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A Devotional on Compassion by Skye Jethani (

man and woman holding hands on street

The Lord’s Maternal Love:

Pregnancy literally changes a woman’s brain. Neurological research reported in The Atlantic explains how a flood of chemicals during and after pregnancy increases activity in parts of the brain regulating what researchers call maternal motivation. “In other words, those maternal feelings of overwhelming love, fierce protectiveness and constant worry begin with reactions in the brain.”

One of the researchers, Pilyoung Kim, said, “Mothers actually report very high levels of patterns of thinking about things they cannot control. They’re constantly thinking about the baby. Is the baby healthy? Sick? Full?” The scientists found that these feelings occur because pregnancy causes parts of the brain regulating empathy to grow. This explains, said Kim, why “in animals and humans during the postpartum period, there’s enormous desire to take care of their own child.” Some would argue this goes far beyond the postpartum period. As Priscille Sibley said, “Mothers always worry. There’s no off switch.”

The biological root of a mother’s powerful love helps explain a Hebrew word in Exodus 34:5-7. YHWH is described as “merciful” or in some translations “compassionate.” The word in Hebrew comes from the root word rehem, meaning “womb.” The ancient Israelites had no better way of describing God’s compassion than to look at a mother’s love. Here in Exodus, however, it isn’t the people describing God’s love with maternal language. The Lord links himself to the intense, visceral feelings a mother has for her newborn child. He is declaring his constant concern for his children and vows to fiercely protect them. And we already know from his response to their captivity in Egypt, when they cry out or experience pain he aches as well. He is moved to act.

God’s paternalism is important and a frequent theme in Scripture, but we must not ignore the maternal characteristics of God either. Genesis is clear that both the man and woman were created in God’s image, which means qualities we associate with femininity are no less divine than those our culture considers masculine. And sometimes those categories breakdown altogether—like when a mother’s compassion drives her to ferociously protect her child. We know from Scripture and our own experience there are times when compassion can be violent, and times when justice can be gentle.


Exodus 34:5-9;  Isaiah 49:14-16;  Matthew 23:37


From Johann Arndt (1555 – 1621)

Gracious and gentle and condescending God, God of peace, Father of mercy, God of all comfort; see, I lament before you the evil of my heart; I acknowledge that I am too much disposed to anger, jealousy, and revenge, to ambition and pride, with often give rise to discord and bitter feelings between me and others. Too often in this way I have offended and grieved you, my long-suffering Father, as well as my neighbors. Oh! forgive me this sin, and allow me to share in the blessings which you have promised to the peacemakers, who shall be called the children of God.  Amen.