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. Joshua

    It's called a conscience you morons.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  2. ED

    There you go again CNN you riled up all those "know it all" atheists again.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • This is how

      Please refrain from calling people atheists.. We are called Realist. From this point forward, please correct yourself.

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

      ED: As opposed to the pompous Christians?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  3. bencoates57

    Karen Spears Zacharias, you are an [INSERT PEJORATIVE TERM HERE]. Get off CNN's main page with this crrapp.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:03 am |

    With a blast of my mighty nostrils I blow you away into space!.....!!!!

    April 29, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Wholly Mary

      Little snot!

      April 29, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  5. turn it off

    Sunday Morning... There aren't too many religious nuts on the blog now. They will come out after church.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  6. extinct_republican_party

    cnn why dont you offer some true spiritual stories. Like how people have changed and help their fellow man. Spirituality and such values are beyond any one religion
    Why does the US always foster such religious extremism-fundamentalism like this story ? God talking to select people using a mans voice and displaying human emotions ....insane

    April 29, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  7. Mel

    I have never heard God actualy speak to me in an auditory way, but I have allowed him to lead my life and thus know his presence is always near. To make my will Gods own, is not an easy task as I tend to like to be in control, however wittnessing Gods will in my life and others is an amazing thing to watch. Gods voice to me, is his word and the wittnessing of his presence in others lives, the fruit of their work.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • edwardo

      You do realize that you think your surrounded by magical, invisible beings... right? Think Mel... think! Free yourself of this mental dialogue that is nonsense.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • edwardo

      You do realize that you think your surrounded by magical, invisible beings... right? Free yourself of this mental dialogue that is nonsense.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:04 am |
    • turn it off

      If God doesn't talk to you, how does he "lead your life".
      Maybe I shouldn't have asked. I'm a little concerned what your answer might be.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  8. RonFromNM

    Religion is a mental illness.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:01 am |
  9. Herman

    Well, God will someday sound like the Pistols or Billy Joel or the Dead Kennedy's , mom, dad, a wrong call as our communications technology finds its way as a head implant. Then we'll see some great hman behavior and I could become god speaking to you so only you can hear. Hmmm...if God could do anything, how do we know he hasn't alreday come up with that technology and impanted it in us before birth? Hmmmmm......:)

    April 29, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  10. Mah Buu Beh

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

    April 29, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  11. ReligionIs4Dolts

    What does it sound like when "god" farts?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • jamesT297

      Hang out for awhile with Jimmy Carter if you want to know the answer.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  12. turn it off

    This woman is bonkers.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  13. GIUK

    God's voice is all around us. We only need to listen. He speaks through a child asking for food. An old person asking for love. In great works of music, and art. God's voice is in flatulence, that sound a cat makes hacking up a hair-ball. The dull thud of a V-8 engine with a bad connecting rod. The Psst of a bottle of beer being opened. God's voice is love.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:59 am |
  14. This is how

    I won't let my kids play with christian or muslim kids. They are bad influence.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • joel palmer

      If this woman is convinced she hears god, she is a schizophrenic and needs help and medication. WHY CNN puts this garbage up is beyond me. This is pure unadulterated swill from a nut case woman with serious problems

      April 29, 2012 at 10:02 am |
  15. Steve

    Sorry, but the existence of god isn't likely. No evidence has ever been found. There is no good reason to trust the bible.
    Live for this life instead of a fairy tale written by smelly fishermen centuries ago.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:59 am |
    • OhMyDog

      We Romans are rich. We've got a lot of gods. We've got a god for everything. The only thing we don't have a god for is premature ejaculation... but I hear that's coming quickly.
      – Comicus (played by Mel Brooks) from History of the World part 1

      April 29, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  16. Not important

    My God sounds like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the only thing he ever says to me is "Get to the chopper!"

    April 29, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Billy Bob

      God sounds exactly like Marcel Marceau, only slightly quieter.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  17. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Why does "god" have to use a voice that is already familiar to you? That seriously cheapens the whole story that Mr. Omnipotent couldn't come up with an original voice.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • This is how

      I think god barks to all of us. Every night I hear god outside, making it difficult to fall asleep.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  18. jamesT297

    You are all wrong. God sounds like Charlton Heston. Or, maybe Charlton Heston is god? Whatever!

    April 29, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  19. Steve

    First thing that came to mind when reading this was a You Tube video. It's called "Brain Washing ( Jesus Camp "Highlights" ) and it's pretty much child abuse in a nutshell. This woman needs serious help if she believes she communicates with any type of god. And must also realize that there were thousands of religions before hers and I'm certain that those people also believed that they could communicate with their gods as well.

    April 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  20. harinder

    Oh, she forgot to mention that he speaks spamish, chineese, hindi, swahili etc. – you hear what you want to hear

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


      April 29, 2012 at 10:04 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.