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.

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soundoff (3,288 Responses)
  1. Sandy

    you have to first seek the kingdom of God and have a thirst for his word and you will hear him his voice for me is not out loud but he very much speaks to me. people wake up and seek him when you open your heart to him he lives there and yes he talks to you and it is real very real. for those of you who don't believe your in my prayers. GOD BLESS......

    April 29, 2012 at 8:35 am |
    • Josef Bleaux

      Delusional much?

      April 29, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • lolzz

      Sandy, "please stop". Just... stop. And seek medical attention.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • lolzz

      Sandy – if it helps, "god told me to tell you, to seek medical attention". Now go.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • Alyssa

      I've heard god is a big fan of capitalizing the first letter of the first word in a sentence.

      April 30, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  2. Yma Sumac

    I know I need to commune with God more often. But it's hard when he sounds exactly like Gilbert Gottfried.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Dave in Portland

      Hahaha, love it. If God sounded like Gilbert, I'd be a believer.

      May 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  3. JayS.

    This is one of the most bizarre and pointless "stories" ever printed by a major media outlet. Either CNN has no editor to monitor the content of its site or somebody there really believes this nonsense – either way it seriously diminishes CNN.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  4. Pat Ryiot

    Sadly, I dont know what God sounds like. I am however getting a very strong idea what bigots and intolerant people must sound like. This forum is giving me a very good idea what cynics and atheists sound like, and while I cant know if there is a God I do know a truly free society respects freedom or lack of religion and that believers of both should learn some respect and toleration. So I am learning what intoleration sounds like..its ugly.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • Uncle Bob

      Pat – Athiests don't hate anyone. They just want religious wackos to leave them alone.

      You, however choose hate. What does that tell you?

      April 29, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • zasdof

      Awww, poor Pat.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Josef Bleaux

      I don't hate religious people, I hate religion. It keeps people ignorant and makes them do crazy things. Like talk to invisible, supernatural beings.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  5. CriticalThinker

    I wonder what voice God was using when he talked to Ted Bundy, Andrea Yates, or George HW Bush??! You can't have it both ways!!! IF IT'S ALL ABOUT FAITH THEN GOD ISN'T TALKING TO YOU, ISN'T GIVING YOU STRENGTH, ISN'T BLESSING YOU IN ANY WAY. Logic isn't Satan. Use some critical thinking for once in your life!

    April 29, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • lilyq

      Jesus loves you, be blessed today.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:33 am |
    • HillClimber

      In a manner of speaking, you can have it both ways. Spirit can communicate with you and all to often it is not the Spirit of God with whom you speak but other dis-carnate (not in body) souls who you speak with. Know that if you are evil here, you will still be evil there, until you have learned well enough to exercise your free will consistent with the Will of God. I have spoken with God (actually the Voice of God, Metatron) as well as stood before Metatron. It is not the "sound" of the Voice which impresses, but rather the presence of God that impresses. At other times, other voices speak – Angels for me who guide me gently, or my Guides who direct me in my daily activities as is this reply. By the way, Metatron is the correct name of the Voice of God, and is consistent with the ancient understanding of the Hebrews of the name of the Voice of God. Meditate often – seek to "be one with God" for the most positive results. And to protect yourself from evil – command "God's Light Surround Me!". It will happen.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  6. Jeremiah

    These "Belief" articles are becoming more and more ridiculous all the time. If you hear Pee Wee Herman talking to you and Paul Reuben is not in the room, then you are a schizophrenic and you need to be placed on medication.

    CNN.com, we all know that you're losing the brain dead masses to FoxNews, but for God's sake, stop attempting to pander to the religious nuts on the right with these stupid, asinine articles written by stupid authors.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:31 am |
  7. Uncle Bob

    Who do Chrisitans hate the most? Athiests? Muslims? Hindus? Buddhists? Or is it an equal opportunity hate group?

    April 29, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • trav

      neither..they hate sin

      April 29, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Uncle Bob

      Trav – as the Church Lady would say "How Conveeeeeenient?"

      April 29, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • CriticalThinker

      Isn't it interesting that when some people hear voices in their heads they are considered prophets, while others are considered insane. Very few of any of the affected ever consider insanity themselves. Generally people who hear these voices think they are hearing God or spirits, even the crazy ones who go on rampages or kill their children, or who even start wars like George Bush who believed God was talking to him and guiding him. I know one thing for sure, for myself, I will never take anyone seriously who claims they are hearing voices, it doesn't matter if it was 2000 years ago or one week ago.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Josef Bleaux

      They hate anyone who doesn't think like they do. It scares them to think they might be wrong so they take offense.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • lolzz

      Christians must hate themselves then. We're all "sinners". Time for meds.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:11 am |
  8. stjdsj

    “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.’
    “For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.
    “But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.
    “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
    “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:3-9, written testimony of Peter, A.D. 65)

    April 29, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Josef Bleaux

      Sorry, but that's just a bunch of blah blah blah blah blah, meaningless nonsense from an ancient book of mythology. It just sounds silly. It blows my mind how any intelligent adult can actually accept such utter nonsense.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Prometheus

      STFU and speak normally....or I will set forth a trident and hurl it at you carrying much rationality to crumble your wall of belief and then when your wall of belief thereby crumbles, you shall be vanquished ...and no longer welcome at PIZZA HUT.........forever.....

