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. Johnny Friendly

    it would be so refreshing if there were a few voices of reason, mixed in with this onslaught of re-jesusification going on in the US right now. It is no different from what when on in the middle east, when their uberlords realized it was much easier to control stupid zealots than intelligent, sentient beings. strip schools of math and science class, and replace them with biblical pseudo-factual drivel. Thus the intoduction of project "resurrection". bring religeon to the forefront of american consciousness, and proclaim with all the hubris of a defamed televangelist, fill in your own favorite name, that all who dare question this new world order are heathens and unpatriotic. talk about dumming down america...movies, tv shows, sports figures, talk show hosts are all to march in lock step with the new paradigm. the weak of mind will follow, the rest will be purged. this is the fate of the easily led. this is the fate of the United States.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • Veritas

      Yes, sadly it could actually happen since the most "evangelical" among us would not mind an outright theocracy; and they are typically also very intolerant towards opposing views. Talibanism could happen here too.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • ReasonableChristianity

      Newsflash. Strong Christian beliefs are nothing new in America. Perhaps they only seem stronger because our society is moving away from Christian beliefs and tossing long-held Christian ways out of the public arena, so to speak.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • ReasonableChristianity

      The New Atheists seem equally easily led by Dawkins, Hitchens, and the like. Their followers are amassing in an attempt to remove Christianity from public view, and it is shameful.

      And the left's constant comparisons of Christianity with Islam are comical to the majority who see clearly. Even so-called "radical/evangelical/whatever-the-label Christianity" has a teaching directly from Jesus to love your neighbor (even you enemies!). You don't see Christians trying to skirt through airline security to go blow people up. Of course, athiests and the left promote every kind of "phobia" but Christianophobia, Jesusophobia, and Deophobia.

      Atheism has no 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 9:13 am |
    • FSM

      ReasonableChristianity is an oxymoron.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  2. Veritas

    What does "god's" voice sound like? This is mental decease defined.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  3. Rational Thinker

    Unfortunately whatever voices people hear God speak in tell them to vote Republican.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  4. Arthur Paliden

    Who would want to talk to an admitted mass murdering terrorist.

    "And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead." (Exodus 12:29-30)

    Terrorism: killing those with no political power to influence those that have it.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • Johnny Friendly

      surely you jest...
      he never admitted any such thing!
      and there beeth across the land a word full of hubris, and so speaketh the lord.
      for his, and only his way is the divine way. how convenient.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:59 am |
  5. Shaun187

    I am curious. When people hear god is it like hearing an actual voice in your ears but no one is in the room with you:? Or is it more like when you are thinking to yourself? Like when I go to smoke that cigarette and my conscience tells me I shouldn't. Is that what people refer to as god? Is god telling me not to smoke?

    April 29, 2012 at 8:54 am |


    April 29, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  7. Frank

    Each time I hear someone quote God, I switch channel or try to discard it as I know something I firmly disagree with is going to be said in the name of partisan politics. Such as God told Noah that that no more flooding would occur following this one, hence global warming is a hoax, and this came from a political leader not a marginal preacher in Florida looking for its 15 minutes of fame on TV with his proposed koran burning protest. Therefore, my frustration level rises each time I hear God's being quoted on the air, and the normal thing to do for a human when exposed to increased frustrations stimuli is too become aggressive, hence anti religious. Obviously we would all be better off without religion as all it does nowadays is to provoke.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • FSM


      April 29, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  8. Rational Thinker

    There are prescriptions for those voices in your head.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  9. toArgonaut

    but today's Christians are making a mockery of God. No respect to God at all if you compare their statements with the accounts found in the Bible which always showed a high respect for the Creator.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • rjo3491

      You're right. God is now used for social and political engineering, population control and every make a buck scheme one can imagine. Further, I believe getting God out of politics would be best for both religion and politics.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • FSM

      Respect and fear aren't the same thing. The biblical god is a mean-spirited, hateful jerk who likes to kill whoever doesn't agree with him. Can I kill whoever doesn't agree with me? Would I even want to do so? NO. Therefore, I cannot worship something that does not hold itself to the same ethical and moral values to which I hold myself.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  10. rjo3491

    ...the day God actually speaks to me is the day I will check myself into Belleview.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  11. Rob

    This belongs on The Onion

    April 29, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  12. toArgonaut

    @Argonaut- If God does not exist, you don't exist as well. Based on your post it seems you came from an egg, right?

    The perfection of the Universe and even earth came from a great designer with an incomparable mind and love. Humans are so arrogant these days... unbelievable.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Rational Thinker

      Typical response....draw irrational conclusions without putting forth an ounce of data. Just like saying if I dance, then the ground will crack open and swallow California. That's the Christian argument. If X, then Z...and nothing inbetween.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • rjo3491

      ...Argonaut, we don't have enough data to deny a creator – only the one you have created.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Frank

      If argonaut does not exist, this means I do not exist as well. I have not read argonaut's comment, hence I don't know what prompted you to be this aggressive, however your aggressiveness is provoking me as obviously it is not God which will lead us to non existence but quite the opposite as its influence on our emotions will trigger self destruction. As, islamist extremists do with their own faithful infidels, christians now can't wait to do the same within their own congregation to protect the pure christians from the infected ones.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Danno

      Just because you don't understand it doesn't mean that "God" did it and that's all there is to it. Ignorance is no excuse for believing in fantasy.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  13. Danno

    And people are afraid of atheists..... This article is complete insanity.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  14. datta

    I agree God does talk , he has ways to talk and alert you from time to time when you falling away from path to reach him and be one with him,The way i understand is to hear him you should be at level where you think nothing else other then almighty, you should be free from attachment and you do not share your divine intuitions as they are meant to for you and you alone.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  15. Grumpster

    It's actually quite simple why there is religion. 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 8:51 am |
    • FSM

      Unless they are in trouble. Then the Teddy Bear will strike them down in all sorts of horrible ways that exceed the paddling their parents gave them as children.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  16. Dave Harris

    God would have more credibility if he used just one voice, so people who think they're talking with him could compare notes. How hard can that be when you're all-powerful?

    April 29, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  17. RindaLynn

    Belief only works when one chooses with all their mind and soul to believe. And, how can one look through a telescope to see the awesome beautiful wonders of the universe and not believe that there is not some higher power afoot?

    I listen to God too. I listen to the silence. The most beautiful music that he created. The silence between the notes. The silence between the stars. For his answers come on the silent wings of doves.

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

      "And, how can one look through a telescope to see the awesome beautiful wonders of the universe and not believe that there is not some higher power afoot?"

      Easily. Take a few science courses.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • Danno

      It's on you to prove that you can talk to god. Otherwise anyone can claim the same thing. It's all a bunch of nonsense.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Name*Chedar

      I agree with KW . To be more specific a course in cosmology, quantum mechanics and particle physics will do it.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:01 am |
  18. Michael

    I dunno what does a unicorn sound like? Nothing, because it doesn't exist.

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

      I imagine a unicorn sounds somewhat like a Leprechaun.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  19. Writerscramp

    If you think you are hearing voices, especially someone you think is God, you might want to crack open the Yellow Pages and find the nearest Psychologist near you

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

      Make them, don't ask them, idiot.

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

      psychiatrist is better

      April 29, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  20. Jack

    If I told someone I was hearing the audible voice of god they would put me away on 51-50 in a padded cell. Hopefully God doesn't tell her to do anything dangerous.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Rational Thinker

      Unfortunately he does....he tells her to vote Republican.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:54 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.