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. Mike

    Dear hmmm,

    1) Hateful is when you are openly hostile towards someone or something. While I may disagree with reasonable atheist above, he is not hateful in his language as so many here seem to be.

    2) Are you not acting obnoxious youself (by your definition) when you presume that you yourself are the enlightened one?


    April 29, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • God eats little children

      Just listen to the "voice of reason", and you'll ALSO BE THE ENLIGHTENED ONE.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Rational1

      Can you really blame some atheists from getting a bit hostile? Count how many religious billboards you see on a daily basis, then count how many atheist message billboards you see. You aren't likely to find any atheist billboards, because most billboard owners won't rent to an atheist. Those few that do, lose money because the billboard will get vandalized daily and need constant repair. You don't see atheists destroying religious displays, but an atheist display can't go 10 minutes without being destroyed by a (supposed) christian. The only war on religion, is the religious attacking non-believers. Can you really blame them for wanting to stand up for themselves and start pushing back? I'm not talking about getting violent, but I am talking about insisting on equal protection under the law. Look how many laws are being pushed forward that legislate religious belief (banning/restriction abortion, contraception, gay marriage, allowing religious displays on public property, forming Faith Offices in government agencies (that only focus on christians), even the military now requires people in basic training to attend religously sponsored events payed for with tax dollars or face dismissal – and don't allow atheists to sponsor similar events even if privately funded). Can you really blame atheists for finally wanting to stand up and say, "enough's enough, time to push back"?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  2. JesusChristLordGodAlmighty

    Listen my children, I have no voice because I don't exist. All the mindless sheep that need a reason for existing, you are just that, mindless.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • God eats little children

      What, God has laryngitis?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  3. J FW

    Is James Earl Jones turning white?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  4. God eats little children

    It's a slippery slope this woman is on. Before you know it, she'll be on the street doing drugs and peeing in the stairwells!

    April 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  5. JesusChrist

    Yeah, and in the 1970's a lot of people said God sounded like George Burns. Funny how that happened right after George Burns was in the "Oh, God" series of movies. Give me a break.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  6. JBH

    Hi everybody...this is God. Imagine me in your head right now. So, I want you to do this:

    Turn off the TV, go outside and enjoy the great outdoors. Put down your cell phones, stop texting and go donate blood. Then take a few trash bags and go clean up a portion of the outdoors. Just want to reiterate that THIS IS GOD talking to ya', so just listen up and do what I say.

    Next, when you're about to say something, STOP and really think before you talk. Also, before you speak, listen to what's really being said! Finally, if you don't have anything good to say, well, then just don't talk...mmmkay?

    I want to reiterate, this is God, not just any old person writing on CNN. Be good, do good things and don't worry about worshiping me. I'm doing fine on my own. There's this really cool galaxy nearby that I'm working on and it's going swell. I'm pretty much done with your galaxy now and you've been on your own for billions of years. So enough of that worshiping stuff, ok? You did know that sound can't travel in space, right? Heh, funny how that is.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  7. jason

    anyone else think she is schizophrenic?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • AGuest9

      Look back a few pages, you'll see the list of anti-psychotics that she could start taking to alleviate her symptoms.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      You think?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  8. Topdecker

    Mickey Mouse

    April 29, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  9. Emigdio Alvarez

    to the atheists posting: can we turn this page into a joke? to me, God sounds like Ron Perlman.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Too late .. already is!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • AGuest9

      LOL. You haven't noticed that it already is?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Rational1

      There's WAY too many religious nuts in this world, would be a much better place without them. Atheists give just as much (if not more) to charities, volunteer to help their communities, and .. oh yes... start FAR fewer wars (we also don't run "donate to me or god will hate you" scams).

      April 29, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  10. Lynne

    I am a Chritstian, but if you literally hear the voice of God, get yourself checked by the medical community. You are dangerous.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • God eats little children

      Just being a Christian is dangerous!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Then why are you Christian? No voices, no proof, no reason to believe it.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Lynne

      If your question is a dishonest attack: I didn't tell you that you needed to be Christian or a theist of any kind. I said I am Christian. Don't assume you know exactly what I believe. To make that assumption is to be a bigot (in the most literal sense of the world).

      If your question was honest, there is no room to explain my beliefs here. I don't have a bumper sticker theology or theosophy.

      I will say that Religion is A) hardwired into our brains (that's called science) and therefor a part of the human condition, and should be treated as such, B) a complicated way of interacting with and understanding the world, and C) a system of theosophy that can shape the world in both good and bad ways. Anyone, theist or anti-theist, who tries to simplify religious beliefs is already a fool and will say foolish things.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  11. God eats little children

    Shut up everybody! Shsh! God is talking!

