If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?

(Note: This post is an edited and expanded version of an answer I wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) rejected the traditional Christian doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in God (see: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”).

But, traditional Christians commonly ask, if Jesus and the Father are not different persons of God, then why do the Gospels say that Jesus talked and prayed to the Father?

The Agony in the Garden, by William Blake (1757-1827)

The Agony in the Garden, by William Blake (1757-1827)

Also, why does Jesus sometimes say that the Father knows things that he doesn’t? Why, in the Gospel story, does Jesus sometimes seem to have his own personality, knowledge, and desires, distinct and even different from those of God the Father?

There is a simple answer and a complex answer to these questions.

  1. The simple answer is: When Jesus prayed to the Father, he was talking to himself.
  2. The complex answer requires a new understanding of exactly who Jesus was at birth, and of the process he went through during his lifetime on earth.

Let’s look at both of these answers in more detail, and get Swedenborg’s unique take on them.

Why?

Because learning Swedenborg’s powerful answer to these excellent questions clears up a whole raft of perplexity and confusion about the Gospel story—a perplexity that has bedeviled Christians for nearly two thousand years now, and introduced fallacy and chaos into traditional Christian doctrine.

Once we understand the true, infinitely loving, infinitely wise, and infinitely powerful nature of the One God, who is the Lord God Jesus Christ, everything else starts falling into place.

Knowing who God truly is brings clarity to our minds and peace to our hearts. As the perplexity falls away, this often dark and confusing universe finally starts to make sense. We gain a whole new understanding of why we are here, and what our purpose in life is.

The Simple Answer

The simple answer to the question of why Jesus talked and prayed to the Father does not require Swedenborg’s theology at all. It only requires common human experience:

Jesus was talking to himself.

People often talk to themselves. Sometimes they even do it out loud! I doubt anyone goes through life without talking to himself or herself on many occasions—perhaps many times a day. The Bible records a number of times when people talk to themselves. A simple search for “said to himself” on BibleGateway turns up seven instances in the Protestant Bible, and three more in the Apocrypha.

But more specifically from the perspective of Swedenborg’s teachings:

Jesus was talking to his own soul.

In Swedenborg’s theology, “the Father” is the divine soul, while “the Son” is the divine body, or human manifestation. (See “Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?”)

The Bible also offers an example of someone talking to his own soul, in Jesus’ parable of the rich fool:

Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’

“Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’” (Luke 12:16-19, italics added)

So the simple answer, which doesn’t even require Swedenborg’s theology, but only a common understanding of human nature (which is an image and likeness of God’s nature, see Genesis 1:26-27), is:

Jesus was talking to himself, and specifically, to his own soul, which was the Father within him.

The Complex Answer

The complex answer does require Swedenborg’s theology of the Incarnation (God being born as a flesh-and-blood human being)—which also has a solid basis in the Bible.

Jesus’ dual nature while on earth

According to the two Biblical accounts of Jesus’ conception and birth, which occur in Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-7, Mary was Jesus’ mother.

However his father was not Joseph. Instead Mary conceived him “from the Holy Spirit,” so that the child to be born of her would be called “the Son of God.” The clear message is that God was Jesus’ father. And the New Testament commonly refers to God as the Father of Jesus.

This means that at birth, Jesus had a dual nature:

  1. A finite human nature from his human mother Mary
  2. An infinite divine nature from his divine Father

These two natures were arranged in him so that the finite human nature from Mary constituted his outer self, while his infinite divine nature, which was God, constituted his inner self. Swedenborg states this succinctly in Secrets of Heaven #1460:

His inner aspects were divine ones from Jehovah, his Father; his outer aspects were human ones from Mary, his mother.

According to Swedenborg’s theology, it was through his finite human nature, which he received from Mary, that Jesus could be tempted by the Devil.

In fact, it was the very weaknesses and tendencies toward sin (not Original Sin—a non-Biblical Catholic doctrine that Swedenborg rejected) that made it possible for hell and the Devil to approach Jesus so that he could be “tempted in all ways just as we are” (Hebrews 4:15). The Devil could never approach God’s divine nature directly. Such an encounter would annihilate the Devil—who, in Swedenborg’s theology is a personification of all evil and hell (see “Is there Really a Devil? Why??”).

Ironically then, according to Swedenborg’s theology, the non-Biblical Catholic doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (which is not the same thing as the Virgin Birth of Jesus), if it were true, would destroy the very reason Jesus took on a human nature from a finite human being (Mary). He took on that nature specifically to face the Devil on the Devil’s own turf—which is the fallen human nature, subject to sin. In other words, the Incarnation required Jesus to receive from his human mother a finite, fallen human nature with inborn tendencies to evil and sin just like that of any other human being ever born.

