Hannah Whitall Smith on the Mother-Heart of God

Author of The Evangelical Universalist, editor of "All Shall Be Well" and coeditor of Universal Salvation?: The Current Debate Yes, use his real name for The Purpose That Shall Not Be Named. Yes, you can call him by his pseudonym, too (in posts, not for The Purpose). He's very easygoing. {g}

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Hannah Whitall Smith on the Mother-Heart of God

Postby Gregory MacDonald » Thu Dec 10, 2009 10:39 am

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. 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)
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Re: Hannah Whitall Smith on the Mother-Heart of God

Postby JasonPratt » Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:29 pm

Gregory MacDonald wrote:one went on to marry the philosopher Bertrand Russell


Ow! Irony... ;)

Still, it sounds like he couldn't have married into a better mother-in-law. :D
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Re: Hannah Whitall Smith on the Mother-Heart of God

Postby SLJ » Sun Dec 13, 2009 12:28 pm

Having kids has taught me more that I thought possible--more than I can express--about what it means to love. I have held my babies, and thought, "This is every person who ever has lived. They were once a little child just like this." Every evil man was once a harmless, vulnerable, dependant infant. How is it that he grew into a monster? How much of that was his fault? And does that make him any less precious to his Maker?

When I see my kids being selfish, rude, mean to each other, etc, I am angry with them because I love them. I discipline them because I love them.

I agree with Hannah--how could God create people with a greater capacity for love than He himself has? God must be the perfection of love.

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James 3:13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

Eph 1:10 ...a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
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Re: Hannah Whitall Smith on the Mother-Heart of God

Postby Bob Wilson » Sun Dec 13, 2009 9:13 pm

Thanks. As a father and grandfather, you also express my perceptions well!
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