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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. Conartist

    Ask the mothers who drown their babies by God's order how he sounded to them. I bet insane.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:42 am |
    • WWJD

      They are obeying the devil, not God.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:47 am |
    • I Believe everything I am told

      WWJD=SATAN or WWJD=atheist
      As an agnostic, I am on the fence with this one.

      April 29, 2012 at 5:13 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      WWJD: Wrong, Andrea Yates specifically stated she heard god and was diagnosed with religious psychosis.

      April 29, 2012 at 5:45 am |
    • Uncle Bob

      WWJD – how do YOU determine whether it's god or the devil talking to YOU?

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

      You must be referring to the CNN's new fight on church based on the this sick woman request to attend church. Do you really think a monther will drown her 7 children if she was sane? This woman had serious psychiatric problem which was getting treated for many years. This does not make all followers of Jesus crazy lunatics. If this woman is treated and in conrol do you think she should n't be attanding a church service which possibly can heal her broken spirit? I see clearly how the Athiest Morality will be working if allowed to be the moral code of the country. That will be only couple of steps from Hitler or Stalin's moral code.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • rochdoc

      Question about how to check if the voice is devil or God's. First of all, God does not "talk" to you just like that. Of it happens, it happens to people who pray a lot, or who give God priority in their lives. Any new revelation should be verified with scripture so you can see if it is false revelation. Of course God does not cast a shadow on you. Godly persons are calmer and wise. The revelations to Godly persons does not happen such a way that it keeps on pestering them like "do this, jump from the building" etc, there are no commands repeated 15 times a day, distressing the person. God's revelations are comforting.
      A good psychiatrist can see if a person has psychosis or mania. Devil really does not "talk" to you, at all. Still a lot of times, when you are far away from God's presence, your mind can go through a rough patch where you can see yourself going through a very dark place. You would want to run away from anything good and Godly, just like a lot of these atheist bloggers are doing.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • The voice of your dog

      It's not "what" the voices tell you to do that means you are crazy. The fact that you believe there are voices is sufficient.

      Voices tell you to hurt people: crazy
      Voices tell you to pay your bills and get some exercise: crazy

      April 29, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  2. Kevin

    When you talk to God, it's called prayer.
    When God talks to you.. you're nuts.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:40 am |
    • satch

      Actually nuts applies in either case.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:12 am |
  3. WWJD

    Few 100% true Reasons why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things:

    † Atheism is a religion that makes you stupid, ignorant & blind.
    † Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
    † Atheism makes you post stupid things (90% of silly comments here on CNN blogs are posted by closet Atheists)
    † Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
    † Atheists causes problem in our religious society.
    † Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
    † Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
    † Atheism making you agree with Stalin, Hitler (Denied his faith later), Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders.
    † No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
    † Atheists are angry, drug additcted and committ the most crime.
    † Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
    † Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
    † Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
    † Most Atheists are uneducated... No Atheists could run for presidency.
    † Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
    † Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
    † All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
    † The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
    † Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate & Communist countries = Atheism!
    **Only 2-3% of the U.S. are Atheists/Agnostics VS. over 90% who believe in God (80% Christians) in the U.S.**

    † † Our Prayers goes to Atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator † †

    ATHEISTS WILL BURN IN HELLFIRE AND BRIMSTONE WHERE THEY BELONG AND I THANK GOD FOR THIS

    April 29, 2012 at 4:37 am |
    • Amanda

      SPAM

      April 29, 2012 at 4:40 am |
    • Conartist

      This has NOT been a public service announcement.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:42 am |
    • WWJD

      Atheism is deviant behavior.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:45 am |
    • kwb

      this was one of the most uninformed, biased, and saddest responses to an article i've ever read. nothing which you've outlined as an argument supports your premise that you're about to disclose "truth" and "fact" about why atheism is bad.

      i'm a roman catholic – and i believe that the world today is dominated by secular and religious problems dominating an otherwise civilized world. if you're from the US like i am, please move far, far away so those who believe in the first amendment and support all people the freedom to believe and live as they choose so we can focus on real issues like the economy, education, and ending oppression/slavery throughout the world.

      What Would Jesus Do? forgive you for being a sad, uninformed idiot, i presume.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:53 am |
    • I Believe everything I am told

      >>ATHEISTS WILL BURN IN HELLFIRE AND BRIMSTONE WHERE THEY BELONG AND I THANK GOD FOR THIS<<

      it appears WWJD is claiming to be GOD, or knows exactly what GOD is going to do in the future and delights in misery of others.

      WWJD tell me: if GOD decides with the infinite power wand, to turn atheists at the last possible moment in time into Christians, and you do not get to see them burn forever in your greatest place of suffering, and instead they get a front seat at the table, how bitter and betrayed are you going to be? enough to switch sides and go in league with SATAN and his minions, who loves to see others suffer? change your name from WWJD to WWSD? try some anger management classes.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:57 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      koo-koo!