Jesus’ victory over the Devil through temptation

And yet, according to Hebrews 4:15, though Jesus was tempted to sin in every way that we are, unlike any ordinary human being he never actually sinned.

In line with this, Swedenborg states that during Jesus’ lifetime on earth, every time the Devil approached him through his finite, human nature and tempted him, Jesus overcame in that temptation, and was victorious in his struggle against the Devil (or hell). This can be seen especially in Jesus’ temptation by the Devil in the desert after his baptism (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).

Through a lifetime of victories in all of his temptations, Jesus completely overcame the Devil, or the power of evil, subjecting it to his personal control, and reducing it to a state in which it could no longer overwhelm humanity.

This, according to Swedenborg, was the essential and universal act of Redemption that Jesus accomplished during his lifetime on earth.

If Jesus had not fought against and emerged completely victorious over the Devil, all people on earth would have suffered eternal damnation, because by our own strength we humans cannot possibly resist the overwhelming power of the Devil and hell.

Jesus’ process of glorification

This victory over evil took place in the context of a process that Swedenborg calls “glorification,” based on the way that word is used in the Gospel of John. (See, for example, John 7:39; 12:23, 28; John 13:31-32; 14:13.)

This process of glorification took place in two basic states that continued throughout Jesus’ lifetime in an alternating cycle:

  1. The first state was one of emptying out, or of expelling from himself the finite human nature from his human mother Mary.
  2. The second state was one of being glorified, or of uniting his human nature with his inner divine nature, called “the Father” in the Bible.

Here is how Swedenborg describes this process, and its ultimate results, in True Christianity #104:

When the Lord was being emptied out he was in a state of progress toward union; when he was being glorified he was in a state of union itself. The church recognizes that the Lord had two states while he was in the world: one called being emptied out; the other called glorification.

The prior state, being emptied out, is described in many passages in the Word, especially in the Psalms of David, but also in the Prophets. There is even one passage in Isaiah 53 where it says, “He emptied out his soul even to death” (Isaiah 53:12). This same state also entailed the Lord’s being humbled before the Father. In this state he prayed to the Father. In this state he says that he is doing the Father’s will and attributes everything he has done and said to the Father.

The following passages show that he prayed to the Father: Matthew 26:36-44; Mark 1:35; 6:46; 14:32–39; Luke 5:16; 6:12; 22:41-44; John 17:9, 15, 20. The following show that he did the Father’s will: John 4:34; 5:30. The following show that he attributed everything he had done and said to the Father: John 8:26, 27, 28; 12:49, 50; 14:10.

In fact, he cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Furthermore, without this state it would have been impossible to crucify him.

The state of being glorified is also a state of union. The Lord was in this state when he was transfigured before three of his disciples. He was in it when he performed miracles. He was in it as often as he said that the Father and he were one, that the Father was in him and he was in the Father, and that all things belonging to the Father were his. After complete union he said he had power over all flesh (John 17:2) and all power in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). There are also other such passages. (links added)

Why Jesus sometimes talked and prayed to the Father as if to a separate being

In other words, during his lifetime on earth Jesus went through two alternating states:

  • In one state, Jesus was more present in and aware of his finite human nature from Mary. This was the state in which he could be tempted. It was also a state in which he felt a sense of separation from the Father, who was his own inner divine soul. It was in this state that Jesus prayed to the Father as if to a separate being.
  • In the other state, Jesus was more present in and aware of his infinite divine nature, which was God the Father. When he was in this state, he said that he and the Father are one (John 10:30), that those who have seen him have seen the Father (John 14:8-9), and that the Father within him does the works (John 14:10).

These alternating states of feeling separated from the Father (his own divine soul) when he was more conscious of his finite human side, and feeling one with the Father when he was more conscious of his infinite divine side, continued throughout his lifetime on earth, culminating in his final and greatest temptation, on the Cross, when he cried out (quoting the opening verse of Psalm 22), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).

Jesus’ full union with the Father

That, according to Swedenborg, was the last time Jesus was immersed in his finite human nature from Mary. Through his victory in that final and greatest temptation, he completely put off from himself the last vestiges of his finite human heredity from Mary, and fully united himself with the divinity of the Father within. After the Resurrection, and especially after the Ascension to the Father, there was nothing left of that finite human maternal heredity; he was fully divine, so that Swedenborg calls him “the Lord God Jesus Christ.”

