Does the Father have a Voice? – Dr Marty Folsom

It is clear in the Bible that Jesus is the Word made flesh, not a written word, but more like the voice of the Invisible God. Jesus has both body and human voice. But does that mean that the Father and Spirit have no voice? Can the one God have three voices? Does the Bible present us with a both unified life and three voices that give us access to the three persons of the Trinity? I will argue that our theology must conform to the one God in three voices because the Bible gives us this form of the one Triune God.

At the LA Theology Conference on the Trinity, I asked Stephen Holmes if we could see the persons of the Trinity in the three voices of the Trinity. The Father says, “This is my beloved Son,” Jesus speaks everywhere, and the Spirit and the Bride say “Come” and we are to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches, says Revelation. His response was, “Our whole doctrine of the Trinity will fall apart if we go in this direction.” He had just presented on the simplicity of the Trinity, the conception that there are no parts in God; God is all one. He also wanted to be biblical. I am concerned that the philosophical concept of simplicity has tragically dismissed the biblical representation of the God who speaks primarily in the Son, but powerfully as Father and Spirit as well.

Many are afraid to go with the three voices portrayal because it appears tritheistic—presenting three separate Gods. I too, want to avoid this charge. I want to affirm that only the human Jesus has a voice box and the physical attributes of human speech. Yet, the Bible presents the Father and Spirit speaking. I will not pursue the methods here; we need not engage this to affirm that all three have means to speak to humans and the Bible records this, expecting us to recognize the personal nature of each person of the Trinity who is able and active in specific encounters—person to person.

The Bible presents one God who encounters humanity in three persons with three voices, not separate, but congruent voices. One could see this as analogous to a chord; one chord has three notes that are the essential to the one. The three notes are not separate, but are necessarily interactive and dynamic. The God of the Bible has Jesus speaking as a visible presence of the Father. When the Father speaks, He points to the Son; correspondingly the Son teaches us to respond to His Father. Jesus does not want us to avoid His Father. The Spirit also draws us to cry out “Abba, Father” in a responsive cry. We are the children of God; do we not believe that He says to us, “You are my child?”

Jesus is the human voice of God. We must begin at the beginning by listening to Him. But He came to show us the Father. We are to know the Father and all that the Father’s love brings to us. If we deny the Father the capacity for words that address us as persons, we depersonalize the Father. We cannot go around the Son to establish a separate voice of the Father, but in the Son we are taken into a personal engagement with the Father, who with the Son abides in us by the Spirit. The Son does what He sees the Father doing; can He not also say what He has been hearing the Father saying, like “Tell them I love them”?

As the Bible opens, we meet a speaking God. It seems that when we recite, “I believe in God, the Father, maker of Heaven and Earth,” we are confessing that the Father who speaks creation into being through the Son and the affirmation that “It is good” are rightly ascribed as the voice of the Father, in harmony with the Son and the Creator Spirit. Voice here does not necessarily require an audible sound, but does reveal the creative agency to act in a manner that reveals the personal being of the persons speaking and also maintains their mystery and majesty. With the Triune God, the hiddenness is maintained in all its infinite otherness while revealing the personal involvement of the three who create, sustain, and redeem all they create. The unified life that is unveiled through the rest of the Bible is articulated through the three who begin the conversation as creation itself.

When Moses hears God in the burning bush, and finally learns the personal name of God, he is told it is I AM, the self-affirmation of an agent who is self-existent, who speaks to connect in giving this name, and who desires another to respond to the personal identity that is speaking. He does not call Himself Father at this point. But when Jesus called Himself I AM, the hearers understood Him to be identifying Himself with this one who was before Abraham and Moses. Jesus was identifying Himself, not as the Father, but always one who revealed, glorified, and leads us to the Father through Himself. The Jesus of the Bible is never an end in Himself; He always desires humans to know His Father, and to walk in the Spirit as participation in our life of abiding in Him.

  1. S. Lewis parsed this out in his book, The Horse and His Boy. As Shasta, the hero of the story, is walking through foggy mountains, he becomes aware of a personal presence. After a time Shasta asks who is there. The answer comes back: “’Myself,’ said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again ‘Myself,’ loud and clear and gay: and then the third time ‘Myself,’ whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.” There is a unity in the thrice spoken Myself. Yet there is also a particularity that is said in the three iterations. Both a unity of identity and a uniqueness of manifestation that are distinguished in the uniqueness of each voice. None of the three was separate; each of the three was distinctive.

If we are to be biblical, we must conform our thinking to what is presented in the witness of the Bible when it affirms that the Father says, “This is My Beloved Son, listen to Him.” The Father is speaking. He wants us to listen to His Son. So it seems we must acknowledge both the voice of the Father and the Father’s intent that we focus on hearing what the Son is saying. But what Jesus is saying is not contrary or incongruent with the Father—it is a precise revelation of the Father’s heart and voice. No claim can be made for what the Jesus is saying that is not consistent with His Father’s life, being, and voice. The same is true of the Spirit—anything the Spirit is claimed to be saying must align with the Father and Son or it is false.

In Exodus 34:6-7 Yahweh speaks and reveals His way of being with humanity. He is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness and faithfulness, and so on. God speaks. But is this the Father? In John 1:14, Jesus is proclaimed as the only begotten of the Father and that we beheld His (the Father’s) glory, full of grace and truth (or faithfulness). Jesus is identified as the one who gives us a fleshly embodiment of the voice of the Father. John goes on to talk about what Moses gave us and what Jesus gives us. Moses had asked to see the glory of God. Jesus shows us that glory as the voice of God in human form. But Jesus does not replace or dispel the Father; instead He comes to exegete or explain what the Father has been saying to us (1:18). The rest of the Gospel assumes the Father/Son abiding in us, supping with us, and sharing a life restored to a believing hearing that is the life of faith facilitated by the Spirit who gives us ears to hear.

When in Exodus we find the Father saying He is compassionate, this is not an abstract attribute of the eternal               God; it is the personal way that this God is towards those He loves. If we turn the phrase from a statement about the Father (and Son and Spirit as they share the one life), it can be stated in first-person personal address as, “I have compassion for you.” I believe we are meant to hear each affirmation about Yahweh as a personal word to us. A student once told Ray S. Anderson that she could believe that God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, but wanted to know, “Does that mean God is here with me now, that He knows me, and that He can do something in my life?” This is the critical question. Does our reading of the Bible, our doctrine, our theology, our understanding of who God is and what God is doing bring us into a present, active conversation with the one God who has been revealed to us?

I believe that the Bible affirms one God in three persons who each have a voice that is rooted in the one shared life, but expressed to humanity in three voices that all bring us to the one God. When we think of the three, it should bring us to the embrace of the one God. When we think of the one God, it should sound like the chordal beauty of the three personal voices who are always in harmony and always draw us into communion with the one life of the Triune God. This is not just to be heard in a worship service; we are to live in this as a constant rejoicing, conversational prayer, and thankful participation in dialog with Father, Son, and Spirit.

Yes, the Father has a voice. He calls you His beloved. He points to His Son. He awaits your homecoming, not at death, but as you are made a new creation in His Son. He sends His Spirit to release you from the fears that keep you enslaved, so you cry out His name, sharing the Abba cry of Jesus. And He replies, “Welcome home, my beloved child; I’ve been waiting for you. Let Me tell you how much I love you…..”

For more on this topic see Face to Face Volume 3: Sharing God’s Life, chapter 6 “Heart and Voice.” (Wipf & Stock, 2016)