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April 28th, 2012
09:52 PM ET

My Faith: What does God sound like?

Editor's note: Listen to the CNN podcast of this piece: Karen Spears Zacharias is author of A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder (MacAdam/Cage, 2012) and is on Twitter at @karenzach.

By Karen Spears Zacharias, Special to CNN

I hear the audible voice of God. No, not in the same way that the Bible’s Eve did when God asked her outright and out loud: “Woman, what in my name have you done now?”

Scriptures don’t tell us specifically, but I suspect at that particular moment in eternity God must have sounded a lot like Perry Mason: “C’mon, tell the truth. You know I’m a specialist on getting people out of trouble.”

Bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry is a pastor’s daughter in Alabama. You’d think if God spoke to anybody, it would be a pastor’s child, but Patti swears she has never heard the voice of God. The only time God speaks to her is through the written word.

I find that odd since God talks to me all the time.


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Certainly God knows I’m an auditory learner, so if he wants my attention he has to talk to me. When God speaks to me, he sounds a lot like Garrison Keillor, host of the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion." In other words, he’s engaging, often very funny, and almost always an absolute joy to be around. Even when God’s mad with me (more often that I care to admit), he’s fairly good-natured about it.

Theologians who study this sort of thing say that our image of God is formed by our relationships with our fathers. That image is formed in part by how our fathers speak to us. If they bark orders at us all the time, we might hear God as a crank. But if our fathers speak to us in instructive, encouraging tones, we may hear God as our best coach. My father died when I was young, so I don’t remember his voice, but I’ve listened to Garrison Keillor pretty regularly for 25 years.

When my husband and I were raising our children, we banned television from our household. "A Prairie Home Companion" was our primary form of entertainment on Sunday afternoons. With Sundays as our Sabbath, I suppose it is natural for me to associate God with Garrison.

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Many people don’t even speak to God, much less listen to what he has to say. I imagine for some the thought of a God as Garrison Keillor would be pure hell, what with all that Guy Noir Private Eye nonsense and those saccharin sweet ketchup commercials. Perhaps like a good mother, though, God resorts to a variety of different voices to reach all of her children. Do you identify any of the following?

- Spock, from “Star Trek,” is the defining voice of God. Spock is half-mother (human) and half-father (Vulcan). Who could be more egalitarian, more Godlike than that? Anyone who thinks of God as arbitrary and capricious needs to have a chat with Mr. Spock, who once so rightly noted, “Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical humans.” Amen. Amen.

- James Earl Jones. If I heard that baritone voice calling to me from a burning bush, it would stop me in my tracks. Who cares that Jones couldn’t cut the muster at Fort Benning’s legendary Ranger school? That’s nothing more than boot camp for a bunch of hellions anyway. There is something about the thundering power of Jones’ voice that naturally evokes trust from us. And if we can’t have a God in whom we can trust, what’s the point?

- Surely, Jeff Bridges is the voice of God for all the remnant of Jesus Freaks now seeking refuge as Episcopalians. “I am not Mr. Lebowski,” Bridge’s says in Coen Brothers’ “Big Lewoski,” in one of the oft-quoted lines in that cult classic. “You’re Mr. Lebowski. I am The Dude, so that’s what you call me. That or His Dudeness or uh, Duder, or, El Duderino, if you're not into the whole brevity thing.” Of course, aging Jesus Freaks and Episcopalians alike are all about that brevity thing, so they happily go along with “the Dude abides,” another classic line from the film.

- Yoda, of “Star Wars,” is the voice of God for Zen-seeking, yoga-loving Emergent Christians. Emergents are the melting pot of Christianity, the place where hipsters who want to be spiritual but not religious go for community - typically a local brewery or Starbucks. “Luminous beings are we,” says Yoda. “Not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere!”

- Writer C. Terry Cline Jr. says when God speaks to him, it is in the scolding voice of Pee-Wee Herman - “What did I tell you?” In Cline’s latest book, "The Return of Edgar Caycee," Cline claims he was channeled by the previously deceased reincarnation guru, whose fan club has rivaled that of God’s. Is it any wonder God is miffed with Cline for conjuring up Caycee again?

- Your momma. Sonny Brewer, a Navy veteran and my editor at San Francisco’s publishing house MacAdam/Cage, says that the only voice he’s ever associated with God was his mother’s. Sonny’s mom has been nearly mute for nearly 20 years, the result of a stroke. “She can sing hymns but she can’t talk,” Sonny says. “When I think of God speaking to me, I think of my momma. Like God, she always loves me, even when I’m a bad boy.”

Whatever the cause, nobody enjoys getting the silent treatment. It is a particularly troubling matter when God goes silent on us, when we can’t hear his voice at all, whether it’s a tender whisper of encouragement, raucous laughter, or a thundering rebuke, it is then that we are most keenly aware of God.