One final passage illustrating this, from Swedenborg’s True Christianity #102:

There is a belief that the Lord in his human manifestation not only was but still is the Son of Mary. This is a blunder, though, on the part of the Christian world. It is true that he was the Son of Mary; it is not true that he still is. As the Lord carried out the acts of redemption, he put off the human nature from his mother and put on a human nature from his Father. This is how it came about that the Lord’s human nature is divine and that in him God is human and a human is God. The fact that he put off the human nature from his mother and put on a divine nature from his father—a divine human nature—can be seen from his never referring to Mary as his mother, as the following passages show: “The mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said to her, ‘What do I have to do with you, woman? My hour has not yet come’” (John 2:3-4). Elsewhere it says, “Jesus on the cross saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing next to her. He said to his mother, Woman, behold your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother’” (John 19:26-27). On one occasion he did not acknowledge her: “There was a message for Jesus from people who said, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to see you.’ Jesus said in reply, ‘My mother and my brothers are these people who are hearing the Word of God and doing it’” (Luke 8:20-21; Matthew 12:46-49; Mark 3:31-35). So the Lord called her “woman,” not “mother,” and gave her to John to be his mother. In other passages she is called his mother, but not by the Lord himself.

So Jesus did have a dual nature during his lifetime on earth: a finite human side outwardly, and an infinite divine side inwardly. But after his process of glorification was complete, which means after his resurrection, he was fully divine and human at the same time. His human side had become fully divine. That is why another common expression Swedenborg uses to describe the risen and glorified Jesus Christ is “the Divine Humanity.”

So the complex answer to all of these excellent questions is:

When Jesus talked and prayed to the Father as if to a separate being, he was doing so from the finite, human nature that he received from his mother Mary. However, by the time of his Resurrection and Ascension, none of that that finite nature was left in him. He had become fully divine, and fully one with the Father, so that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all essential components of one Divine Person, who is the Divine Humanity, or the Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ.

But isn’t the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity based on the Bible?

And what does this new and clearer understanding of Jesus Christ mean for us, and for our lives?

To answer these questions, we invite you to read the articles linked below, and browse the other articles on this website.

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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14 comments on “If Jesus Christ is the One God, Why Did He Talk and Pray to the Father?
  1. Paul Hierholzer says:

    Hello Lee:

    Merry Christmas. Thank you for your (as always) thoughtful article. Some thoughts of my own:

    “As the perplexity falls away, this often dark and confusing universe finally starts to make sense.” I don’t know that it makes any more sense without the Trinity than with it.

    “We gain a whole new understanding of why we are here, and what our purpose in life is.”
    It’s not clear how disbelief in the Trinity (or for that matter, belief in the Trinity) gains us an understanding of of our purpose in life. I happen to believe in the Trinity, though I concede that it does not help me understand what I’m doing here.

    “When Jesus prayed to the Father, he was talking to himself.”
    Though it is true that people often talk to themselves, they do not do it as often as Jesus prayed to the Father, which he did constantly. It’s hard to believe that Jesus was constantly talking to himself. Is the Lord’s Prayer (OUR father) a prayer to Himself?”

    Though you alluded to them, we should cite a few of the many clear examples depicting the Father as separate from Jesus: 1) Jesus not knowing when the end of time will come in Mark 13:32: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
    2) In Mark 10:40, after James and John request special seats beside Jesus, He says “But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
    3) In John 14:2 : “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” etc, etc
    To say that Jesus went through a metamorphosis from half human/half divine to not human/fully divine does not really reconcile the numerous times he points out that He is different from the Father. Furthermore, if there is no Trinity, just Jesus, then who was running the universe when Jesus was a baby here on Earth? etc, etc

    • Lee says:

      Hi Paul,

      Merry Christmas!

      Thanks for your thoughts and questions. These would be enough for several long articles, but I’ll try to restrain myself!

      First, I would just generally suggest that you re-read and meditate upon this article, and consider how it might change your views of the Bible quotes you are asking about. If Jesus truly did have a finite human and an infinite divine side during his lifetime on earth, and if he truly did alternate between them in his conscious awareness, then I would suggest that many of your issues with those passages would be resolved.

      Beyond that, “Father” and “Son” do have specific meanings even if we don’t take them literally as traditional trinitarian theology does. A very simple way to read these passages is to substitute “God’s love” for “the Father” and “God’s truth” for “the Son” (and also “God’s power flowing out” for “the Holy Spirit”). When the “Son” does not know something but the “Father” does, that is saying that this is a matter of divine love, not just a matter of divine truth.

