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. GAW

    What's odd about this issue is that if the average Christian claims to hear the voice of God those fellow believers around them will most likely feel uneasy or claim that's it's all in their mind. (Unless you're a Pentecostal) Evangelicals tell people they can have a 'personal relationship' with Jesus but somehow they don't mean what they say. Religious language can be very odd at times.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      It is called delusional language.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  2. confetti

    Only thing as awful as a right wing Christian fanatic is a fanatical atheist. Spiritual illiterates all.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • baloney


      April 29, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • phoenix224

      In a recent poll atheists and agnostics scored higher then any other "religous" group when asked questions about religions. Atheists know your religion better then you do. For example I believe that Jesus Christ did not exist in the manner portrayed by religion becase he supposedly did things that are scientifically impossible and because he was based on gods like Horus who was born of a virgin, Isis. Only begotten son of the God Osiris. Birth heralded by the star Sirius, the morning star. Ancient Egyptians paraded a manger and child representing Horus through the streets at the time of the winter solstice (about DEC-21). In reality, he had no birth date; he was not a human. Death threat during infancy: Herut tried to have Horus murdered. Handling the threat: The God That tells Horus’ mother “Come, thou goddess Isis, hide thyself with thy child.” An angel tells Jesus’ father to: “Arise and take the young child and his mother and flee into Egypt.” Break in life history: No data between ages of 12 & 30. Age at baptism: 30. Subsequent fate of the baptiser: Beheaded. Walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind. Was crucifed, descended into Hell; resurrected after three days.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  3. n8263

    Karen should ask Santorum, Perry, Bachman and Cain what God sounds like.
    They all claim God personally asked them to run for President.
    If nothing else we know He has a sense of humor.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • jamesT297

      Hee, Hee.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • jamesT297

      I don't care who you are, that's funny.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  4. MV

    The most important thing to realize: Those voices are all in your own head.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  5. Paul

    If you are Hindu, does your gods sound like the crowd at a Laker's game, or more like a choir?

    Anyway, for those with one god, as long as they don't talk in movie theaters, Im ok with it.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  6. HenryMiller

    There's a word for the mental disorder where people hear phantom voices, but I can't think of it at the moment.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  7. EatYouAlive

    How quaint. 🙂

    April 29, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  8. Joe

    Religion is big $$$. Maybe I should start writing books that GOD talks to me. Hmmm.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  9. that guy

    come on we all know gods voice is Morgan Freeman jeeez...

    April 29, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Elwood

      I was going with George Burns but Morgan works good too.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  10. Some guy

    The reason you hear god, and the reason you hear him in whatever voice you've chosen, is because it's all in your head.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  11. Joe

    Sure... GOD is a "he". Because he needs male reproductive organs... to, um... yeah.

    This woman, along with all religious people, is delusional and dangerous.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • jamesT297

      You do realize that women abuse themselves too, right?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  12. Neutronstar

    How can something talk that doesn't exist. What does Santa Claus sound like? Same thing.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  13. Holly in CA

    The biggest mistake religious people make today is believing God has been silenced, that he stopped communication with his children after the New Testament was written. God is still a God of miracles. He continues to speak to his children. He continues to answer prayers. Personal revelation is very real and it still exists today. Perhaps it's the noise of the world that causes us to not stop and listen to what he has to say.

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

      Agreed. 🙂

      April 29, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  14. LVD

    God speaks to us through this word the Bible.

    (2 Timothy 3:16) 16 All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness,

    (Isaiah 48:17-19) . . .I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit [yourself], the One causing you to tread in the way in which you should walk. 18 O if only you would actually pay attention to my commandments! Then your peace would become just like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea. 19 And your offspring would become just like the sand, and the descendants from your inward parts like the grains of it. One’s name would not be cut off or be annihilated from before me.”

    Yes, if only the world would listen, then lives would be "then your peace would become just like a river," but instead man goes on thinking they can dominate themselves in this godless world. WE have had this "Word" or God speaking to us all along. But man chooses to continue in not listening. Give me a break Pee Wee Herman – detestable.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Astra Navigo

      My sister had an Imaginary Friend. She grew out of it. Being older than six does that to a person.

      (Hint: The voices are in your head. Period....)

      April 29, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • a reasonable athiest

      Exodus 21:7-11
      "When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as the men are. If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners, since he is the one who broke the contract with her. And if the slave girl's owner arranges for her to marry his son, he may no longer treat her as a slave girl, but he must treat her as his daughter. If he himself marries her and then takes another wife, he may not reduce her food or clothing or fail to sleep with her as his wife. If he fails in any of these three ways, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment."

      Leviticus 25:44-46
      "However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way."

      Exodus 21:2-6
      "If you buy a Hebrew slave, he is to serve for only six years. Set him free in the seventh year, and he will owe you nothing for his freedom. If he was single when he became your slave and then married afterward, only he will go free in the seventh year. But if he was married before he became a slave, then his wife will be freed with him. If his master gave him a wife while he was a slave, and they had sons or daughters, then the man will be free in the seventh year, but his wife and children will still belong to his master. But the slave may plainly declare, 'I love my master, my wife, and my children. I would rather not go free.' If he does this, his master must present him before God. Then his master must take him to the door and publicly pierce his ear with an awl. After that, the slave will belong to his master forever."

      If we're following sacred scripture, why are these dictates casually ignored today?

      April 29, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  15. jamesT297

    Many of us find it odd that folks still believe there is a god of any form.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  16. joe

    Why do these Gods always stay hidden only speaking through the mentally disturbed?


    April 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  17. EddyL

    Babe, you're nuts if you think god talks to you.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  18. Fiona

    The thought of "God" pontificating in that smug, saccharine Garrison Keillor voice sickens me. (Actually, it might explain why that man is still on the radio...I see no other explanation.). I've nearly caused an accident rushing to switch the channel when his show comes on. Nails-on-chalkboard. Pure torture.

    Not being one to hear voices in my head or even believe in an omnipotent God, I can't say I have a God voice to share, but ai sure like the idea that the world was created by mice (Douglas Adams). Greedy, trivial, error-prone but industrious mice.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  19. DocD

    According to the first half of the ten commandments, Yahweh sounds like an insecure little whiner.

    If you're hearing the voice of Yahweh, you need psychiatric help. Try turning off Fox "news" as a starter.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  20. dreamer96

    If you believe in God, and that he speaks to you, you need to ask the next question...Do you know the sound of the Devil's voice, he is the one that will try to temp you, he is the one that will lead you astray, you need to recognize his voice too...If he offers you what you want, fame, money, power, in exchange for doing his work...can you tell you are being temped?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:46 am |
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