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. Mr. Wynn

    I enjoyed it, its not sickening. People just have different relationships with their God, religious beliefs, friends, and etc. Where has the imagination amongst our people gone? In order to live, you have to imagine, otherwise your just walking. Get some personality folks, that's why you have one. Some of these comments are crazy, just because she shared her thoughts. Its funny how many people will share their comments and replys, but they will never publish anything, or take a step for them selves. I applaud the writer, she was different, and is sending a positive message.


    April 29, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  2. Wineguy999

    What kind of arrogance must be required to believe that, if indeed god exists, he would deign to talk to the average Joe or Jane.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  3. Crixus

    It seems to me that people on both sides of this arguement have it wrong. Let me explain:
    Religion is clearly a man-made "control-mechanism". Any physical manifestation of any religion in this world (bible, koran, church, synagogue, etc...) was contrieved by an "elite" ruling class who sought to control the masses of people they enslaved (Those not in the ruling class). None of us were around to witness the events that brought any particular religion long, long, ago. Further more we have no empirical evidence – just myths, legends, trditions and poorly written books with no historical accuracy. It would be foolish to follow something without proof (would you spend a million dollars without seeing it in your bank account first?). I know for certain that no human being hears the voice of God simply because I never have.

    The next point I want to make is just because the universe is billions of years old and we have clearly evolved from "lower" organisms, does not exclude the existence of a God or, a "prime mover". Even though the universe may have started with a "big-bang" the simple fact is that nothing in this physical universe can account for its own existence. When is the last time you witnessed something bringing itself into existence? No one has but, yet, we are here. There would be no empirical evidence of a God being because such a being would necessarily exist in a different mode of existence from our own.

    The truth is that many poeple have been tricked in arguing in these dichotomies by the fiendish, "elite", people who presently enslave us. Creationism vs evolution, democrat vs. republican, pro life vs. pro choice etc... Get the picture? If you can pit people against themselves then, they are distracted from the truth. You are all being deceived and lied to by your rulers while havest you like a crop and rob you blind in order to perpetuate their wealth and power. They use people like this woman to do their dirty work for them. The time to wake up is NOW!

    April 29, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • trav

      Alot fluff with no real stuff. Next comment please!

      April 29, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      Crixus – HUGE logical falllacy in your argument, " I know for certain that no human being hears the voice of God simply because I never have." I know running a sub four minute mile is impossible becuase I could never break 4:30. How's that for you?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Crixus

      Have you heard God's voice? I'll bet not. We can only know from our experience. These people don't obtain some special attribute like x-men because they go to church. It's just like the fools that pretend to speak in tongues and heal the sick. Obtaining a relationship with a deity is not like an athletic goal. If God is there and is interested in us then, it should be part of the deal. My logic is sound, by the way, taken from Aristotle, St Thomas Aqunas and even modern day philosophers from my days in seminary. The crockery and lies have drove me away from religion. I have been liberated.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  4. sam

    The fact that these people see God as having the voice of celebrities is very telling. And no, not in the "Go tell it on the mountain" kind of way.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  5. Robert

    I just hope God doesn't LOOK like Garrison!!!!!

    April 29, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  6. vancouverron

    Ever think of that?

    April 29, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • vancouverron

      What did god sound like to David Koresh and Charles Manson?

      April 29, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • trav

      their god was satan.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • vancouverron

      Maybe YOUR god is satan. Or better yet, maybe there IS no god or satan, and that voice in your head indicates a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  7. stjdsj

    “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
    “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
    “Professing to be wise, they became fools,” (Romans1:20-22, written testimony by Paul to the church at Rome, A.D. 55)

    April 29, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  8. iamdeadlyserious

    And yet people of faith don't seem to take this as an indication that they're hearing voices, not communing with some higher power...

    April 29, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  9. Dave - Phx

    Nutjob, you have never heard god. She looks like a conservative bimbo who's only god is money. The almighty republican god.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  10. Faithful

    This is not God. I hear God speaking through prayer and through His word the Bible. This article is not right. Only the God of the Bible speaks. He has shown us his attributes (power, and divine nature) through creation. He has spoken to us through His Son Jesus Christ. He has spoken to us through His Word, the Bible. God is God. Seeking the "words of God" through other ways or people is not right. In fact in the Bible it does say how God speaks. And that is all I need.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • ReasonableChristianity

      I completely agree. I've never heard another Christian say God spoke to them with somebody's voice. Saying God spoke to me just means that I learned something or had an epiphany (etc.) and not that God actually spoke in my ear.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Grumpster

      You need help.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • stjdsj

      100% correct! Thank you.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • Faithful

      Why do I need help?