      The Son is different from the Father. But not different as in being a distinct person. Within us, we have thoughts and we have feelings. Those two are different from each other. Thoughts are not feelings, and feelings are not thoughts. But together they form our inner self, or spirit. Some things we do not know in our heads, rationally, but we do know in our heart. That’s one human equivalent to what Jesus was saying when he told us that there are things the Father knows that the Son does not.

      About Jesus constantly talking to himself—well, what can I say? Some people do constantly talk to themselves! And Jesus went beyond what any mere human can achieve anyway. Just because we humans commonly fall short in communing with our own inner, spiritual selves as we go about our day, that doesn’t mean the Lord fell short in that regard.

      I would suggest that the Trinity of Persons is really helpful only as a stopgap measure in Christianity absent a true and deep understanding of the nature of God. Historically, it came about as a response to Arianism, which was a denial of the divinity of Christ. The rather confused Christian leaders of the day needed some way to affirm the divinity of Christ, and making him a separate divine “person” was the most reasonable way they could think of. They really weren’t very enlightened at all, quite frankly.

      But there is now a much better way of understanding the Trinity that doesn’t involve splitting God up into separate persons—which, again quite frankly, is really a belief in three gods in the way Trinitarians actually think about God. They think of three characters, or personalities, each with his own role, who are in communication with one another, and so on. Christian artwork over the centuries depicting Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three separate people attest to this uncomfortable (for traditional Christians) fact. On this, see my Christianity StackExchange Q&A here.

      Being able to think of God as truly one gives us only one God to pray to, and helps us relate to God “person-to-person” in a way that the Trinity just doesn’t. I hear traditional Christians praying to the Father for the sake of the Son, and to the Son for the sake of the Father, and other formulas showing that their minds are divided between two (or three) different divine figures, and confused about whom they’re really praying to, and it breaks my heart.

      Being able to pray to one God who is pure love, wisdom, and power, is a great blessing. There is no confusion. There is no fear of the wrath of one divine figure and prayer to another divine figure to save us from the wrath of the other. There is no sense that one divine figure judges us and condemns us, while another loves us. There is no confusion about the One God we are praying to. I can attest personally that being able to pray to God as truly one is a great blessing in my own life. I find trinitarian theology to be sad and confusing, and I grieve for those who have been stuck with it for so many centuries.

      For more on how a truly and fully monotheistic Christian belief satisfies both our mind and heart in a way that trinitarian belief simply cannot, see these articles:

      Of course, you’re perfectly free to believe in a Trinity of Persons if you want to. But you should at least admit that the Bible does not teach a Trinity of Persons. Everywhere the Bible assigns a number to God, it is always one.

      I grieve that the Christian Church has been stuck with a quasi-polytheistic belief for so many centuries since the Council of Nicaea first systematized that human doctrinal invention, and the Athanasian Creed brought it to its logical conclusion. I hope that in time you will be able to see that it is a purely human invention that has misled the church for most of its existence. I hope you will be able to see and understand that there is a deeper and truer understanding of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one Person that can give your mind and heart greater clarity, peace, and comfort.

      • Paul Hierholzer says:

        Lee: Thanks for your reply. I reread your article as you suggested.

        Your example of the rich fool, “I will say to myself” is weak evidence, if evidence at all, that every time Jesus prayed, he was talking to himself. I do however agree that when Jesus prayed, or when we pray, we are praying to God within us, as well as God without us.

        “His inner aspects were divine ones from Jehovah, his Father; his outer aspects were human ones from Mary, his mother.” Maybe I’m missing something here, but does not the phrase “from Jehovah, his Father” identify two separate persons? Are you saying that Jesus incarnated Himself? I guess you would have to be saying that. So who speaks from above when Jesus is baptized in the Jordan in Matthew 3?:

        “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:16-17

        Was it Jesus who opened the heavens unto Himself (despite the wording “were opened unto him”), but more importantly, was He identifying Himself as His own son, and saying that He was pleased with Himself? Using your suggested substitutions:

        “And God’s truth, when God’ truth was baptized, went up straightaway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto God’s truth, and God’s truth saw God’s power flowing out descending like a dove and lighting upon God’s truth: And lo a voice from Heaven, saying, This is my beloved God’s truth, in whom God’s love is well pleased.”

        The original scripture clearly identifies separate persons–a separate voice.

        “Through a lifetime of victories in all of his temptations, Jesus completely overcame the Devil, or the power of evil, subjecting it to his personal control, and reducing it to a state in which it could no longer overwhelm humanity. (OK)

        “This, according to Swedenborg, was the essential and universal act of Redemption that Jesus accomplished during his lifetime on earth.”

