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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Filed under: Movies

soundoff (3,288 Responses)
  1. Praetorian

    If it's making people hear voices that aren't really there, shouldn't there be a warning label or something on religion? Seriously, like they have on a pack of cigarettes. "WARNING: Religious belief can cause closed-mindedness, poverty, intolerance, irrational fear, reduced intelligence, and make you delusional. Use with extreme caution. If you start to hear voices that aren't really there, seek professional help immediately. And we're NOT talking about Pastor Somebodyorother either.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:15 am |
  2. Charles

    The voice of God is indistinguishable from auditory hallucination. Get more sleep, or find the right medication.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  3. stjdsj

    “We proclaim to you the One who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw Him with our own eyes and touched Him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This One who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen Him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that He is the One who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1John 1:1-3, written eyewitness testimony by John, about A.D. 70)

    April 29, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • zoroastor

      so if the average lifespan of someone around that time was about 40 years old, and Jesus was supposed to have be crucified on 33ad, then it is unlikely John was even alive in 70 AD, and why did it take him until 70 ad to write anything?

      Tell me is it really a sacrifice if you know you can come back from the dead? I really don't think so

      April 29, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Kebos

      Gee, someone wrote this so it must be true.

      You may think that by believing this puts you in some special category of people and that you will one day be rewarded in the kingdom of heaven.

      No, you will live your days believing in the grandest manipulation of mankind only to die the same as everyone else. To cease to exist like everyone else. But if living under a delusion gets you through your days, then so be it.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  4. lolzz

    Hearing voices? There are pills for that. Why are mentally ill religious nutjobs making the news?

    April 29, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  5. zoroastor

    If you personally think the creator of the universe is taking to you, I think you should see a psychiatrist. Seriously, if you hear Mr. Spock telling you to do things this is called Schizophrenia

    @ stjdsj – So please tell me who will be in heaven, only "certain" Christians according to your silly book of fairy tales? What about 3/5ths of the world's population who are not? All the Atheists, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Jains, Mormons, Buddhists, Taoists, ZoroAstrians, un baptized babies, etc are all going to suffer in eternal hell fire? Christian logic makes no sense.

    I would much rather spend "eternity" in hell with the sinners. Spending eternity with a group of evangelical Christians would certainly be a true hell for me.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:13 am |
  6. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 29, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Argonaut

      Keep repeating that over and over....it changes things...for the worse.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:13 am |
    • Grumpster

      I pray that you stop repeating this post over and over.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • lolzz

      So does a visit to the psychiatrist. See one. You'll be glad you did.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • jamesT297

      Name two –

      1. ____________________________________________________________________________

      2. ____________________________________________________________________________

      April 29, 2012 at 9:14 am |
    • ReasonableChristianity

      Grumpster, do you want atheists on these "boards" to stop posting the same things over and over again, or is that ok?

      April 29, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • nope


      April 29, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Hitchens

      !. slavery.
      2. American independance

      April 29, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Mike

      Did you pray to grow a brain? How did it go?

      April 29, 2012 at 9:20 am |
  7. marjee123

    Do these people really believe that any body of sound mind believes that God talks to them. No matter who that person is they have to be a little off to think any sane person thinks that God talks to them. Do we have a country of crazies.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Hitchens

      Maybe God speaks to those He loves.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  8. Blasphemy

    I would not scoff the voice of God so much it there were not so many who think they have heard it and now want to tell the rest of us how to live.

    There is an entire Political Party based on that.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • macdaddyoh

      OMG!!! People are screwed up. Really, God talks to you? Your a liar and a nut case. Check yourself into the nearest nut house.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:18 am |
  9. zedd

    God sounds a bit like Helen Keller to me.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  10. bobdevo

    Funny thing, when God talks to me, he sound just like Curly from the 3 Stooges . . .nyuk, nyuk, nyuk...

    April 29, 2012 at 9:11 am |
  11. Paul Falduto

    If this woman is serious, she is delusional. I am not saying it is delusional to believe in a higher power, although I don't, but to think he/she/it actually talks to you is delusional.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:10 am |
  12. flying spaghetti monster

    "When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called Religion."

    - Robert M. Pirsig

    April 29, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Argonaut

      Besides, we all know FSM has bigger balls anyway....and I just love the way he touches people with his noodley appendage.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  13. pauleky

    I just don't understand how anyone can read this and not think, "These people are crazy!" How can otherwise rational, intelligent people believe these fairy tales. Seriously, if you are hearing voices in your head, ESPECIALLY celebrity voices telling you they are god, please get yourself to the emergency psychiatric ward nearest you.

    Yeah, I know someone's going to say, "Well, you're right – you don't understand." Having been raised Southern Baptist I probably understand better than most. This is insanity of epic proportions and this kind of Dark Ages thinking is dragging us all down. Time to move forward and leave this mythology behind.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Dave in Portland

      like x 1000

      May 7, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  14. Blasphemy

    Stand behind a cow and you learn what the voice of God sounds like soon enough.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  15. satch

    This is up there with the stupidest da_n things I have heard in a long time.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  16. Bud Weiser

    Wow, dumbest article ever. God will not tolerate joke articles such as this!!! May you burn in hell!

    April 29, 2012 at 9:07 am |
  17. Dave- the big god in florida

    Has anyone else noticed how low CNN seems to be sinking to attract some Faux News asylum inmates for themselves???

    April 29, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  18. Complutensian Polyglot

    I feel dumber for having read this. This kind of über-sentimental crap makes me ill. It is less theology and more idolatry; turning God into your own little idol– whatever "voice" you desire. Delusional.

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

      Wow this is the craziest $#!+ I have ever heard. I'm really scared now.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:14 am |
  19. Woody

    I knew a woman who talked to god on a regular basis. This seemed to always occur when we were "doing it". Apparently, god is hard of hearing because she tried to get his attention by repeatedly calling his name. After a while, she must have gotten a little impatient with god's lack of response because she would just let out an "Oh Goooooooooooooooood!!!!!). She never did tell me what god's voice sounded like, however.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • from God's breakfast table

      Thank you, Woody. You made my Sunday morning.
      Off I go, those annoying church services, in the western world. Then I am back in the Pacific, rooster sacrifices, then back to China, India, cow sacrifices, pig sacrifices, eat pork, don't eat pork, eat cows, don't eat cows.

      Sighs, it just never ends.

      Woody, could you introduce me to that lady?? I'd love to give her some response...

      April 29, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • jamesT297

      All the women I know have had the same experience. I'm beginning to think they really think there really is a dog.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:21 am |
  20. from God's breakfast table

    Now now, kids. Keep it quiet , I am trying to enjoy a nice cup of coffee before the mad Sunday morning rush to churches and temples and synagogues starts.
    And then I have to hang around listening to their prayer thingie, Jeeeesus, how boring, (no, I didn't call you, boy), and then I have to do it in every darn timezone, in every religion.
    I tell you, what gets me is, that they think their muslim god cancels out the christian god, the catholic god , the baptist god. And vice versa. Won't these kids ever learn and grow up?
    Hey, Krishna, sit down, there is fresh coffee here. Have a croisant, peach jam with ham. Oh, there's bacon and brisket too.
    God (no, I am not calling myself), I love a good breakfast with pork and beef.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:05 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.