This morning was frosty. As I looked out my window at the pretty sparkles covering the mud pile in my back yard, I contemplated a question that God asked Job.
“From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost of heaven?” Job 38:29
Some English translations word it this way. Who is the mother of ice and frost? God is, of course. God is intimately involved with the cycle of life in the world around us. This morning, he gave birth to the first frost of November. When the ice and frost of winter arrives, it signals a time of death and decay. But even though the winter seems interminable, we all know it comes to an eventual end. There is a place for death in the natural world, as the cycle of the seasons reveals. And, there is a place for death in the spiritual world as well. Because God is the mother of ice and frost, it should come as no surprise that Jesus embraced death. He said things like… Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, there is no new life. If anyone would follow me, they must embrace things that might lead to death. In my head, I imagine he says to me, “I promise, spring always follows winter. Like the flowers blooming again after the frost, you will live again after death.”
God challenges us through Job to see his involvement in the world on chilly mornings by identifying his fashioning of the winter sleep in frost as birth. He named the origin of this icy death, his womb. Why use maternal imagery? I think its because a mother understands that there is life hidden in death.
When I gave birth to my children, it was a lesson in how to die. In the modern age, we sometimes forget that giving birth can be a deadly ordeal. It is impossible to put a number on how many mothers have died in pregnancy, childbirth or with post-partum complications throughout history. But, a study looking at historical trends in maternal mortality shows that in Western countries in the 19th century, 500 per 100,000 women died in childbirth. (For reference, Covid-19 deaths as of the writing of this post are at 72 per 100,000 in the US. Also, the current maternal mortality rate in the US is 17 per 100,000 births.) Giving birth in pre-modern times was a season of ice and frost for young women. Since the writing of Job, a lot of women have died giving birth.
With my first child, I was terrified at the prospect of childbirth. The new life forming in my womb made me keenly aware of my own mortality. In full labor, a woman’s body is out of her conscious control. She is at the mercy of a powerful force that is expelling the fetus at any cost. She cannot fight the waves of contractions, and if she tries, it only complicates the process. In that time, a woman faces the reality that she is not in control of whether she lives or dies. During labor with my second child, I experienced what it feels like to submit to the possibility of death. For hours, I was cutting off the full force of my contractions with premature pushing. My son was facing up, instead of down, and he was having trouble. My doctor was concerned. It wasn’t until I completely submitted to the ungovernable actions of my body, that I able to bring forth a new life. Mothers understand how dying is linked with birthing.
Christians often talk of being “born again,” evoking the imagery of mothers and childbirth. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3 that before Nicodemus could join God’s realm, he must be re-born. But Jesus clarified for him that the second birth requires something different than the first: the person doing the birthing. Jesus would labor and die to bring forth new life. Through his death, we are born again.
From whose womb comes the Christian?
Who gives birth to the children of God?
The mother of ice and frost does.