    April 29, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Rational1

      Yes, I am. About time someone noticed.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  12. Rational1

    Whatever happened to the idea of news sites having... news? Instead, you can tell what day of the week it is just by the number of religious-pandering opinion pieces are on the site. If you hear voices and there's no one there, you need to be given a white jacket with funny sleeves, not a white collar and a pulpit.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  13. jazz1910

    The author must think she is God because the voice she hears is in her head. To label that voice as God is the height of narcissism.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Greg

      So true! AHHAHAHA

      April 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
  14. Say it ain't so

    He sounds like the calmest wind blowing thru a tempest storm, the voice of reason in a crazy world, order amidst chaos and above all love. The ultimate & most purest way of love.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • jamesT297

      Looks like those who attended the early service have come back to their keyboards.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • AGuest9

      Post-service coffee in the lobby and breakfast at the diner is over already?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  15. Voice of Reason

    Thank you CNN for posting the real face of this insanity for all to see! It is about time we say enough is enough! You zealots are dangerous for the mental health of our children!

    April 29, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  16. lynn

    They used to "lock" people up who heard voices. Now the religious zealots claim they hear God speaking. They still need to be locked up.

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


      April 29, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  17. JBH

    Instead of a belief column CNN should have a fact column.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      Now that's a great idea!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Ancient Curse

      I second that! Definitely a terrific idea. Listen up, CNN! You've got work to do! It's called "journalism."

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

      Then where would the followers go?

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

      Right on. The idea that a supposed "fact" based news organization gives front-center to this bull excrement it appalling. I can watch Faux news if I want delusions passed off as news. CNN – get it together!

      April 29, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • n8263

      As long as people continue to believe in iron age mythology it is useful to have a forum to help show how delusional it is.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • AGuest9

      There is a Science page, but there are a bunch of nut-jobs on there posting bible quotes. 🙁

      April 29, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  18. JesusChristLordGodAlmighty

    I have no voice because I don't exist. All the mindless sheep that need a reason for existing, you are just that, mindless.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  19. Rainer Braendlein

    How and why does God speak to us?

    God always wants to convince us that he actually wants to be our friend.

    Once God made Eve and the animals as friends for Adam, because he felt lonely in God's presence. By making Eve and the animals God wanted to prove his love for Adam. Hence, this was the very first gospel, the proto-gospel.

    Regretably Adam did not accept the proto-gospel and submitted to evil powers. Adam did not appreciate God's friendship and consequently it was inevitable that Satan took hold of him. Adam forsake the source of life, which is God, and had to perish. Actually logical.

    We are descendants of the fallen Adam. By birth we under the rule of evil powers. Yet, God still wants to bring us back into faithful community with him.

    Hence, God created a mega gospel, which is much stronger than the proto-gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ not only proves God's love again, but is also an atonement and a work of deliverance.

    For Adam before the Fall it had been enough to get convinced again from God's love, but after the Fall Adam (the mankind or we) needs also atonement and deliverance, because we (our whole body and nature) has become interweaved with the sin. Sin is just the opposite of love. By nature we are not able to love God and our neighbour. This is a consequence of the Fall, where Adam degenerated a sinner and also we, Adam's descendants.

    If you read the following lines, God speaks to you:

    God the Father, delivered God, the Son, for our sins and raised him from the dead for our justification.

    This is the gospel of Jesus Christ (very simple, or?).

    If you simply accept the gospel as true and get sacramentally baptized, you become righteous. The Fall of Adam would get rolled back for you and you would return into the faithful community with God, the Lord, the Eternal God, which has made heaven and earth.

    By the gospel former sins get forgiven and you die and resurrect with Jesus. After baptism you have died for the sin and received the Holy Spirit, which helps you to overcome the lust of you body and to live a life of true righteousness and love.

    If you assume, you would be no sinner, then just read the ten commandments and mind a little, if you always and perfectly keep them. Regard that Jesus said that yet hate or anger and insulting and cursing are sins, which matter like murder. If you work sloppyly, it matters like theft. If you are lecherous, it matters like adultry. Are you still no sinner? If you are merely a capitalist or a materialist, you adore Mammon, a demon, and you have forsaken God, the Creator. If you are a materialist, you have broken the first commandment.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • joe Mamma

      God(s) do not speak to anyone because they do not exist! The quicker the people releaize this the quicker peace on earth will exist.

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

      All you provide are assertions and conclusions based on selected religious texts. Speak for yourself, because you definitely do not speak for me. How is it that you take it upon yourself to go around insulting HUMANITY like you do?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • Ogg Oggleby

      The voice of god is whatever you want it to be, since it is all in your head anyway.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Nobody can deny that sin is a reality.

      Look at Nigeria and Kenia, where model Muslims exercise their faith by killing infidels (Christians).

      Of course during the Dark Age also Catholics killed infidels.

      The reason of all this is the bigotry, which dwells in us.

      It is just the sin, which dwells in us, which motivates us to seek for pretences to hate our neighbour. I us dwells a germ of hate and anger.

      What about the black/white problem or the German/Jewish problem?

      Ain't we are sinners?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • sam stone

      "Nobody can deny that sin is a reality."

      Of course we can.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  20. me

    Why is God an automatic "he"? No one finds that odd??

    April 29, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Ancient Curse

      We maintain an "alpha male' mentality in our primate brains, so we think of God as a "wise and wondrous Oz."

      April 29, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • MalcomR

      It's clear that god is a male essence. If god were a female essence, there would be no wars, starving babies, etc.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Rod C. Venger

      No. Jesus referred to God numerous times as "My Father".

      April 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
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