        So then, as per Swedenborg, as I’ve read here before (please correct me if I’m wrong), it was not His death that saved us, which is THE central tenet in all of Christianity, which is expressed clearly and repeatedly by the authors of the New Testament. I by no means consider myself a fundamentalist, but I find it hard to dispose of such a core belief and still consider myself a Christian.

        I would disagree that there is no Biblical basis for the Trinity. I would say scripture is quite supportive of the Trinity. Scripture does not say that Jesus alternated between two separate states of consciousness–one divine, one not. That process is a theory of Swedenborg’s, not “gospel truth.”

        “These alternating states of feeling separated from the Father (his own divine soul) when he was more conscious of his finite human side, and feeling one with the Father when he was more conscious of his infinite divine side, continued throughout his lifetime on earth.” Again, who was running the universe when He was “feeling separated from the Father?” or before that, when he was an infant.

        “Some things we do not know in our heads, rationally, but we do know in our heart.”

        I would call that faith.

        “That’s one human equivalent to what Jesus was saying when he told us that there are things the Father knows that the Son does not.” Not sure about that analogy.

        “About Jesus constantly talking to himself—well, what can I say? Some people do constantly talk to themselves!”

        Indeed they do, and they are in mental institutions, or heavily medicated, or both. I would like to think that Jesus was not mentally ill. If so, we’re much worse off than we thought.

        “I would suggest that the Trinity of Persons is really helpful only as a stopgap measure in Christianity absent a true and deep understanding of the nature of God.”

        Isn’t religion itself, all religion, a stopgap measure absent a true and deep understanding of the nature of God?

        “The rather confused Christian leaders of the day needed some way to affirm the divinity of Christ, and making him a separate divine “person” was the most reasonable way they could think of.”

        They did not need to “makeup the trinity” in order to affirm Jesus’ divinity. They were trying to reconcile how He could be God AND human. That’s not easy. As you know, a schism resulted in Western and Eastern churches.

        “They think of three characters, or personalities, each with his own role, who are in communication with one another, and so on. Christian artwork over the centuries depicting Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three separate people attest to this uncomfortable (for traditional Christians) fact.”

        There are a lot of things in the Bible that make me uncomfortable, but the Trinity is not one of them. (And I LOVE the art).

        “Being able to think of God as truly one gives us only one God to pray to, and helps us relate to God “person-to-person” in a way that the Trinity just doesn’t…their minds divided between different divine figures, and confused about whom they’re really praying to, and it breaks my heart.”

        I truly appreciate your concern, but I have no problem praying to the One True God. I don’t address myself to one or the other of the Trinity as I believe they are all One, in a way that is beyond my understanding.

        Thanks for the stimulating discussion.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Paul,

          If you’re happy with your trinitarian beliefs, and find them satisfying, I won’t try to argue you out of them. However, since you ask many questions about my belief, I’ll do my best to answer. And as long as you want to remain in conversation with me, I won’t stop challenging you to think realistically about your own beliefs.

          The example of the rich fool is not evidence, but a biblical example of someone explicitly talking to his own soul. Some Christians won’t pay attention to any line of thought or reasoning if it doesn’t quote the Bible along the way, so I included that to show that the idea of talking to oneself is, indeed, biblical. (Of course, most of their basic beliefs are not actually stated in the Bible, but they turn a blind eye to that!)

          And not all people who talk to themselves regularly are in mental institutions. Personally, I’m continually examining my own thoughts and actions in my mind, which is like an internal conversation, and I’ve managed to stay outside the doors of the state hospital so far! 😉

          Highly creative people commonly have a rich inner life in which there are many mental “voices” bringing up various thoughts and feelings that jumble around in their minds and come out in ways that surprise and delight others and themselves. Novelists and other creative writers must, of course, rehearse all sorts of dialog in their own minds, much of which is a reflection of their own inner and outer experience. Inventors must be continually examining their own concepts and looking for blockages in their own mind against thinking in new ways and coming up with new solutions that are outside the box of their current thinking. And they must commonly keep themselves motivated through hundreds or even thousands of failures before coming up with a solution that works.

          So although talking to oneself can be a sign of mental instability, it can also be a sign of creativity, inventiveness, and productivity. Obviously I would lean in the latter direction when it comes to Jesus Christ, though some snarky skeptics do lean toward the “Jesus was insane” theory.

          As far as the voices from heaven and such, I still don’t think you fully grasp or appreciate the understanding of God presented in the above article. Just because Jesus is God expressing himself in this material world, that doesn’t mean God isn’t still up in heaven running the universe. And just because God was Jesus’ divine soul, that doesn’t mean that the finite human side of Jesus during his lifetime on earth was always or fully aware of the full being and knowledge of God while Jesus was living on earth.

