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. Peter Grenader

    A Prairie Home Companion? Really? How long to you think it took your children to actually get the gist of that radio show and why do you think that was good parenting? I mean seriously, can you imagine what they went through listening to all the other kids talk about TV shows? Get back to us all would you please when they reach their teens. I can't wait to hear an update.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  2. ReligionIs4Dolts

    What does "god" sound like when "he" farts?

    April 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • JT

      What do you think thunder really is? Duh! Hellbound scientists try to tell you it's some kind of natural phenonomon but that's just Satan trying to lead you astray.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • PulTab

      Have you ever heard one of those four cylinder cars with the loud exhaust pipe? That's what it sounds like.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  3. Bill

    Why would God speak to us symbolically? Why deal with us in was we, as humans, manipulate for our own selfish purposes. Perhaps the ignorant fools before us understood more direct communication was the way. If it is, we , and our scientists, may have blinded ourselves from seeing the forest becasue we seek to see the bark of a tree. Intelligence, and all learning, covers up as much as it illuminates.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • This is how

      Many christions believe they never evolved. I'd have to agree. Wish they would one day, and join civilized man.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  4. Wholly Mary

    The sound of silence, THERE'S NOBODY THERE! (except those funny voices in your head)

    April 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  5. Robert

    A baby crying, a dog barking, a child laughing, a bird chirping, the sound of the wind blowing through the trees, and silence... That is what God sounds like.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  6. The Devil

    Are you fu**ing kidding me, CNN? This inane drivel isn't worth the server space on which it resides.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  7. DefyTheGods

    You guys can laugh all and joke all you want! I've heard God speak! In case you're wondering, he sounds exactly like Pee-Wee Herman!

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

    "It is a particularly troubling matter when God goes silent on us, when we can’t hear his voice at all, "

    its ok, those moments are called 'sanity', its the preferred state of affairs.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  9. jmitchem

    God spoke to me once. Six words. Here's the story: http://obsessedwithconformity.com/215/sober/ And he actually sounded like how God sounded when the burning bush talked to Moses in the Ten Commandments.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  10. MalcomR

    Seek immediate psychiatric help if you hear voices that are not clearly your own internal dialog.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:52 am |
    • jmitchem

      Dude, that's so shallow. No, you're wrong. Just because you don't have a personal reference point to this phenomenon doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It doesn't exist for you because you haven't opened your mind and heart up to it. If you can do that, you'll understand. And no, I'm not going to sit here and accuse you of not being able to open your mind and heart as a way to attack your short-sightedness, but rather I'm going to say that you can too. Give it a try. Be less cynical.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • AGuest9

      @jmitchem, it sounds like a good atypical antipsychotic might do some good. A person who is suffering from psychosis is out of touch with reality, may hear "voices" or have strange and illogical ideas. There area a wide range for a medical professional to choose from, presently. Clozapine, as well as other atypical antipsychotics are available, including risperidone, aripiprazole, olanzapine, quetiapine, and ziprasidone.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • PulTab

      Well said MalcomR.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:06 am |
  11. Steve

    This is insane. No one can hear the actual voice of god because he does not exist. People are delusional. People need to grow up and stop believing in their imaginary friends.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  12. Josef Bleaux

    All religions are nothing but ancient mythology, written thousands of years ago by members of primitive cultures. All primitive cultures have their mythology; creation myths, afterlife myths, myths about miracles, etc. etc. etc. It was just primitive man's attempt to explain existence and to find comfort in the face of their mortality.

    Which religion you are is based almost entirely on where you were born, If you were born in the west, you were indoctrinated practically from birth to believe in Christianity, so that's what you believe. If you were born in India, you were indoctrinated practically from birth to believe in Hinduism, so that's what you believe, etc. etc. etc. It's just so utterly obvious. It has nothing to do with logic, reason and objectivity, just indoctrination. Anyone with an IQ higher than Forest Gump could see that if they actually THOUGHT about it objectively, using logic and reason instead of blindly accepting what you've been told to believe.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • God eats little children

      Is this Dawkins rehashing his book again?

      April 29, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  13. JonJon

    Why are these people not in psychiatric wards?

    April 29, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • God eats little children

      Too full already! They are using the gym to house religious people even now!

      April 29, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  14. lolzz

    What would the church of Bill Maher say to this? Bill? Are you out there? 😀

    April 29, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Alex

      He would say that anyone who thinks they're hearing the voice of god should be put into a mental hospital.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • God eats little children

      I'm listening!

      April 29, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • edwardo

      We don't have a "church", no more than an anarchy has a "white house". I work in a mental facility. If someone hears voices, by law, they are "Baker Acted", and they are committed for a minimum of 48 hours.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  15. Susan Tetewsky

    Who cares what God sounds like. My God has a bigger Schwanstuker than your god!

    April 29, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • God eats little children

      Is the voice in your head telling you that?

      April 29, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      my god can condemn your god.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  16. Arthur Paliden

    What is really needed is Christianity without Religion

    April 29, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • God eats little children

      Or religion without Christianity!

      April 29, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  17. God eats little children

    OK, so the writer wants to be a comedian. Not quite funny yet, but can't blame her for trying!

    April 29, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  18. kso

    "I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."

    April 29, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  19. The tooth fairy


    Maybe if you took a couple of science courses you might become a little more enlightened than you are now.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  20. Tim

    The fact that a news outlet is openly allowing people to explain that its normal to hear voices in your head, and justify it by saying that the voice is 'God' is incredibly disheartening. CNN is entertainment, nothing else. Certainly not a credible news source, and is quickly becoming the next 'FOX.'

    April 29, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • lolzz

      Romney is funding this article. He's a big nutjob too.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:50 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.