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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. piuslung

    When you speak to God, you're a religious idiot. When God speaks to you, you're schizophrenic.

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

      Bingo.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      April 29, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  2. This is how

    Satan is the coolest character in the bible. christians always bad mouth him, yet this guy never had a chance to say his side of the story. Christians are such vengeful people, unfair and dishonest at best.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:28 am |
  3. BuleriaChk

    god speaks to me, but his accent is so bad I can't understand a word he says.......:-)

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

      Maybe he's calling from India...

      April 29, 2012 at 10:46 am |
  4. Bobby

    Did CNN seriously make this the most prominent "story" on the front page? Hey, if I write an essay on the existence of the Easter Bunny, will you publish it?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  5. stjdsj

    “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.” (2Timothy 3:1-5, written by Paul to Timothy, A.D. 64)

    April 29, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Bob

      That's worthless, STD. Anyone can predict bad times, and be sure that they will happen at some point in the future (again and again). If you want any cred for your sky fairy story, give specific dates with your predictions and proof (or just piss off).

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      April 29, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • LarryB

      If that statement is to be held as "gospel' then the "last days" have lasted almost since the beginning of man. Human behavior and desires haven't change much in thousands of years. It is amazing to me how people will quote the bible as some sort of truthful, holy and unwavering text. It is a dark fantasy written and sanitized a long time ago by middle eastern fanatics. It is NOT the word of God. To our knowledge, God has never written anything. Nor does he speak to people and sound like James Jones, Morgan Freeman or Jerry Lewis. If God exists, he wants the afterlife to be a complete surprise. Faith is simply what you cling to when you don't get the answers you want to hear.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • hmm

      Hey, why not write your OWN words rather than just quoting some old book?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  6. god dont throw dice

    As a person consumed with facts and logic, it's absolutely embarrassing that this article was not only posted, but was center of CNN's homepage. This causes me to lose a great deal of respect for CNN as a news source.

    If this lady had said that she was communicating with her dead father, she would be escorted to the nearest physiologist for evaluation. But since she's hearing mysterious voices under the pretense that it is God, she is allowed to write an article about her personal experiences for (what used to be) a credible news source.

    Personal experience, in my opinion, is a faulty judge of truth. There is no scale that can be set that adequately measures human experience. For example, Einstein's general relativity makes predictions about gravity. Are they absolutely, 100% true? No one really knows. But what can't be argued is that it is a strikingly accurate judge of how objects in space interact. Anyone with knowledge of the theory can use it themselves and see if the results correspond with what is experimentally found (i.e. it can be tested over and over by various people).

    This article makes claims about truth, but since its a first person narrative, it can't be taken for anything more than a story (and a rather poorly constructed one at that). People need to realize that the mere utterance of a phrase does NOT automatically make it so. Words can be beautiful, but they can also be very misleading.

    This country needs to understand that just because something was written a long time ago (*cough*cough* the bible), it isn't automatically true. Think for yourself. Watch debates about this stuff. And please read Darwin's "origin of the species" before you dismiss evolution.

    Peace

    April 29, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  7. HONESTLY!

    God doesn't "speak" to anyone. He gave us commonsense, and imparted a natural way for us to follow his direction. The bible is the word of man, voted on by a panel of politicians as to what to omit, and what not to omit.
    HOW DOES GOD COMMUNICATE TO US?
    EXAMPLE:
    If you do something, and it causes "pain" to yourself or others, god has already communicated his stance to you by making you feel "pain". Therefore letting you know in a very real way, that what you did is wrong! Its that easy folks, put down your bible, and use your head!!

    April 29, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      Why do you need a god to have common sense?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • tkessler45

      To the religious person, "God" is them, their thoughts, and their beliefs. The problem is when they can't see this for what it is. To an extent it is a schizophrenic mentality.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • piuslung

      You're obviously not using your head if you think God is communicating to us through pain. Does God communicate to us through pleasure as well? If so, then if a person feels pleasure by killing another or by blowing up a building with many people inside, does that mean God approves of it? According to your logic, it would. No, my confused friend, you've still got a long way to go. Peace.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  8. bencoates57

    Author doesn't look like she has two brain cells to rub together. And CNN tapped her to talk to me about matters of my soul?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Bob

      You apparently listened to her.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  9. budshot

    ...and Santa Clause sounds like? That voice in your head is your own wishful delusions. We are such a primitive society, for so many to still believe in this nonsense.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  10. Surfeit

    The point made around 4:00 in this video comes to mind whenever people talk of speaking with God: http://youtu.be/-j8ZMMuu7MU

    April 29, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • tkessler45

      Good video!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  11. Jules

    I called my dad one day in the late summer of 2010 and he told me that he thought he was going to die within the next year. Since my dad was pretty strong for a man of 89 years who always said he wanted to live to 104, I was suprised. I asked him why he said that and he said that he had a dream that he was with God. He said that God told him he had to truly forgive his youngest brother who always got him into trouble when he was a teenager. Dad said that God told him his brother had been dead for 30 years so it was time to let it go. My dad said he was walking with God in this large room and God asked him if he liked being with him and my dad responded that it was really great and he loved it. God told my dad that this is what it will be like when I come to take you home. I asked my dad if he saw God and in trypical Minnestoa fashion he said, "you betcha." I asked what God looked like and dad said he looked a lot like my grandpa Mickey, my mother's dad. Dad said he always loved his father-in-law so he felt very comfortable with God. (My theory was that God took a form my dad was really comfortable with.) Months later my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer and came through the surgery with flying colors. The day he was to go home his intestine ruptured so another emergency surgery was done. This time he came out of it bedridden and with two bags. I was sitting with him a couple days after that surgery when he cried out, "mercy, mercy, mercy, Jesus, get me out of this bed or take me home." The next day one of his intestines died and he refused a third operation saying that he was ready to go home. He was alert to within the last few hours and pain free. My brother asked him if he would like him to give him a shave so he would look good for Jesus. My dad nodded and proceeded to move his face so my brother could get into all the nooks and crannies of a soon to be 90 year old man. My dad died in such faith and was a living testimony to all who came in contact with him over his 17 days in the hospital. It was an awesome experience for us his children. We will never doubt and will be ready to go home when the time comes. God looks and sounds like someone who is comforting to us.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Dave

