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. Jon

    Otherwise normal people admitting they hear voices....hmmm.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  2. Karen

    If god had the voice of Morgan Freeman that would be a god I could get behind, but alas, nothing but silence my entire life.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  3. qqqqqjim

    This woman has some serious mental issues. She truly needs professional help.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  4. Innapropriate

    God sounds and acts like Helen Keller .. blind to human suffering and deaf to pleas for help.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • God eats little children

      Don't bother the big guy with some trivial human plight – they think he talks to them!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  5. tony

    Republican Conservatives in Congress of course. Make more babies, take away their health care and let only the Rich govern them.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  6. What are you doing CNN

    Um, if this woman literally 'hears the voice of God' she needs to be examined for schitzophrenia. Cute article and all but this is a serious medical condition that she's claiming to have symptoms of.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • God eats little children

      What you gonna do? Lock up all the religious people? I'm all for it!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Ancient Curse

      Exactly! The article begins with the mention of an author who says she's never heard the voice of God, only hearing it through the written word. And then the author follows with "I hear the voice of God all the time."

      Hey! That's not supposed to happen! You've got a serious problem here! If you start taking a pill, and stop hearing the "voice of God," then you'll know for sure. Otherwise, be careful that the voice you hear starts telling you to do harm to your children. It's happened.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  7. God eats little children

    I wonder if the Aztec's listened to their god before they ate their prisoners? Don't the Catholics still eat the blood and flesh of Jesus?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • God eats little children

      The Aztec needed the protein, but the Catholics are fat!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:34 am |
  8. TAK

    People that hear voices should get locked away.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  9. sqeptiq

    Talk about trivializing the momentous, this article is the paradigm.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • jamesT297

      This article is a pair of something. Not sure it's digms though.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  10. tony

    According to the Bible, Genesis 1.14, you'll get signs from lights in the Heavens instead. So really, Astrophysics guys like Hawking, should be our guide.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  11. jamesT297

    Put your hand on the keyboard next to mine – Feeeeeeeel the vibration.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  12. runner305

    Want to know what God sounds like? Just listen to the voices inside your head. They'll supply the necessary imagination.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  13. God eats little children

    What I find amusing is that all these relgious articles pretty much only attract atheists. Basically, all these articles on "Belief Blog" are written to stimulate atheists in the morning before they had their coffee in the morning.

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

      Wrong–I have my coffee while reading these articles.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      And then we can move our bowels to remove the waste we just ingested.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • jamesT297

      Isn't this FoxNews?

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

      That's because the other guys are in church, while we are here creating jobs for CNN advertizers.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • sqeptiq

      "in the morning before they had their coffee in the morning."
      Redundant much? Try proofreading before hitting "post."

      April 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
  14. tony

    In the US, your testicles with a voice.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  15. Atheist reality

    CNN, thank you for serving up another meal of fish in a barrel.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  16. arthur

    there was a time when if you claimed you heard the voice of god then you would be burned at the stake/put to death......

    April 29, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • AGuest9

      Ah, the good ol' days.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • AGuest9

      Ironically, it was the church that did that. Joan d'Arc as an example.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  17. inmyjudgement

    1Kings 19:11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; [but] the LORD [was] not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; [but] the LORD [was] not in the earthquake:

    1Kings 19:12 And after the earthquake a fire; [but] the LORD [was] not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

    1Kings 19:13 And it was [so], when Elijah heard [it], that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, [there came] a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • runner305

      God could be Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or nonexistent. Will the real God please stand up?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • inmyjudgement

      1Kings 18:21 And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD [be] God, follow him: but if Baal, [then] follow him. And the people answered him not a word.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  18. This is how

    No doubt,, if the christian god gave them intelligence, the christians sure insult their god by not using it.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  19. What does God sound like?

    Since there is NO god....he sounds like NOTHING!
    All these pathetic people needing a crutch to make it through the day.

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

      "What is the sound of one hand clapping."

      April 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  20. Tony Harris

    I have always thought that God sounds like Stevie Wonder

    April 29, 2012 at 10:30 am |
    • jamesT297

      You've got the wrong black, blind guy. God sounds like Ray Charles.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:41 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.