      April 29, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • trav

      Josef Bleaux
      it is silly to those who reject it and are blind on PURPOSE

      April 29, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • Josef Bleaux

      Trav – why can't you see how utterly silly that sounds? It's like you live in a fairytale world. It isn't REAL. It's just ancient mythology.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Dan

      2012 years of "any day now". Can we get an end date? Will 3000 years finally be enough?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  9. jon

    Notice religion bashing by the leftist media is reserved for Christians only? They don't dare bash muslims or buhdists...that would be politically inncorrect and take courage.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  10. datta

    You should very lucky god talks, what does God say to you.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  11. NonoTheist

    Sounds like someone needs medication...

    Today if the neighbour's dog tells you to kill people you are seriously ill.

    Talking snakes, talking burning bushes, your god makes strange appearances.

    Funny how the voice of god never reveals anything new or useful like missing car keys, the cure for hunger, world peace, the location of wanted criminals, secret Swiss bank accounts, the key to fusion energy, etc. It is almost like your god does not know any more than what you already know....

    See a doctor, you are having auditory hallucinations, it could be the sign of serious mental illness, or possible brain tumour.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  12. Gerry

    For me, the most disturbing thing about this piece was discovering that Ms. Zacharias writes (and teaches journalism) for a living.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:28 am |
    • zasdof

      He's actually a pretty good journalist, unlike certain blog editors and article writers. No names, of course. brrrrr!

      April 29, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • zasdof

      Disregard above.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:48 am |
  13. ipmutt

    Absolutly the last place on earth you want to go to for infrmation regarding faith.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  14. Limbaugh is a liberal

    We all know God speaks one true language, and that is English. That is why the King James version of the Bible is the only true, literal Word of God...
    Just like aliens all speak the one real language of the universe, and that too is English.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:28 am |
  15. Uncle Bob

    David Berkowitz (Son of Sam Killer) heard god tell him through a dog to kill people. He should be canonized as a saint for fulfilling the will of god.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:27 am |
  16. Prometheus

    Wow...from the editing CNN has done in this thread...I am no longer going to be a consumer of their 'spin', either on video or here irregardless of the subject. Fair and balanced or STFU.

    There CNN...you have been censored........

    April 29, 2012 at 8:27 am |
  17. GodsVocalCord

    "when god wants my attention, he has to talk to me"...
    That lady sure has delusions. As if god has to beg for her attention.
    The fact is, He has already decided what he thinks of her: a brainless delusional woman. Proof? He gave her no brain.
    "opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Karen Spears Zacharias"... aren't we glad about that..

    April 29, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • Josef Bleaux

      You're just as bad. If you believe in invisible, supernatural beings in the sky, you need medication. Period.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  18. jamesT297

    Hearing voices usually means a change of prescription is in order. Writing about hearing voices likely means that no prescription can get the job some and an admission to a certain type of facility may be required.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:26 am |
  19. CAL

    The last paragraph is nice, the rest is just silly.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • dreamer96

      I think that last paragraph came from John Travolta in the movie "Phenomenon"....

      So the religious followers of God, and Jesus, a pacifist, wiped out the Native Indians, and now are talking about God talking to them in the way the trees blow in the breeze, the leaves sound under your feet, the feel of the natural world all around them...Just like the Native Indians had been talking all the time for 1,000's of years...And these Religious people still allow alcohol to be sold to the Indians in White Clay, for the huge profits...four stores selling on average 60, 24 packs of beer, each and every day...and the Indians are being destroyed...God's people sure are messed up when they listen to the messages of love and compassion from God, and his son the pacifist...

      April 29, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  20. Pete

    "Spock is half-mother (human) and half-father (Vulcan)."

    How do you accidentally type that? Nobody's half mother and half father 🙂

    April 29, 2012 at 8:25 am |
    • Mirosal

      What if you're a hermaprho-dite, get told to go f-ck yourself, you DO and you give birth? Then you really ARE both mother and father. See, it can happen lol

      April 29, 2012 at 8:30 am |
    • Shepherd

      I know, right? How crazy are you if you hear the voice of one fictional character, Spock, as the voice of another fictional character, god, in your head?

      April 29, 2012 at 8:32 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.