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. PulTab

    If you're hearing voices in your head, you are just plain "f"ing nuts!

    April 29, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  2. justin opinion

    It's this notion that the voice in your head is god that leads some people to do very crazy and often harmful things. Everyone has a "voice" in their head, most noticeable when reading, writing or quietly observing the world. But most people figure out that it is self generated, even if not always self controlled, even if it may sometimes sounds like Spock or Bullwinkle Moose.

    I've noticed that my voice likes to tell jokes when I'm trying to be serious, which is not surprising since I like to tell jokes when others are trying to be serious. My voice also has the exact same tastes as me. The same judgments, sense of humor, and morality and even the same favorite color... If I were to believe this was god, I could only conclude that god hates coconut, really cold weather, and likes the color blue-green. So if I thought that voice in my head was actually god, I would probably be in court explaining that "I did it because God told me to cut down all the coconut trees." Of course, maybe if I was lucky, this lady would be on the jury.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  3. stjdsj

    “So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they SAW the Lord.” (John 20:18-20, written eyewitness testimony by John that Jesus was RAISED FROM THE DEAD)

    April 29, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • sybaris

      Praise zombie Jesus.

      You do know that it is physically impossible to crucify someone by driving spikes through their hands. Your hands will not support the weight of your body for very long. So obviously the people who fake stigmata and who wrote the Bible stories never saw an allegedly resurrected Jesus nor anyone that had been crucified for that matter.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  4. Word

    Albert Fish (serial killer 1870 – 1836) killed around 23 people. He murdered and ate a number of his victims. At his trial, he professed that he heard the voice of God telling him to kill children.

    Wonder what God sounded like to Albert fish?

    When someone says that he hears God telling him to kill children, he's labelled mentally ill. At the very least, he or she is considered by a great majority of society to be disturbed.

    I'm having trouble seeing just where that line gets drawn.

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

      I wonder what it sounded like to the people in the Bible who were told by the same god to kill children as well.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • esoteric1

      if God told me to kill and eat children I would tell Him to phuuckk oph.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  5. BethTX

    If someone told you he believes 100% that an invisible man is watching him and judging him 24/7 and that this man (we'll call him Steve, but he is known by many names) has a special book of rules that you have to follow or he will punish you for all eternity, what would your response be? Further, Steve has helpers (also invisible, so don't ask to see them) who jet around saving people and guarding the faithful. Oh, yeah, and these helpers can fly. The rational response would be to back away slowly. But if someone rationalizes his delusions by saying he's religious, we let it go. Why?

    April 29, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • a reasonable athiest

      As a good Estabanite, I never question the mysterious will of the great Steve.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  6. Ar.se-Knuckle Anderson

    I expect a non-existent being to not exist, including related non-existent noises or speech.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  7. Bewb Handd

    God sounds like a joke spoken with fart-music. True fact.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  8. OmniVI

    Wouldn't it be cool if god sounded like MC Search from 3rd Bass?

    April 29, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  9. cosmicsnoop

    A good writer never uses glaring generalizations. "We all have had days when we feel like we’ve failed God." I have never felt like I "failed" God in my life. I don't think about it at all and you can't offend God in any way, whatsoever. What a ridiculous statement and article.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  10. I got your answer right heah

    God sounds like a real piece of sh***t.
    That's what he sounds like.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  11. Really?

    To republicans, God sounds like Rush Limburger. But in reality, God is a frequency of 1×10^16 Hertz of silence. Hear that silence and hear God. But anyone that claims to hear God specially Evangelical Christians...Ahem...is really lying to us all.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • OhMyDog

      Well, they are certainly either lying to themselves or have a mental disorder.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  12. n8263

    Any body who honestly thinks they can hear the audible voice of God needs to be on medication.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Paul

      Anybody who thinks, without a shred of evidence, that there is a sentient omnipotent being called god is not a rational person. Whether that person hears god or not is irrelevant.

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

      I know you meant to say,

      Any body who honestly thinks they can hear the audible voice of THE MYTH THAT IS God needs to be on medication.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  13. SAM

    In the novel 'The Book of Eli' the voice of God to the main character Eli Canaan sounds like Orson Welles. The author points out that God sounds like other people both famous and not so famous to the person in Heaven who is listening.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:30 am |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    April 29, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • esoteric1

      yes...it changes one from being unproductive and unhelpful to humanity when in prayer...to the opposite when not praying.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  15. Briar

    What a ridiculous and embarrassing article. This is funnier than the the Onion, but also a little sad because it's on a real news site.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  16. Kaycee

    He sounds like James Mason... GRIN

    April 29, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Peter Grenader

      Hail Eddie!

      April 29, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  17. chadg76

    I cannot believe that a news source like CNN gives space to psychotic delusions like this author is handing out. Religion is by far the biggest farce and form of mass psychosis man has ever burdened itself with. Just a waste of a perfectly fine brain that nature saw to evolve for us.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Metalman

      CNN knows you feel that way...that's why they print garbage like this for your edification.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • OhMyDog

      Well, apparently there are some brains that are not perfectly fine. And it's within those brains that the God myth has evolved.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  18. cjeddie

    does CNN intentionally publish these articles to expose the silliness of religion to the masses? they are doing a good job.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • chadg76

      I hope so. I can't believe that any rational human capable of abstract thought and objectivity believes any of this man made garbage.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • jamesT297

      You might be on to something.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • OhMyDog

      To chadg76 who said, "I can't believe that any rational human capable of abstract thought and objectivity believes any of this man made garbage."

      You are referencing the wrong subset of humanity. It's those who have been indoctrinated from a very young age and therefore rendered incapable of objectivity who believe in these god myths. Don't stress yourself out worrying about those of us who can form an objective view of the world. We're fine and happy to have you among us.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  19. BLOCKthisCOMMENT from Satan's right hand man

    Religion has actually convinced people that there`s an invisible man - living in the sky - who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do..And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever `til the end of time! ...But He loves you. -George Carlin

    April 29, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • OhMyDog

      Actually, the list was 15 things he forbids, but Moses dropped and shattered one of the tablets. This is a fact; I saw it in the movie History of the World part 1 by Mel Brooks.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  20. Shimon Cleopas

    1/9 The ultimate purpose of resources given by Divine Providence is the capture of God and Satan, 2012’s 2 most wanted fish.

    2/9 Capture of God and Satan transforms earth into paradise.

    3/9 Capture of God and Satan secures not just America

    4/9 Capture of God and Satan transforms “Death to America!” into “Thank you so much America!”

    5/9 Capture of God and Satan is the key to the Kingdom of Heaven.

    6/9 The rock-solid scientific evidence that Jesus Christ is God: a) engineers the return of Jesus Christ and b) obliterates Satan

    7/9 Vatican and the Evangelicals do not yet have the rock-solid scientific evidence that Jesus is God.

    8/9 Vatican and the Evangelicals do not yet have the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

    9/9 Until the two big fish basking in its Reflecting Pool are caught, Washington will continue to leak 2 billion tax dollars per week.

    SHOCK AND AWE inadequate when Wash DC suddenly discovers 2 big fish basking in its shallow Reflecting Pool that it failed to catch in Tora Bora.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • esoteric1

      Please tell me you location...I will bring the straight jacket....the state will provide the padded cell.

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

      Wow! Scary people.
      I bet Shimon enjoys long walks along highways with cardboard signs.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:40 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.