      April 29, 2012 at 5:23 am |
    • Ken

      Atheist suck end of story

      April 29, 2012 at 6:02 am |
    • Russ

      Uhhh... Either your just trolling or your a complete idiot. I hope your just trolling...

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

      Changed my mind, this is the stupidest thing I have heard in a long time.

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

      You need help...wait it's Sunday, what are you doing posting on CNN? Shouldn't you be out giving you money to a con artist? Or supporting child abusers?

      April 29, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Reason & Logic

      Have you been transported from the 15th century to today's world? You are so unChrist-like.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • P Ness

      http://img.chan4chan.com/img/2010-03-05/1267827109874.jpg

      April 29, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • husker

      So much for being non judgemental.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • BettieBellacosa

      Many(not a few)100% true reasons why the above post is devoid of logic, reason, or tolerance:

      1. RED HERRING
      2. RED HERRING
      3. RED HERRING
      4. RED HERRING
      5. AD HOMENIM
      6. AD HOMENIM
      7. AD HOMENIM
      8. BANDWAGON
      9. BANDWAGON

      If there is a hell, I will see you there.

      (Disclaimer: Logical fallacies above are not listed by the type of fallacy committed in the same points enumerated by WWJD, but rather the sum total of but a few relied upon in WWJD's original post)

      April 29, 2012 at 10:06 am |
    • lolzz2

      WWJD, naw what your mom does is deviant behaviour. Say hi to her for me.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • capitalist

      Uh, atheists by definition don't believe in heaven, hell, or your imaginary friend. Also, who would want to belong to a cult/religiion that demeans people that base their "non'beliefs" on science and proven facts? I suggest you pray/have a seance with your imaginary friend/zombie to reconcile this issue.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • rochdoc

      add hateful also.
      and poor judgement –

      April 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • therealtdog

      Athiesm is actually NOT a religion... it's a lack of one.

      April 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  4. some1somewhere

    Whoever put that link "Study: Analytic thinking can decrease religious belief" at the bottom really had a sense of humor. Nice one...

    April 29, 2012 at 4:30 am |
  5. Amanda

    Look, I'm agnostic so I usually stick to a live and let live kind of thinking. You can believe whatever it takes to get you through the day and I won't get upset. Tolerance is a wonderful thing, but if you ever again tell people that Yoda is from Star Trek, I will go friggin' Pope Stephen VI on you. (J/k of course – but seriously...)

    April 29, 2012 at 4:29 am |
    • MT

      lol

      April 29, 2012 at 4:32 am |
    • CS

      You must be one of those cosplay cunts. Do you dress like an elf on the weekends? I hate fat chicks that think they look hot in elf ears or when they try to dress up like that star wars trick princess laya or whatever her name is.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:44 am |
    • Amanda

      Aww look at you trying to be all big and bad. Did spelling that dirty word out make you all hot and bothered. Don't worry, once you grow out of those awkward teenage years you'll make some buddies. It's the hormones that causes that awful petulance.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:49 am |
    • CS

      Once you lose some weight and get a few hundred hours worth of plastic surgery then you start wearing pretty clothes.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:52 am |
    • Amanda

      Really? That's really the best trolling you can do? It's a religion article! This is the easy stuff! Go read "Trolling for Dummies" and report back with some better material. I expect at lease 500 words – double spaced. Chop, Chop!

      April 29, 2012 at 4:56 am |
    • CS

      Sure thing, chunk.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:57 am |
    • Steve

      Amanda, LOL! Well played on all of your posts. It appears the other poster has a serious self-esteem issue.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  6. lastofall

    Actually God said, "What is this that thou hast done"? but as Eve did, so you also have modified what God actually said, even if ever so slightly. As for hearing His voice, we may hear His still small voice, when we are not distracted from all the noise of this world.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:28 am |
    • Bruce

      No it's actually the voice inside your head..you only think there is really a GOD. News flash? Man made up the GOD thing to feel better and to control weak minded people. When you die......YOU DIE/ end of story...end of movie...

      April 29, 2012 at 4:32 am |
    • Dani3l

      You have modified it as well. The book we know as Genesis is a Jewish scripture, written in Hebrew, in which God says, "מה-רזאת עשית ותאמר".

      In translating between languages, one can only try one's best to capture the sense of the passage. There is no single correct translation.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:43 am |
    • Ken

      Ignore Bruce he is a stupid fool

      April 29, 2012 at 6:04 am |
    • lolzz

      Translation: "Blah blah blah blah blah blah." ™

      April 29, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • edwardo

      God asked "what is this thou hast done'? He didn't know? He had to look for them in the garden because he didn't know where they were. He called out to them "Where art thou'? For an omniscient being, he sure gets confused sometimes.

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

      Does God really say "thou" and "hast?"

      April 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
  7. MT

    A fine example of egomaniacal delirium. What privilege these people, who converse with a God who answers, allow themselves. It is one thing to want to listen to the radio, a wholly other, when the radio turns itself on when the house has no electricity.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:28 am |
  8. Logic

    I'm pretty sure auditory hallucinations are grounds for being committed. This is really on the front page?

