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. Robert A Williams

    SImply put, even though it was a work of fiction, "The Shack" by Wm. Paul Young helped me to put a lot of those unanswered questions to rest. I am strong in my belief and faith. When questions like this arise, I smile knowing that we as humans are not alone in our earthly convictions and perceptions regarding God. I am highly favored and truly blessed.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Punisher2000

      While I admire you for your faith, I can honestly say I haven`t yet received it.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      And definitely crazy!

      April 29, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • edwardo

      How wonderful !! You're truly blessed. Pi55 on those starving babies, amputees, and AIDS patients... we have.. well special ol' YOU!

      April 29, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  2. Laura

    ...a perfect example of why religion is on the down slide.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  3. ADX

    If you are hearing voices in your head that you believe do not originate inside your mind, you should see a counselor, especially if the voice is giving you commands. I work in mental health and have met quite a few people who "hear" the voice of God or angels.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  4. Punisher2000

    Peewee Herman? Anyone looking for a tad of mental sanity here? When an assassin claims voices made him do it, he is committed to an insane asylum. When religious people say they hear voices, they either run for President or have an epiphany. I just wonder is there is really a difference between the assassin and the religious person. Perhaps both should be committed.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Fiona

      It's called humor, punisher.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Punisher2000

      To Fiona: you may choose to see humor anywhere you want. I choose to use my humor anyway I want. If you fail to get it, it is your problem not mine.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Fiona

      ...actually, you should look up Cline's (Cline is the one who made the PeeWee statement) book, The Return of Edward Caycee." Cline is either a great joke steer or completely off his rocker.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  5. Astra Navigo

    My sister had an Imaginary Friend when she was six. She grew out of it, when Mom and Dad finally sat her down and had a little talk about using the imaginary to justify bad behavior.

    Too bad that's not possible with adults.

    (Note to the 'religious': The voices are in your head. Period. Don't expect those of us who Stayed Awake in Class to buy this stuff. We won't.)

    April 29, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • n8263

      More and more people are growing out of religion. Thank god.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  6. RobW

    Isnt it interesting that so many anti-Christian and hate-filled people read this article. 28 years ago, although I never hated God – I too directed my big mouth/dead heart toward Christians. They were my targets; that is until the time I fell into a deperate situation and a Christian guy and his family stepped in to help me. Saudi Arabia has Sharia law; they'll chop you to pieces over nothing and take away your rock-n-roll and force you to bow down 7 times per day. So, hang in there Americans, you'll slam God in your freedom and take it out on Christians till you too have your day of desperation.

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

      Threats y usually aren't that effective with rational thinkers..

      April 29, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Astra Navigo

      I don't 'hate' you. I don't 'hate' 'god'. I can't hate something which is about as real as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

      What I loathe and detest is the mental slavery of fundamentalism – in every form; be it Islamic, Judaic or Christian.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • edwardo

      Any caring human being will help others in their time of need, if possible. Just because they happened to be Xtian, doesn't make them above us athiests. Your generalization is ridiculous at best. If you're pro Sharia law, be my guest.. move to the mid east where you belong.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Milburn

      You don't have the be a Christian to do good things. If even half the so called Christians followed the Golden Rule the world would be a better place.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  7. Jonny Rational

    Really? It never ceases to amaze me at what people will believe. How can any rational person believe such things? Please don't tell me it is in the Bible. I've read it and found no inspiration of any kind. In fact the reason I stopped believing was exactly because I read it for myself instead of relying on the interpretation of others.....

    April 29, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  8. jk

    We should ask the many killers who were instructed by God what voice he used then.

    Or we could get out of this disgusting, juvenile attempt to make religion cute and quaint, and logically conclude that God speaks to no one, and that voices in your head are your own imagination drawing on its own experiences.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  9. David G.

    God, Schmod....

    April 29, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  10. 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 sinners?

    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 10:57 am |
    • Wholly Mary

      Yeah, yeah, yeah-sure, sure, sure-blah, blah, blah-yadda, yadda, yadda!

      April 29, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Which language is that?

      April 29, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • colonelingus

      Definition of sin: Self induced nonsense!

      April 29, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Sid

      Whiner, brief posts, remember. No one wants to hear you masturbating for very long.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • jamesT297

      Shoot, just this week christians were killing infidels. What good is belief and religion if you can't use it to justify punishing and killing those who are different than you are?

      April 29, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • jim atmadison

      To accept your first statement as being true, you would need to agree that some form of 'god' exists.

      The difference between 'sin' and 'evil' or 'wrong' (as in right and wrong) is that sin is generally assumed to be something that is done against god, and evil acts or wrongs are committed against people (or possibly animals, the planet, or ???).

      Good and bad, right and wrong exist for all human beings regardless of religious belief. Some folks who do the most evil acts claim the closest relationship with god.

      On the other hand, perhaps the most moral person I know (my brother-in-law) is one of the few openly atheist people I know.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  11. rick

    Funny, when most people hear voices they give them medication, when people claim to hear a voice they claim is god they are considered spiritual hah. I'd tend to lump all voice hearing people in the first category.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Eman

      Yes I've always found that very strange too.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • jim atmadison

      Anti-psychotics would have denied us the hilarious spectacle of Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry vying for the GOP presidential nomination because 'God told them to'.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  12. 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 10:56 am |
  13. geenabeana

    It's odd that people would compare god's voice with famous people rather than a god having a "voice" all of its own. To me that says that these people are hearing voices in their heads like anyone who hears voices (usually the mentally ill) because it's made up of voices they have heard before, things that are already ingrained in their brains. I wonder who Andrea Yates' voices sounded like that told her to kill her 5 children?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Don

      I cannot for the life of me believe this is on a news site. CNN has actually given space and time to this woman so she can blather about how she talks to an invisible man. Typically this is grounds for anti-psychotic medication, or at the very least professional intervention.

