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. gooddoctor

    This article offends me greatly. Indeed, G od now has to "sound like" somebody from TV or the movies? Give me a break. This sort of writing needs to be put in the proper place – a trash barrel or landfill. Leave the writing to those that can. What a joke.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  2. Raven

    And how in Gods name is this NEWS. come on CNN get a grip, lately all I see on your pages is OLD news or editorials opinion pieces.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  3. Voice of comfort

    After losing my husband of 26 years to cancer, I could hear his voice clearly in some situations. Years of similar responses had programmed it into my head. As time pass, I begin to wonder how much of that voice has changed by my perception, perspective, and aging memory.

    It doesn't surprize me that those raised in faith have the Words of God programmed into their head. =) But I suspect most know that a James Earl Jones voice of God is from their own perception...

    I call it human, but if it brings you peace and comfort and harms no one you can call it God. =)

    April 29, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Eman

      That Is perfectly rational. But most times it's the irrational people who claim such events and try to influence others. Wish those people were more like you.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  4. Don

    Nothing. There is no god.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Chuck

      Six Billion people beleive you are wrong

      April 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • a reasonable athiest

      Belief does not define reality. Reality is. Belief is irrelevant.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Gee, Chuck. In that case, THEY MUST be right!

      April 29, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  5. JT

    my God sounds like Morgan Freeman.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • bannister

      Wow, Hollywood has really brainwashed us, hasn't it....

      April 29, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  6. jqent

    Refer to Occam's Razor. People always have stories of "miracles" that some god has performed to help them, but completely and conveniently forget all the completely random accidents or even tragedies for which that god didn't do a thing– or, if they imagine their god to be omnipotent, which that god actually caused! A miracle is supposedly an event for which the laws of nature are set aside for the benefit of some person, cause or whatever. When I was a child, I was stirring ice cubes in two glasses of Kool-Aid. I stirred so hard in one glass that an ice cube popped out, soared through the air and landed neatly in the other glass. Miracle? Then whatever god was in charge must have had a very odd sense of priorities.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  7. GAW

    It is odd that Pee Wee 's picture is in there.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • jqent

      Well, maybe not so odd.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:11 am |
  8. baloney

    See, the thing about you religious zealots is that all of you fail to realize how many people have been slaughtered in wars and acts of terrorism all in the name of religion. If god is so kind and wonderful, why does he sit around on his backside and let us kill each other to make people worship him? Religion is one big pile of stinking dog mess.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Chuck

      You argue that with the big guy on judgement day.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Raven

      If God didn't allow us free choice we would merely be robotic slaves and what would be the point of that.

      For those who don't believe in a God or Gods, Take a piece of paper and write down in minute detail how we came into existence through evolution, can't be done...... It fails miserably at every step of the way.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Raven

      Obviously the Author of this never actually read the bible verse she quotes,
      the verse says "What have you done?" it does not say what in my name have you done now.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Bo

      How many wars can you name that were fought in the name of religion since the time of Christ not including the jews and Arabs?

      April 29, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  9. Chandler

    Please stick to real news and avoid gossip and option pieces. CNN is turning into convoluted crap.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  10. jakedelano

    So I'm a little confused, is this Lady really saying she actually hears voices or is this an elaborate metaphore? I'm a bit disturbed this is considered legitimate Journalism...We usually medicate those who claim to hear voices, not publish their nonsense. Its all well and good if you wanna belive in higher powers, but direct daily verbal communication and Response? Thats some warped wishfufillment, daddy issue desperation if I've ever seen it. Sorry to be so harsh I'm just truly upset this is just "normal" everyday news now...

    April 29, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • n8263

      Santorum thought God asked him to run for President.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  11. gooddoctor

    Great. And now G od has to sound LIKE somebody we know? Please, do not attempt to tell me what G od "sounds" like. Just go tell it on the mountain, OK and leave me out of it. Clowns write articles too I see.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  12. Cnn Morons

    Now Cnn Morons, are wondering what god sounds like, well first Jesus never existed on Easter Sunday (thanks CNN), then the jewish religion, is not valid so kids shouldnot be taught it- (that's to make the christians feel good – after demaing christ – you see). Now is there any god at all- from the Cnn bunch- who pray to they're messiah Obama. You know who Obama is right? the guy that goes to church and shout 'god da.... America" for 20 years, that guy- our commander in chief.

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

      I see you have your won religion, which is "Hate Obama," and Sunday is your day to "testify." Yea, verily, Preach it, brother! Can we have an "Amen?" (crickets chirping)

      April 29, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  13. Laura

    Who was it who said...."If a man closes his eyes, clasps his hands, and speaks to an invisible god he is called religious. If a man closes his eyes, speaks into a vacuum cleaner hose, and speaks to an invisible god he is called crazy. Seems the only difference between the religious and crazy is a vacuum cleaner.".....?

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


      April 29, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  14. Sane Person

    Religion is organized self delusion. Why CNN would spend time and space repeating this blather is beyond me.

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

      C'mon, you know why. They are the biggest "troll" on the block. They know this topic incites debate and division, thus keeping people arguing on the site more. More people here = more people to visit their sponsor links, etc..

      April 29, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  15. JesusChristLordGodAlmighty

    Children, listen to me, I have no voice because I don't exist. If you think there is a god, you are a mindless sheep looking for a reason for your existence. Religion has turned into a mechanism to control the masses. If I existed, would I have the world in such a mess?

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

      I would add that the mainstream religious concept of "god" is indeed bunk, but the idea of something outside of us which we simply cannot understand is not all that far-fetched. What is far-fetched are the claims by any religion to have possess "truth".

      April 29, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  16. JazzY

    Do not argue. We all know God is real and your faith in him helps protect everyone from tragedy.

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

      Are you out of your damnn mind? Tragedy is happening every day.

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

      I feel he protects us in the same way that my lucky rabbit's foot wards off gremlins.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Don

      And that's why so many tragedies happen. Thanks god, for doing f-all.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Jazzy

      But the survivors and living have real faith. You will see if you really look.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • jqent

      Good one, but sarcasm too subtle for some to recognize.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  17. alittlenuance

    That's the great thing about God. His voice, just like his commandments, the doctrine he insists you follow, how he went about creating the world, the extent of his powers, and his morals or lack thereof are all equally products of someone's imagination and can be tailored to however you wish him to be.

    That's the great thing about fantasy.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  18. n8263

    Faith is delusional.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  19. mattinacan

    ..i like to picture my God playing lead guitar at a Leonard Skinner concert, and i'm in the front row, and i'm hammered drunk

    April 29, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • jakedelano


      April 29, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  20. Acegirlshusband

    I always thought he'd sound a bit like Morgan Freeman when and if he ever decides to talk to me.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:04 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.