          Also, since Jesus was born of a woman, God was his father in a human sense. There was no human father, and Mary’s egg had to be fertilized somehow. The Bible says this was done by the Holy Spirit, which means by God’s power flowing out into the material universe, and specifically into Mary’s womb. So even though ultimately the terms “Father” and “Son” in the Bible aren’t meant to be taken literally, it would have been hard to use any other language, because Jesus was a physical, flesh-and-blood being, and partook of human reality during his lifetime on earth—which means that many human concepts applied to him during his physical existence.

          But to think that these human, material terms apply to the infinite God of the universe in the same way they do to us humans is to immerse one’s mind in very physical and materialistic concepts about divine reality (God). God’s thoughts and God’s ways are as much higher than our thoughts and our ways as the heavens are higher than the earth (Isaiah 55:8-9).

          God had to use material means to incarnate and live out a life here on earth. But God himself is not material, and the risen glorified Jesus Christ is not material either. So physical concepts of “father” and “son” don’t apply. Rather, they refer to corresponding divine realities, in which the source and “father” of everything is God’s love, and the expression of God’s love is God’s truth, or the Word, which was made flesh in the “Son,” but which is primarily an expression of God’s love in a form that we can approach and have a relationship with. And the Holy Spirit is not literally physical “breath,” even though Jesus did use breathing on his disciples as a metaphor for receiving the Holy Spirit.

          Really, the Trinity of Persons is a material-minded attempt to understand divine realities. And ultimately it just doesn’t work if “Persons” are conceived of as being like three different human persons. And despite your protestations, I do think that’s precisely how trinitarian Christians think of them. If you love the trinitarian artwork, it shows that your mind does, in fact, think of three different people each of whom is God. That’s polytheism, not monotheism.

          Adherents of monotheistic religions such as Judaism and Islam see this quite clearly looking from the outside. They reject “Christianity” in part because they see it as not being monotheistic. And they are right when it comes to the “Christianity” that passes as Christianity today. Since they are outside of that institution, and haven’t had contradictory notions of “Three in One” inculcated into their minds from a young age, they’re able to see what traditional Christian believers cannot about their own religion. This, I believe, is one of the major reasons Christianity has been rejected by a fair proportion of the world’s people.

          Once again, you are, of course, free to believe that God is a trinity of persons (or in common language, three people) if you like.

          But once again, the Bible never actually says that there are three persons, or people, in God. It does use human language to describe God, but it never calls Father, Son, or Holy Spirit “persons,” individually or separately. That was a human invention.

          And though it’s understandable that third- and fourth-century Christians would come up with that idea, it is fundamentally based on materialistic thinking about the divine nature, and on thinking literally and materially about words that must be interpreted spiritually in order to be rightly applied to God.

          So although I won’t try to argue you out of your trinitarian beliefs, I will insist that you examine those beliefs realistically, and not try to make them something they aren’t. They are, quite simply, a concept of three gods in one God. This is stated so plainly in the Athanasian Creed that it really couldn’t be plainer:

          So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords.

          In other words, even though there really are three gods, we’re not allowed by the church to say there are three gods, so instead we say “one God.” This, to me, is a highly accurate description of the actual thinking of trinitarians.

          And I, with Swedenborg, would urge you to examine your own thinking and be honest with yourself about whether you aren’t really thinking of three distinct gods who act together for common purposes as if they were one God. Pay attention to your actual images and picturing of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in your mind, and be honest with yourself about whether you don’t really think of them as three distinct beings, each of whom is God, but whom you’re obliged by your church’s doctrinal formulations to speak of as “one God.”

          If you still want to believe in that concept of God, that’s certainly your choice. But you should at least be realistic and honest about your own true beliefs as they are reflected in your own mind.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Paul,

          You say:

          So then, as per Swedenborg, as I’ve read here before (please correct me if I’m wrong), it was not His death that saved us, which is THE central tenet in all of Christianity, which is expressed clearly and repeatedly by the authors of the New Testament.

          I think you’re overstating the case. The idea that Jesus’ death saved us is clearly and repeatedly stated in Christian tracts and sermons. But the Bible itself is nowhere near as clear and repeated about this as you say. In fact, Paul, after discussing how Jesus died for us (which is far the more usual wording in the Bible), says:

          For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10, italics added)

          I just don’t see the Bible saying “clearly and repeatedly” that it was Jesus’ death that saved us.

