewmewmew said…
Very interesting.

Our experience of love must be a good indicator of God's kind of love.

Is there anything said about her daughter's influence (or lack of)on Bertrand Russell ?!

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JJ said…
The entry into Hannah's autobiography was very interesting!!
Anonymous said…
Nice post -pity it is mine!!!!
Robin Parry said…
Your? Eh? You have lost me.

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