      If your "god" gave a damn, why did he torture your father that way in the first place?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • edwardo

      Comforting? What about AIDS patients? Starving babies? Where's their comfort. Your father was a very old man, and his death was quite normal. Sad, but normal. And I'm sorry for your loss. But, the Xtian god comforts nobody, he could care less.

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

      "I asked what God looked like and dad said he looked a lot like my grandpa Mickey, my mother's dad. "

      Um. Then wouldn't the most logical leap be to say that it was actually your grandpa Mickey, and NOT god?! Why assume it's god?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  12. Cristina Adams

    Of all the voices she hears as belonging to God, the only female one is "momma?" That's pathetic. What about Meryl Streep? Or Lesley Stahl? Or Alfre Woodard? Or Cokie Roberts? Or Leontyne Price? If you're actually going to give "God" a voice and a gender, why does it always have to be male by default? Seems to me Ms. Zacharias is just part of the herd that follows the dictates of a patriarchal society.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  13. Question ..

    .. believing followers out there, you do know that CNN is making fun of you, right?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  14. Lawrence Thompson

    I don' think God needs Hollywood be express Himself, just pure hearts on the receiving end.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Circular logic

      and if you don't hear God then you don't have a "pure" heart ... how convenient.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  15. Chikkipop

    There have been many silly articles in this section, but this one has to be the silliest.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  16. Eric

    I do believe God talks to people, but whoever is talking to you is not God. You cannot make God mad or disappointed in you – as you state in your article. God loves you and cares about you and nothing you can do will ever change this because your sins are forgiven through Christ.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • turn it off

      Eric,
      You seem to know a lot about what god thinks. Do you have a bat-phone connection directly to him/her/it?

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

      Of course god loves you, just not the hundreds of millions of starving and poor people across the globe.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Rick

      eric: what makes you think that man is "sinful" being?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  17. tesla1908

    Doesn't it say somewhere in the Bible that if you hear God's voice in your head to say "Go away, demon" because it isn't God's voice? Crazy people out there.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  18. K. Green

    I find it comical how many atheists take the time to post (angrily I might add) how there is no god. Do you think that if you say it enough it will be true? LOL

    April 29, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Colin in Florida

      And I assume that because you say it enough that there is a god?

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

      K. Green: As opposed to the Christians posting on and on about how there IS a god?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Bobby

      At least atheists have logical arguments to back it up. You nutjobs simply get defensive and make up magical excuses because you don't want to admit that you've wasted your lives on fairy tales.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Chikkipop

      Let's see; a significant part of our community thinks they hear voices from magical beings, and we're supposed to passively accept it?

      Sorry, but we'll continue to say what we think of adults who should know better believing comforting stories like children.

      "Angrily, I might add!"

      April 29, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • n8263

      I see very few angry posts from atheists.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • hmm

      K. Green...yet somehow you know the "truth", right?
      No-one KNOWS anything.
      I'm not getting an "angry" vibe from these posts, either...just a condescending one from you.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  19. Pelegrim

    Ridiculous stuff. Grow up, people!

    April 29, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  20. norb

    Scripture tells us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. It also tells us that the way that seems right to a man ends in death. The voices in our head are often (usually) the voice of the evil one trying to sound good. Look at the author of this article to see where she is coming from. She endorses Thomas Merton who introduced Hindu like meditation into (supposedly) Christian prayer. Stick to the scriptures!!!

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

      What a load of shi#

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

      Clinical case of mental decease.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Colin in Florida

      Absolutely, stick to those scriptures-100%. Speaking of that, my daughter will soon turn 18. Exodus 21:7 says that I may sell her as a slave, for life. What's a fair asking price these days?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Raoul Duke, Jr.

      Stick to the scriptures, eh? Do you have any children Norb? Were they or have they ever been disrepectful to you? If so, have you killed them? If not, you are a sinner, because god told you to kill them and you didn't. Don't believe me? Read your scripture...and stick to it.

      Leviticus 20:9

      For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.

      Oh, but that's the old testament you say. Well, let me ask you this: Have you ever prayed in public? If yes, again you are a sinner. Why, because your lord told you how to pray. Remember Matthew 6:6
      But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
      It is jesus who supposedly said this. If you disobey this, you are sinning. So stick to the scripture, Norb. There are many examples of scripture that people choose to ignore. Ever eaten any shrimp or lobster Norb? Sin. Ever worked on the Sabbath (which, by the way, is Saturday, not Sunday under the scriptures). If so, sin. See what I mean? If not, then you are one of many who chant "scripture" "do what the bible says" etc., etc., and pick and choose only those parts which conveniently fit in their lifestyle or way of thinking. It's called hypocrisy.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • hmm

      Memo: Satan isn't real. It's called mental illness and we stopped thinking mentally ill people were possessed 100's of years ago.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • hmm

      Oh noes! Not "hindu like meditation"!!! Who will think of the children???

      April 29, 2012 at 10:53 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.