          Jesus’ death certainly was an important part of the process by which Jesus saved us. But to make it the event that saved us is not biblical. The Bible is much broader in its view. It presents the whole package—Jesus’ birth, his teachings, the example of his life and actions, his death, and his resurrection—as a divine act that saved us from our sins (not from the penalty for our sins; the Bible simply never says that).

          I find the common Protestant exclusive focus on Jesus’ death as the act of redemption to be completely unsupported in the Bible itself. The Bible simply doesn’t say that any one part of Jesus life, including his death, is what saved us. If all that were necessary for salvation was Jesus’ death, what is all the rest of that stuff about his life doing in the Gospels?

          Your view of Jesus’ death as the saving act as “THE central tenet in all of Christianity” is not based on the Bible, but on Protestant theologians and their invention of the non-Biblical concept of penal substitution as the mechanism by which Christ saved us. You are viewing the Bible through the lens of Lutheran and Calvinist dogma, and not as it is in itself. The Bible simply does not say that Christ’s death was the saving act, and the centerpiece of Christianity. That is a human distortion of the Bible.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Paul,

          You say:

          Scripture does not say that Jesus alternated between two separate states of consciousness–one divine, one not.

          Scripture doesn’t speak in theological, doctrinal language about this process. But it does describe the process. And if you read the Gospels with this in mind, you can see it for yourself.

          The Bible does also poetically speak of the ups and downs, the highs and lows, of Christ. For example:

          Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain.
          When you make his life an offering for sin,
          he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days;
          through him the will of the Lord shall prosper.
          Out of his anguish he shall see light;
          he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
          The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
          and he shall bear their iniquities.
          Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,
          and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;
          because he poured out himself to death,
          and was numbered with the transgressors;
          yet he bore the sin of many,
          and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12)

          Here we see Christ prophetically described as alternating between pain and blessing (seeing his offspring, prolonging his days, and prospering), between anguish and light, between being allotted a portion with the great and being numbered with the transgressors. It poetically describes Jesus’ life as a continual alternation between light and darkness, suffering and glory, pain and joy.

          And Psalm 22, whose first line Jesus cries out on the cross, continually alternates between despair in the psalmist’s current agony and hope in God’s love and salvation. It is this very alternation of pouring out of the soul in agony and hope and comfort in God’s glory and greatness to save that gives the psalm its poignancy, and makes it so applicable not only to Jesus’ death, but to the whole process of his life.

          So although the Bible doesn’t state in theological, doctrinal terms Swedenborg’s teaching about the alternating states that Jesus went through during his lifetime, the Bible does depict it in Jesus’ life as told in the Gospels, and gives us many prophetic and poetic pictures of this alternation in Jesus from abasement, humility, and pouring out his soul as if to a separate and distant God, to joy, confidence, hope, power and a sense of oneness with the Divine Being within him.

          Read the Gospels for yourself with this in mind, and if you have not hardened your mind against the idea, you will see it unfolding there in the very narration of his life.

          For one of Swedenborg’s statements of this principle, together with many supporting references to Bible passages, see True Christianity #104.

          In fact, if you truly want to understand Swedenborg’s understanding of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, and Redemption, I would highly recommend your getting (or downloading) a copy of True Christianity and reading the first three chapters. You can find out more about this book here.

        • Doug Webber says:

          Good post, I was going to discuss this on my blog but since you already did it Lee I am going to be lazy and simply link to yours. Without understanding this people will not know who Jesus is, and will either fall into tritheism or presume Jesus is a lesser being and not Jehovah Himself – I put a link to this post in the Google New Jerusalem community – see https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/111989937226823989487

        • Lee says:

          Hi Doug,

          Thanks. Glad you like it! Not understanding the process Jesus went through while on earth, as reflected in the Gospel story, is a major source of confusion and error in Christianity about the nature of God.

  2. Paul Hierholzer says:

    Lee:

    It is true that mentally ill people are often creative and artistic. That’s wonderful. That part of mental illness is not really ill. However, It is also true that they are often deluded–they often hear and see things that simply are not there/are not true, which would tend to invalidate the greater part of whatever it is they are saying, or at least make it next to impossible to determine what is true and what is not true. You cannot reason with a psychotic person.

    I simply don’t agree that Jesus was talking to Himself every time He prayed. When asked to teach us to pray in Luke 11, He responded with the Our Father. Talking to oneself, and contemplation, especially in the context of prayer, are not the same thing, or at least they shouldn’t be. You make Jesus’ prayer into Buddhist type prayer. They pray/meditate only in order to connect themselves with everything else, in order to achieve enlightenment. They do not feel a God, trinitarian or otherwise, is necessary for them to do that.