Silence stills us. We pause and listen, ear pressed, waiting, anticipating, hoping for just a word of assurance that we have not been abandoned.

We all have had days when we feel like we’ve failed God. If in such moments we would listen to the wind in the trees, the waves curling on the beach, feet crunching in sand, and the song of the mockingbird as the evening sun sets, we would surely hear creator God singing hymns over us, his creation.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Karen Spears Zacharias.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Movies

soundoff (3,288 Responses)
  1. Welled

    I figure the bible was written at around 700 ad. Once again atheists go way wrong in their thinking. I saw Relgiousity with Bill Maher who gets well paid. (I always condiser who feeds who). The bible is simply a instrument to keep part of a people in line. It works well. It can cross over a countries borders and keep the people next door in line to a degree. Keeping the rest that don't buy into it can be a chore of course. The whole world functions on paper now. It's clever you can't eat it or live in it or drive it to work. Everyone borrows of course for the most part or lives in a fractional exsistance.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • El Flaco

      You 'figure?'

      The Bible was assembled from existing manuscripts around 330 AD at the order of the Roman Emperor Constantine. A council was assembled at Nicea. They chose some books, rejected others, and that's where the Bible came from.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:35 am |
  2. martog

    Cybil anyone? If I spelled that right......Maybe Sally Fields can get a starring role AS Karen (mad dog) Zacharias!

    April 29, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  3. frits

    The Idiotification of Americans. *sigh*

    April 29, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  4. AGuest9

    Spock? Yoda? She DOES realize that they are fictional characters (much like gods, themselves, so I guess I see the connection.) "The Big Lebowski" (obviously the stupidest movie of 1998 – if not the 1990s as a decade)? She then goes on to dismiss the graduates of Ranger School? What is she, commie/socialist in addition to needing medications to stop hearing "the voice of god"?

    Perhaps the purpose of this piece is to contrast the previous one on analytic thinking. I guess the Belief Blog was getting "too intellectual" for these folks. CNN, where do you find these people?

    April 29, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  5. stjdsj

    “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was RAISED on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve.
    “After that He APPEARED to more than FIVE HUNDRED brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep (died); then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me (Paul), also.” (1Corinthians 15:3-8, written testimony by Paul to the church at Corinth, A.D. 55)

    April 29, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  6. Ronald Hussein Reagan

    Immanuel Kant proved to the satisfaction of most Western Philosophers that no proof or disprof of the existence of GOd is logicallly possible; he did this over two undred years ago. It alll boils down to faith – I personallly am a bishop in the Seventh Mooon of Jupiter Existemntial Church. We worship a hockey puck that was buried at the NOrth Pole by Space aliens in the year 5000.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  7. topperG

    just goes to show you weed is alive and well......

    April 29, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      thanbk god for that!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  8. martog

    Top Ten Signs You're a Christian
    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • AGuest9

      9 – This is partly due to the racist tendencies of many of the faithful, especially of the American south. To admit that humans are descended from "monkeys" evokes a forced acceptance that Caucasians are no "better" than other races.

      8 – The concept of a "trinity" stems originally from a 4th Century "creed", attributed to Athanasius. Greek and Latin scholars have also pointed to Eusebius of Vercelli, as well as others as possible sources. At this time, Constantine proclaimed christianity the official Roman Imperial religion.

      6 – In addition to Greek gods sleeping with Earth women, the fictional "Nephilim" were claimed to be the offspring of "the sons of god" and Earth women in Genesis 6:4. This also creates an issue where Jesus was claimed to be the "only son of the father".

      April 29, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  9. Raoul Duke, Jr.

    Why is it that if someone hears voices other than " from god" he or she is a candidate for psychoanalysis or psychotropic drugs, but religious people are given a pass? How many lunatics have committed gross acts of violence and mayhem because "god" told them to. This woman needs to be psychologically evaluated for serious psychosis.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  10. goD'sLarynx

    "I find that odd since God talks to me all the time....", she writes. And continues: I hear other voices too. They tell me what I must do. Sometimes I am Karen, sometimes I am Spears. She told me to kill that hamster when I was a teenager. I tried to explain it to my mom, but she wouldn't hear it. Said it was my fault...
    Oh well, I didnt listen. The stuff people say, ts ts ts

    April 29, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  11. Linda Iezza

    When God speaks to me, I hear him through the Holy Spirit and this I get through the Gifts of the Spirit. I find myself in conversation throughout by day with God and he answers through music, movies, everyday TV, books, the bible, even horoscopes. You see when you have faith in something that is not seen but felt that's when you can determine the voice of God. I can feel the Spirit in people and through people.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • Mirosal

      Seek help... NOW!! And not just because you think you hear a divine voice. I'm saying this because you read your horoscope, and take it seriously.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  12. El Flaco