      April 29, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • ReasonableChristianity

      Faithful, you don't. Grumpster just had to come up with something mean to say since you seem like a rational Christian.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • Faithful

      If someone makes a statement, he needs a reason. So I am asking what his reason for saying that is. It would be if someone asked me why I am a Christian. And if I said, because of Jesus... I would need to give a bit more for them to understand what I mean. Of if you said, I hate tacos, you need a reason for hating tacos. All I am doing is seeing why he thinks that.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • David

      How about through the Koran or Bhagavad Gita? Oh oh I know you worship the one true god.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  11. Terry

    Andrea Yates hears voices. The voices tell her "Get out of the Wacky Bin and come to church".

    April 29, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Scary Terry

      The church is a nuthouse...bunch of people believing in imaginary friends. Others would seek psychiatric help if they were seeing and hearing imaginary things. You tell your kid not to believe in their imaginary friend....yet grown up, educated adults still can't process their rational thought and hang on to their teddy bear GOD for comfort...like Linus who can't give up his blanket. Bunch of whack jobs.

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

      Nice analogy.....the kids grow up and give up the Teddy Bear, and replace it with God so they can sleep better at night knowing there's no bogyman out to get them....and that Teddy (er...God) would protect them from things that go bump in the night.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • report_abuse

      What is worse: CNN sees that as newsworthy

      April 29, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • ReasonableChristianity

      Atheism lacks any coherent, overarching moral base. It is anarchic if not evil.

      "A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion." –Francis Bacon

      April 29, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  12. Argonaut

    Since there is no god, there wouldn't be a voice for him. If there were, I'd bet he'd sound more like GOOFY from Disney...and act more like Gilligan since he seems to want to give people cancer, let them lose their homes, get mugged, killed, etcetera...and not get their dreams (of getting off the island for example).

    April 29, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • God

      Sounds like a good idea. I will stop doing all the bad things to you(humans) and make you live and do as I say. Is that what you really want? I gave all humans the same basic desire of my nature, to be loved unconditionally, not by force but by free will. Man has broken that in the beginning by disobedience. Now you all suffer the same result from sin. Your thoughts are not my thoughts. Your mind does not even grasp the idea of eternity, who are you to question me?

      April 29, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  13. trav

    If you want to know which voice you are listening to then look at what you are doing. If you live the way you want and for yourself and reject God then you listen to Satan. Satan wants you to reject God. If you listen to God then you wont rip this article apart and you will live for God and what He desires. Its your choice...now...who do you listen too. Your comment will tell us who you listen too.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Frank

      I listen to myself. I do unto others as I would do unto myself. I do not need to listen to a supernatural dictator to make the decisions that I do. I use my talent the best I can to do the work that I do. I respect people and offer my time to help in any way that I can. I don't worry about listening to God or Satan because neither exist. And I am not going to be bullied into believing so.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • trav

      there you go. Jesus said if you are not for Him you are against Him. You either listen to God or Satan. Listening to yourself is either led by God or Satan. Again, your choice

      April 29, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • jamesT297

      So Trav, you now know what we would each have to say depending upon what your view is regarding how dog spoke to us?

      April 29, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Frank

      I also signed in under Frank, just for your information the previous post is not mine.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:09 am |
  14. Grumpster

    God sounds like this: " " since he doesn't exist. CNN needs to get a section on this "belief" page where we can balance it out with rational thought. There's TECH section, but no science section...or anything else that would balance out the seemingly one religion that CNN panders to.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:41 am |
    • zasdof

      Goto cnn lightyears blog
      lern to internet

      April 29, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Argonaut

      Lightyears...pretty obscure...let's see them put something more obvious like on the front page like they do with this BS.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:45 am |
  15. Canadian Jack

    The effect cannot be greater than the cause. Joy does not provide an easy evolutionary explanation. It serves no purpose. Yet all mammalian life and even birds experience it. See a bird soar aimlessly in the air. Watch dolphins jump. All this life experiences this explosion of joyous emotion at the marvel of its existence. No mechanical process is capable of creating joy throughout so much of life. I care about what others believe who post here. What biological process makes us care about others who are not part of our family or tribe. This makes no mechanistic sense.