      And yet, somehow when it's an invisible man who claims he's God...suddenly she's a spiritual beacon. Unbelievable. I guess if you're going to make up a story, the trick is to make it so good people will believe it because it's harder to believe someone's actually that crazy.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  14. The World is filled with Nutters

    Anyone who says they hear voices and these voice are not coming from the t.v, cellphone, speakers, any audio hearing device or out of someone elses mouth then they are a "Cracked Pot"... You must have a mouth to have speech... Most Religious people's God has no form...(of the human kind) If you believe your God is a Man... then maybe you can hear his voice, but if your God is as transparent as window glass, hiding up in the sky somewhere in a cosmic fortress then you my dear are not just missing a few screws, but you're missing the instructions as well...

    April 29, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  15. T.S. Van Arsdale

    Firstly, people who are religious have never thought a single though in their entire lives. Look to nature. Animals don't worship, plants don't worship. Humans fetter their lives with it, kill for it, repudiate for it, close their minds with it. How much does the world need to give before it realizes it has gained nothing through religion?

    I read someone on this thread saying God wants to be our friend. With all the pain and death that he supposedly causes, all the people he kills slowly with cancer, all the people that kill in his name, I really wonder if he is worthy of worship or friendship at all. Religious people use circular reasoning to justify everything God does, whether it be the case of a child having terminal cancel or the image of his son, who he let die in agony, appearing in a food item. Such torpid people.

    Try agnosticism and free thought. That voice you hear is your own twisted conscience. Don't throw away your lives by following a book written by fallible man.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • geenabeana

      About a month ago, a childhood friend of mine was killed in a horrible car accident. There was heavy fog and her husband was driving her to work. He couldn't see the stop sign because the fog was so dense. A pickup truck didn't see them and slammed into their car and she died. Some said that god took her home. Why in the world would an all loving god do this to her, her husband, the driver and passengers of the other car, her parents, her children, her grandchildren, etc? That is so cruel to even think that a god would do this for his own selfish reasons, isn't it?

      April 29, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • a reasonable athiest

      Yes, "mysterious ways" seems a lot like either randomness or, if the existence of consciousness is believed to be present, psychopathy.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  16. Bo

    Very few people hear God literally speaking to them, however God does speak to people who have devoted themselves to God by inspiration. However, again, and unfortunately, too many people are not so devoted to God.
    I will relate only one story of a person, Jim Hornberger (his real name, you can look him up on the Internet) who I know that has this kind of relationship with God; he has many such stories, in my own words.
    Jim was on a hillside cutting firewood. The dead tree that he was cutting on had fallen between two two other trees. Jim would cut off a fireplace size piece of wood and then give it a kick to send it down the hill to his pickup, where later he would load it on to the truck.
    At a particular point Jim heard God speak to him: “Jim, get on the other side of the log.”Jim recognized the voice of God speaking to him because he had often heard God's speaking to him. But, by his own admission, Jim is also a obstinate person. He stopped and looked heavenward and questioned God: “God why should I do that, this is working just fine?” Again God spoke: “Jim get on the other side!” Jim replied, “Okay God, if you say so.” Just as Jim finished the next cut and it fell to the ground the kennic [sic] energy released the tree and it swung with a tremendous force outward from Jim. If Jim had been standing there it would have flung him into the air and very possibly killed him. Jim says he dropped to his knees and thanked God. (Jim has this story and others in a book, I have heard it several times from him personaly.)
    Jim also has stories that he admits he did not obey the voice of God and paid the consequences, some of them funny, but others were not so funny.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Laura


      April 29, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • a reasonable athiest

      Or did Jim subconsciously determine that he was in a precarious position and subconsciously notify his conscious self of the issue through a means that his subconscious would know to be the most effective?

      April 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
  17. david

    Slow news week!? Atheists rise up!

    April 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  18. Anonymous

    Why is it that people "with faith" always feel compelled to tell you about their faith, and then feel compelled to make YOU feel the same way about "their faith". It's like people who practice Tai Chi always have to do it in public...where others can see. It's the same with all religions. It's not enough to practice it and bring more humanity to the world. It seems to be a requirement that OTHERS practice it too. How about doing good to others...and leave it at that.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  19. Say it ain't so

    Atheists are a joke. They'll do anything to try and change people's beliefs (unsuccessfully). It's laughable how hard you try & yet won't succeed, cute but laughable. Almost like that greek mythology story where a man was punished to carry a boulder to the top of a mountain & if he reached the top he'd be released from his punishment. The gods would throw the rock back down so he never did reach the top. How does it feel, atheists, to unsuccessfully try to do something you know you can't do?

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

      Go look up Sisyphus. You got it wrong...naturally.

      If nasty, small-minded people like you are the standard bearers for The Faithful, I will stand ith the atheists any dy.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • really

      Replace 'Atheists' with 'religous people' and you'd be much closer to the truth.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • a reasonable athiest

      Since you seem to think of traditional Greco-Roman belief as primitive mythology, which flavor of primitive mythology do you hold aloft as sacred truth, and why do you do so?

      April 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  20. Fiona

    Just wondering...why do all of you goofy people think that God and the devil are male (the "your momma" example in the story excepted)? I think the devil sounds a lot like Michelle Bachmann.

    In the film "Dogma" God was silent. And God was...Alanis Morissette wearing crazy couture.

    If God had anything to say to us, it would likely be, "Shhhhhh."

    April 29, 2012 at 10:54 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.