    Some other verses regarding the Trinity:

    Matthew 28:19: Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

    2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.

    I do indeed love the art.

    “Just because Jesus is God expressing himself in this material world, that doesn’t mean God isn’t still up in heaven running the universe.” So God (Jesus) came to Earth, born as a little baby, surrendering to every last detail of being human (except sin), surrendering ultimately to a humiliating and excruciating death, having refused to use his power to avoid it, and while all of that was happening, he continued to rule in heaven? Was He two persons then?

    “If all that were necessary for salvation was Jesus’ death, what is all the rest of that stuff about his life doing in the Gospels?” I couldn’t agree more. What I write here is based on what I have personally read and experienced in the Bible, not on dogma, Catholic or Protestant. I am repulsed by fundamentalist theology of salvation, and I’ve expressed that several times here in the past. But if they need to believe that because they are so terrified of not believing it, fine. i do not believe in the Trinity out of fear, nor out of blind allegiance to my Catholic religion. I believe in it because scripture shows it to me, as annoyed as that apparently makes you. I do not think I am lying to myself about it.

    I doubt very much that the other monotheist religions reject Christianity because they see the Trinity as polytheistic. I doubt very much that the majority of their members have any idea what the Trinity even is.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Paul,

      My point was that there are plenty of people who talk to themselves a lot who are not mentally ill.

      I’m aware that there is sometimes a fine line between genius and insanity. But there are many perfectly normal people walking around who simply have a very lively, interactive inner life!

      About Jesus talking to himself, remember, that was the simple answer. And it’s not an answer that Swedenborg himself gave—at least, not to my knowledge. I included it mostly to bring Jesus’ experience down into some sort of common experience that we ordinary humans have.

      Swedenborg’s answer is the complex one outlined in the article above.

    • Lee says:

      Yes, Matthew 28:19 tells us to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is the formula used in my own church. And comparing it with how baptisms were actually done in Acts is one of the reasons I believe that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all in Jesus:

      So he [Peter] ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. (Acts 10:48)

      On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. (by Paul – Acts 19:5)

      Peter would have heard Jesus’ commandment to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And he baptized in the name of Jesus. Paul also baptized in the name of Jesus. So clearly the name of Jesus is the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

      Using different names for God for different aspects of God does not mean there is more than one Person of God. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different names for God in the Bible, each emphasizing a different part of God’s being. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are no different.

    • Lee says:

      I do want to apologize for attributing Protestant beliefs to you. That’s due to the limitations of my own memory in talking to too many different people, and not keeping them all straight! So my apologies for that wrong assumption.

      Although I still disagree with the Catholic conception of God, I find it not to be quite as objectionable as the Protestant version, with its harsh penal substitution doctrine that in effect sets the Son against the Father, and requires the Son to mollify the Father.

    • Lee says:

      About God coming to earth and being born as a baby, I still don’t think you’re fully grasping that at birth, Jesus was both finite human (externally) and infinite divine (internally). And at birth, Jesus was conscious primarily in his finite human side.

      God was never two persons.

      But Jesus had two natures, and alternated between them in his conscious awareness. At first he was present in and aware of mostly his finite human nature from his mother. The farther he went along in life, the more aware he became of his inner divine nature, although he still alternated between the two right up to the time of his death.

      The infinite God is indivisible. But God is able to project himself into a human form that, in its initial stages, is not fully aware of its inner divine self. That human form was Jesus at birth, complete with a finite human heredity from his human mother. And during the course of his lifetime on earth, that finite humanity was put off step by step, and replaced with the full divinity that was Jesus’ own soul, so that when Jesus “ascended to the Father” he was fully divine and fully infinite, being the divine human expression of the full divinity of God, as stated in Colossians 2:9.

    • Lee says:

      Islam explicitly rejects Christianity for saying that God has a son. That’s right in the Quran. The Quran does accept the virgin birth, but regards it as a miracle wrought by God. The Quran even pictures Jesus as a great prophet, who will return on a future Judgment Day. But Muslims do indeed reject Christianity because Christianity says that God has a Son, whereas the Quran says that there is only one God, and that it is not possible for God to have a Son.

      And of course, Judaism rejects the whole Christian concept of the Messiah because in Judaism the Messiah is a completely human figure, not a divine being. Judaism, too, categorically rejects the idea that God could have a son who is divine. In Judaism, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), and there can be no exceptions to that.

      Moderate Jews and Muslims are, of course, civil to Christians. But they reject as blasphemous the idea that God could have a Son who is a distinct divine being.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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