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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. geno

    When God speaks to me , She sounds like Pearl Bailey.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  2. jimmy

    Judging by her picture I'd say the author is related to Marshal Applewhite

    April 29, 2012 at 10:18 am |
  3. geno

    When God speaks to me, She sounds like Pearl Bailey.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  4. Dan

    He would probably sound like the men that wrote the fairy tale in the first place.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  5. joe

    Karen,

    God speaks to you? The creator of a billion galaxies? All powerful and all knowledgeable? Has he told you how to cure cancer so millions of children can stop suffering? Ha he told you why he randomly killed those 120,000 people in that tsunami a couple of years ago? Has he given you the formula for renewable clean energy so humans can stop warring over oil? Has he told you when he's going to set the Muslims straight on their false Allah God?

    You're article is offensive. You are probably not very intelligent and most likely suffer from a mental disorder.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • puckles

      U R really stupid. It is MEN who are causing all the problems on the earth, NOT God. If people are stupid enough to live in an earthquake zone, right next to the ocean, then they get what they deserve when nature takes its course. If men were not pumping chemicals into the air, making chemical food and poisoning the drinking water there would be no more cancers. You, Sir, are a fool.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • hmm

      Puckles...they get what they deserve? Wow, I hope you don't call yourself a Christian.
      And you totally missed the point of the OP's post: the author is most likely mentally ILL if she hears voices. If she *is* talking to god, why doesn't he give her some useful info?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  6. Mike

    I am a devout Christian, but wish there were more substantial pieces here in the belief section. This opens us up to the usual ridicule from those who expect us to have juvenile thought processes (God speaking like Yoda? Are you schizoid?) As a physician, I have been involved in cases that would be truely spiritually edifying. As a man of science, I can honestly say that there is more to this life than what can be perceived with the 5 senses. Unfortunately, articles like this actually undermine our faith.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • joe

      Sure you are a physician–maybe a chiropractor or a dentist.

      No medical physician is a devout Christian. Medical physicians are men of science. Devout Christians are anti-science by definition.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Mike

      A cardiologist. The more you know, the more humble you become.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Charles

      Agree!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Notanapologist

      A devout Christian? How can you read the bible and not be offended? That "god" you read of is a horrible, murderer, brutal, capricious Dear Leader who demands mind-numbing servitude. So does North Korea. Even a casual read of the bible reveals huge gaps in reality and logic that even the slowest of minds can see through.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • a reasonable athiest

      There's obviously more to this life than what we can perceive with our limited senses. As another man of science, I have seen first-hand how we can pull back the veil through the use of technology to see beyond our senses in some areas (modern imaging technologies such as SEM). It seems to me that it is just a matter of time (assuming we don't destroy ourselves first) before we figure out how to remove the veil completely.

      I think our opinions differ on what is currently still behind the veil. I'm comfortable with just acknowledging that I do not know and hoping that my colleagues and our descendants will figure it out someday.

      As a professed man of science, you must rely upon verifiable evidence to come to an informed opinion. What evidence do you have of the existence of a god? If your evidence is simply that we cannot understand/properly perceive, it seems to me that you are taking a big leap.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • Mike

      Dear Notan...
      You have clearly made your decision. That's fine. More hateful atheists than you have done 180's on their deathbeds. I hope that you fine enlightenment someday.
      Mike

      April 29, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • hmm

      Someone is "hateful" b/c he or she doesn't believe in god?
      People who repent on their deathbeds are suckers.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • hmm

      And people who believe they are "enlightened" b/c they think that have the "truth" are obnoxious, regardless of which faith they folllow.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  7. Question ..

    .. how do I know which voice is God's and then which God?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  8. Yo

    I think God sounds like Snoop Dogg.

    "Put your monizzle into the offering platizzle because the high priestizzle needs a new carizzle.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  9. Godfrey

    To me, God's voice sounds like the screams of terror and agony of all the victims of religious zealotry over the past 25 centuries.

    Humanity: let's wake up from the nightmare of religion, shall we?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • edwardo

      applause ! applause!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  10. Darth Cheney

    Speaking as an agnostic – if there is a God that "speaks", I'd wager the languages are math and music.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  11. bencoates57

    CNN puts this stuff up here not because it thinks its worthy but because it's wants ti belittle spirituality. Only 5 year olds concern themselves with God's voice

    April 29, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Godfrey

      I agree with you about CNN. It's one of the few good things about the network.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  12. Zeta Reticulan

    To humans, Gods sound like Yoda since they were ancient aliens.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  13. Da Fuji

    If you are hearing voices in your head you should be committed to an insane asylum. What a bunch of whack jobs. Didn't Bush literally hear Gods voice too? Monkey's I tell ya, MONKEYS!!!!

    April 29, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  14. Luz

    If God spoke to us, in whatever way God could speak to us – would anyone bother to listen?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      Probably so, IF and ONLY IF the voice was obviously coming from something that could not possibly be manipulated by any man (whereas all religions are made up by and transmitted to the masses by an opportunistic man or cabal of men and are therefore automatically suspect and obviously CRAP),

      April 29, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • AGuest9

      I would have thought that "I AM OZ!" would have taught you a thing or two about gods "talking" to you.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  15. Chuck

    Hearing what you want to hear inside your own head? Good for her. Now if the voice told her anything relevant that she couldn't possibly already know like, how to cure the common cold or, where the Lost Dutchman Mine is, I might believe she's got more than just a vivid imagination.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  16. Doctor

    God speaks to me in Dolby Surround 5.1, it's really nice with the Audyssey system and dynamic equalization.
    But what's really priceless is the Pause button.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  17. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Are you sure "god" doesn't really sound like Flavah-Flav? Or maybe Steve Erkel? Mortimer Snerd? W. C. Fields?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  18. Notanapologist

    CNN, through these "faith" articles, is doing us all a favour. It shows us just how laughably unhinged in their thinking these religious types are, and how sane atheists are. Thank you CNN for yet another clear example. The sad part is that these foolish people try to impress this nonsense on their children.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • FoodForThought

      Well said!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • AGuest9

      Absolutely.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  19. vinobianco

    I believe this woman has schizophrenia

    April 29, 2012 at 10:12 am |
  20. lolzz

    When are religious nutjobs of all races going to drink the magic kool-aid so the rest of the civilized world can live their lives in peace?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • Dan

      Not soon enough.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Chuck

      Amen, I mean right on!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Godfrey

      That's an idiotic statement. Many people I love are religious, so please feel free to go fu ck yourself.

      People are wired to believe this stuff. It's in our DNA. The answer is education.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • lolzz2

      It's not in our DNA, du mb a ss, people were programmed this way – as children. Brainwashed until they've become mentally ill.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:23 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.