    God only exists between the ears of believers. The Voice you are hearing is that of your over-active imagination.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  13. Reality

    HEAR YE ! HEAR YE ! HEAR YE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (References used are available upon request.)
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    April 29, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • lolzz

      Spam.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • Reality

      Only for newbies:

      Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

      The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

      earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html

      For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

      Current RCC problems:

      Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

      Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

      Current problems:
      Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

      April 29, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  14. John

    It is rather telling that g-o-d's voice would be limited to how humans imagine voices to be. The limitation I find more interesting is g-e-n-d-e-r. If one has only one s-e-x, they cannot procreate. They miss out on a range of pleasures. They are somewhat half of a whole. So how then can a HE g-o-d be ALL anything? Pardon my spelling things out-it is an experiment to see if certain words are what keeps my post from posting.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Reality

      • The moderators of this blog have set up a secret forbidden word filter which unfortunately not only will delete or put your comment in the dreaded "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there are words like "an-al" thereby flagging words like an-alysis and "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual". You would think that the moderators would have corrected this by now considering the number of times this has been commented on but they have not. To be safe, I typically add hyphens in any word that said filter might judge "of-fensive".

      • Make sure the web address does not have any forbidden word or fragment.

      Sum Dude routinely updates the list of forbidden words/fragments.

      Two of the most filtered words are those containing the fragments "t-it" and "c-um". To quickly check your comments for these fragments, click on "Edit" on the Tool Bar and then "Find" on the menu. Add a fragment (without hyphens) one at a time in the "Find" slot and the offending fragment will be highlighted in your comments before you hit the Post button. Hyphenate the fragment(s) and then hit Post. And remember more than one full web address will also gain a "Waiting for Moderation".

      Zeb’s alphabetical listing

      o “bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN "awaiting moderation" filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.

      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      --–
      ar-se.....as in Car-se, etc.
      ba-stard
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
      co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
      cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
      do-uche
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
      fu-ck......!
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      ji-sm
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      nip-ple
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sh-@t.....but shat is okay – don't use the @ symbol there.
      sh-it
      sl-ut
      sn-atch
      sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!
      wt-f....also!!!!!!!

      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.
      -–
      Allowed words / not blocked at all:
      anal
      anus
      ass
      boob
      crap
      damn
      execute
      hell
      kill
      masturbation
      murder
      penis
      pubic
      raping (ra-pe is not ok)
      shat (sh-@t is not ok)
      sphincter
      testes
      testicles

      The CNN / WordPress filter also filters your EMAIL address and NAME as well – so you might want to check those.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:19 am |
    • John

      Reality, I owe you a big 'thank you!' And now I am wondering, does this make the CNN censors more powerful than g-o-d? H-E, after all, does not or maybe can not interfere with what I write.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  15. Missing Link

    If you hear voices, please seek psychiatric help immediately.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  16. stjdsj

    “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were EYEWITNESSES of His majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16, written, eyewitness testimony by Peter, A.D. 65)

    April 29, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • Mirosal

      How can Peter be an eyewitness when jesus died 30 years before, and the Peter who wrote that letter NEVER, EVER, met jesus? The average life span at that time was about 40-45 years. You forget, not a single author of ANY New Testament book had ever seen, walked with, or met the person they wrote about. So much for eyewitness testimony, huh?

      April 29, 2012 at 8:20 am |
    • Reality

      From Father/Professor Raymond Brown’s, An Introduction to the New Testament, 2 Peter was
      the last canonical work written i.e. ~ 130 AD, author unknown.

      See also the extensive analysis of 2 Peter at http://earlychristianwritings.com/2peter.html .

      April 29, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  17. Fair Taxes

    The truly scarey thing is that we are still debating this. This is 2012 not 1612.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  18. Welled

    I'm not an atheist. However I'm not a space ranger either. I actually like the earth. Which a lot of people consider an inanimate object. Except for a small group of women in tie die blouses that smoke pot out of a hooka of course.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • Fair Taxes

      People are on the planet with the permission of the earth, which can we withdrawn at any time.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • Uncle Bob

      Why believe in science when you can believe in what some child molester in a dress tells you?

      April 29, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • AGuest9

      @Uncle Bob, why would one have to "believe in science"? The purpose of experimentation is verifying theory, not believing in it.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  19. Terry

    Suddenly we are faced with the grim reality that religion is a series of voices, each telling the recipient what he/she wants to hear. The Christian Bible was written by men, not women, and then rewritten time-and-again over the last several hundred years, by men, when the Bible failed to support the teachings of those "men". The latest change was the removal of the word "Booty" because it had duel meanings to the readers. Suddenly I hear a voice calling to me, "Booty Call" and I need to go. Good luck with your voices.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:14 am |
  20. mattinacan

    ....not sure if serious, or just drunk

    April 29, 2012 at 8:12 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.