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

      Anthropomorphic much?

      April 29, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • jamesT297

      Honestly, where do you people come up with such wacky ideas that birds flying or dolphins swimming are expressions of joy? You are as nutty as the author of the "voices" article.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • oalgers

      Interesting idea that joy is evidence of super-evolutionary development. Not sure I agree though. Wouldn't joy help to motivate intelligent creatures to be active, to reproduce, and thereby would be beneficial in natural selection. Also joy is chemical. There are drugs and hormones that induce joy. In seems that our bodies regulate our joy and sorrow chemically, presumably because that aids in our survival.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Dan

      first, you have scientific data on joy in animals? Please publish. Wow!

      Second, there are numerous explanations for compassion within evolution. Males sharing resources gets girls attention, as does kindness to juveniles. Remember our brains are the products of millions of years of animal evolution prior to our more sentient abilities of the past 250,000 years.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  16. DJensen

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I believe God does speak to us through the Holy Spirit, whether through a nudge, a quickening, perhaps a person, or even an overwhelming jolt. We must learn to listen. As Bill Hybels writes in his book THE POWER OF A WHISPER, “God whispers a word of insight to that willing pair of ears and then waits to see what will happen once the reality of the prompting sets in.” Scripture teaches us how to listen. Many of those Holy Spirit promptings will come in quite, still moments, as you, Karen, so wonderfully phrased… listening to the wind in the trees, the waves curling on the beach, feet crunching in the sand, the evening sunset… “Be still and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:10. God does speak to us.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • martog

      You're as delusional as the crazy lady that wrote the article.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Mr. Wynn

      Thanks! DJENSEN. Finally a PERSON that understands! Its funny how many people listen to the wrong voices, and they can't even imagine a good voice, well besides music. And that's a product to purchase, even when listening to it on the radio!

      April 29, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • jamesT297

      Why would dog whisper to anyone and then stand back to see what happened? If dog is really dog, dog would already know what is going to happen because he planned it all out back at the very beginning.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  17. Sullengrrl

    Wow. This person is obviously suffering from mental illness and yet this irrational respect that is given to "religious faith" blinds CNN to the point where they post this as "Belief" instead of on the medical page where it belongs. This is absolutely shameful and ridiculous.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:38 am |
  18. birch please

    I think the cnn editor let this one through just to have a laugh with the blog. Christians hearing voices and insulting scifi is clearly atheist bait........ is the editor trolling?

    April 29, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • zasdof

      Oh, your quick.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • ReasonableChristianity

      Of course CNN posts these sorts of things on Sundays and Christian holidays...

      April 29, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  19. Michael

    Wow, some of these comments come across as bitter (to put it kindly).

    I am of the belief- because I was that guy once in my life – that the writers of the bitter comments are the ones who notice the emptiness of life without God the most.

    But, then, during a very dark moment, when I had nothing left, the walls came down and I heard God's voice.

    Since that time, God and I have regular conversations – He is quite funny. I love him.

    And tremendous blessings follow...

    Thank you for writing this article.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Johnny Friendly

      NO, atheists are not bitter, save for the sour taste one retains after drinking of the fetid pollution that is religeon. excuse my irreverence, pun intended, but religeon is the last flailing of an ignorant giant amoeba that, were it to have his way, would engulf all of humanity and suck it into a moldering morass of excrement and self-serving inane logic that proclaims the existence of Santa Claus for adults...G o d.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • ReasonableChristianity

      Yep. Too bad Johnny can't see the bitterness dripping from his post.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  20. Uncle Bob

    If god is as "all powerful" as christians claim, why do they think he give a crap about them? Doesn't he/she/it have better things to do?

    April 29, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Michael

      Bob – THAT is exactly the point. Why does God care about us??? Why would he care?

      Have fun exploring – the answer will blow your mind.

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

      There may be a god. There may not. No one can prove or disprove it. But religion is pure manmade crap.

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

      Martog, you made a positive claim that "religion is pure manmade crap." Why should I believe you are right? Prove it.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:57 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.