    April 29, 2012 at 4:28 am |
    • lolzz

      Remember, one of these nutjobs – who wears magical underwear – is running for president.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  9. Abrrey

    So if I created a sentient form of life that required millions of years to come about I would require no loyalty. That makes me more humble than the christian god, wasn't hard to do. I just wish more would use their heads and may we all live in peace. ( I guess this isn't reality though...)

    April 29, 2012 at 4:27 am |
    • Bruce

      I wish more people would understand this. They never will.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:29 am |
    • WWJD

      You are not God so you can not speak for Hi or His reasoning which is above yours

      April 29, 2012 at 4:30 am |
    • Abrret

      My point is not to say I am a god, or god. My point is to say if I somehow possessed the knowledge to create a sentient form of life I would not lord over it. Ha pun intended. but seriously how small a person would a being have to be to create sentient life and make other sentient life fight itself. Besides don't you think a smart god would at least arrange our eye tissues better than that of the octopus'? If the chance of life coming about spontaneously is in the trillions how likely is it that something else spontaneously came into being before that was all knowing? still in the trillions. My point is that we might as well all be introspective and do our best to help each other. If you get past racism, political affiliation, and class, we all have the same interests. That is most of us are poor have been born to crap and will remain crap if we don't fight so... Let's fight. Even if it is just for fun! I as a sentient (for I feel that I think and therefore I am) being feel that I am allowed what I feel is happiness. this is transient and fleeting but Worth it... Happiness!!!!!

      April 29, 2012 at 4:40 am |
    • WWJD

      It does not matter since you are not Him. You can not say what you would do or would not do because that is against His will. His will is HIS alone and not for you to decide. If you do not like it then you can take it up with HIM at your judgement.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:49 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      WWJD: You're not said god either but yet you claim to have divine knowledge. You really are delusional and need some good anti-psychotic meds for those delusions you're suffering from little one!

      April 29, 2012 at 5:47 am |
    • lolzz

      WWJD, see a psych. Seriously.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  10. CS

    First the religious nuts said the earth was flat and wanted those inprisoned who said otherwise.
    The nuts were proved wrong.

    Then the religious nuts said the earth was the center of all things and wanted to inprison Galileo and Newton.
    The nuts were proved wrong, the sun is the center of ONE tiny solar system.

    Then the nuts called scientists heretics for proclaiming there were dinosaurs.
    They were proved wrong again.

    Then the nuts wanted to inprison Darwin.
    They are soon to be proved wrong again...even Pope John Paul realized this when he said evolution was a viable theory.

    So NUTS...when the next new discovery threatens your closed rigid minds...will you finally open your minds?

    April 29, 2012 at 4:25 am |
    • Bruce

      LIKE

      April 29, 2012 at 4:26 am |
    • WWJD

      God created science.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:26 am |
    • Edward Simms

      Don't expect it. Reason is beyond the nuts.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:27 am |
    • Amanda

      See? I actually LIKE this, I knew you could do better.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:58 am |
    • Matt

      The prophet Isaiah described the earth as round. Don't blame him for the dark ages.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
  11. John in Vegas

    Hey Karen, does God do a good Elvis impersonation? We could use a new act down here!

    April 29, 2012 at 4:23 am |
  12. Bruce

    This is total illusion and mind control as all organized religion is. Trust me, if GOD really wanted to talk to YOU he would be heard LOUD and CLEAR. He would not let anyone else talk for him. However GOD is something man made up to comfort him therefore, there is no need to worry what GOD is saying. There really is NO GOD>

    April 29, 2012 at 4:23 am |
  13. Jack

    She's either late on April 1 or *really* early.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:21 am |
  14. Bootyfunk

    when i read the bible, the Emperor from Star Wars seems to fit God's voice perfectly.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:21 am |
    • mbjrp36

      Something something something sin something something something salvation.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:27 am |
  15. mbjrp36

    If Spock is god, sign me up.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:21 am |
  16. Don'tBelieveTheLiesOfReligion

    Only the veneer of familiarity makes religious behavior any different from insane behavior.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:19 am |
  17. GH

    Sounds a lot like schizophrenia to me, but then again, isn't the credibility of every religion based on some "blessed" individual hearing divine voices and scribbling it down?

    We would be mining Mars and perfecting faster-than-light travel at this point if only Haldol were available at ye' old apothecary in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:18 am |
  18. Andy

    Schizophrenia is treatable nowadays. Please seek help if you're hearing any voices.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:17 am |
  19. allenwoll

    What a malignant ego these "audio-folk" have !

    April 29, 2012 at 4:16 am |
  20. Bootyfunk

    "what does God sound like?"

    what does santa claus sound like? or the easter bunny? or the tooth fairy? people that truly "hear" God in their heads are insane, confused, liars or a combination of the three. what you're "hearing" is your imagination. grow up.

    you are in a cult. it is called christianity. you don't have to stay in the cult. you can think for yourself. try it. you'll find it a liberating experience.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:14 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.