Which person of the Trinity do we pray to? Jesus or the Father?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Since there is Jesus and the Father, is it ok to pray and worship both? I’m confused because since the Father sent Jesus down to die for us, doesn’t that make him greater than Jesus or are they both the same person? If they are the same, why does Jesus ask the Father for help? Shouldn’t Jesus be able to do everything by himself since he is this great God?

For example, in the garden, Jesus asked the Father for a way out. But the Father planned that he would die, Why couldn’t Jesus just get out of the cross if he could do anything he wanted? I’m confused about this topic. When Jesus prayed for help from the Father, isn’t he signaling that the Father is greater than him?

Also, the Father knows everything, but Jesus doesn’t even know when he’s coming back! It’s just kind of strange that Jesus doesn’t know when he’s coming back but the Father does… so it seems like the Father is greater and knows more than Jesus.

Sorry for this long question, but this issue has been on my mind for a long time. I’ve been praying to Jesus and the Father, so please correct me if I’m doing something wrong.

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching down with us Mainsail Ministries — and thank you for asking such an important question. Don’t worry about your question being so long. This is one of the most important questions in Christendom — and we want to get it right! If Jesus was God (— and we at Mainsail Ministries affirm this —) then what’s with all the dialogue between Jesus and the Father? Is Jesus talking to himself? Was Jesus using dialogue merely as a rhetorical device for teaching purposes — or was there something else going on? The Bible records the phenomenon, but it does not explain it.

After Jesus died, was raised, ascended and the Holy Spirit started indwelling every believer, it took hundreds of years for people to sort through the biblical data and come up with doctrines that (more or less) “corralled” these difficult concepts. One of these is the doctrine of the “Trinity.” Another is the “Hypostatic Union” The latter is the technical name theologians use to describe the dual nature of Christ. By studying this union, we explore the particulars of how Jesus can be truly God and truly a man at the same time… and how this affects his relationship — not only to us — but to the Godhead.

But here’s the thing: to answer your question, I have to start with these doctrines. They are difficult topics… and I’m not sure if you understand them enough for my answer to make sense. Now, I will answer your question either way, but you might want to read some introductory information about these topics. Here are two links to two articles at Got Questions Ministries to get you started:

https://www.gotquestions.org/Trinity-Bible.html

https://www.gotquestions.org/hypostatic-union.html

Let’s start with the Trinity... and let’s contemplate (as far as humanly possible) its essential nature — the things that are necessary and essential to its existence. In philosophical terms, any entity’s essential nature is called its “ontology.” So, when talking about the “ontological Trinity,” I’m talking about its nature, not its actions. In the ontological Trinity, there is one God manifested in three persons — the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Since these three distinct persons are together the One True God, they are ontologically equal — and it is no problem if you pray to any or all of them!

I find myself naturally praying to different persons of the Trinity at different times — and when I do, the message gets through to all of them! I often address the Father in prayer when I “need” something... just like I would ask my earthly father. I often pray thanksgiving to Jesus when I think about the salvation I have in him that I in no way deserve. I often ask the Holy Spirit to do what he does anyway — to take my message and apply it where needed — and I would encourage you to pray openly and freely to any person in the Trinity as often as you would like.

But that’s the ontological Trinity — and there’s another… sort of. There is an aspect of the Trinity sometimes called the “economic” Trinity. I prefer to call it the “functional” Trinity. In this aspect of the Trinity, God — and particularly Jesus — interfaces with humankind... and in Jesus’ case, God gets his hands dirty.

So, here’s the important part... and arguably the toughest part to understand. Jesus is always a member of the ontological Trinity. Even while he was on earth with us for those 30+ years, his essential nature — his deity — did not change. It was, however, suppressed... and when you think about it, that’s the only way for an omniscient (omnipotent, omnipresent, etc.) God to have a truly human experience. It was his right to act like God among us, but he didn’t — and he wasn’t “faking” that ignorance. Instead he “emptied himself” in an act called the Kenosis… the workings of which are beyond human understanding.

What this means is, ontologically speaking, Jesus knew when the Father was going to restore the kingdom (Mark 13:32). He was omniscient! But he gave up the option to use that knowledge (to make it function) when he took on flesh (Philippians 2:7). If Jesus had retained and used all the advantages of being God while during his earthly ministry, he wouldn’t really have been a human... not in any truly relational sense... right? He fully suffered. He did not keep “godness” in his back pocket… so he could pull it out to ease his suffering. He went through what you and I would have gone through under the same circumstances.

The fact that Jesus suppressed the benefits of his deity allowed him to experience hunger (Mark 11:12) and sorrow (John 11:35) — not to mention real agony in the garden (Luke 22:44) — and real agony on the cross! (Matthew 27:46). In these ways, he was truly one of us (Hebrews 2:14-17). But he was, of course, the best of us too… and therefore, the only one who could die for our sins (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

This also explains the dialogues between Jesus and the Father. Even though they were one ontologically — and in perfect eternal communion and communication — as members of the functional Trinity, they had a true human-to-God dialogue like any of us would. They were persons, after all, and persons — no matter what Trinity they belong to — can talk to one another... even if the three persons are a unity. This is what personhood is… and the Trinity is defined by personhood.

I recently answered another question that was very much like yours — but with a different emphasis. If you’d like to eavesdrop on that answer, click here.

Dr. William Lane Craig of Reasonable Faith Ministries has recently responded to a Muslim who is challenging the Trinity. Although Jews and Muslims believe in One God as we do, they are not trinitarian. To see Craig’s answer click here.

I pray this helped. God bless you.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20210215 Do we pray to Jesus or the Father?).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)