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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

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soundoff (3,288 Responses)
  1. Keane vicaire

    It was my understanding that the very sound of God's voice would kill you. I always invisioned God's voice to be that of Optimis Prime.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  2. SciGuy

    "at that particular moment in eternity" ??????? This woman gives away her lack of biblical understanding right at the outset.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  3. Steve Jacobs

    You are the product of 4 billion years of evolutionary success.....act like it.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • SciGuy

      You are the product of 12-16 years of govt funded evolutionary brainwashing. And acting like it.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • lolwut

      SciGuy...what an absurdly ironic name!!!

      April 29, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • SciGuy

      Lolwut, no doubt you think you think so, having been lead around by the nose for umpteen years by the above referenced brainwashers. Try thinking for yourself, and examining the evidence, all the evidence.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • AGuest9

      Must be "christian science".

      April 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  4. longshot

    did an adult write this piece, or a child who can't distinguish fantasy from reality?

    April 29, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  5. Chuck

    This is a great forum to find out how the Left feel about God.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • jimB

      This is a great forum for childish comments. Partisan politics has no place in the discussion of God. When it does, then you know you're on the wrong track.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  6. Ironhammer

    FINALLY someone else who hears God speak too! When he talks to me it sounds like Gilbert Gottfried and he commands me to kill people with a giant Looney Toons hammer while dressed as an asparagus!

    AHHH! He's talking to me again!

    Kill my parents? But if I do that then everyone's going to think that I'm crazy!
    What's that? Hmmm, that makes sense.

    God says, to all you doubters; if I'm crazy then how come I can hear God speaking to me?

    April 29, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Russ

      Funny 🙂

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

      Bravo! impeccable logic!

      April 29, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  7. Gil Bert

    Hey...don't forget George Burns. I strongly believe that God would use his voice like George Burns to pass his knowledge and love to us when we need him.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  8. Spartacus

    Here is yet another example of the biggest problem on this earth right now. The Mother of all problems and the reason or source of every single other problem on this earth, Poverty, Hunger, Death, Torture and of course Radical Fundamentalism...and this problem is called "Religion". A thing which has at it's core and as it's primary concern the division of man kind into seperate and distinct groups for the sole purpose of celebrating that groups difference from the rest of man kind. And it does this celebrating of our differences, forever, perpetually, and most importantly at a time right now when exactly what this world needs so badly, so very very very badly, is for all of the worlds religion to be completely abolished and for man kind and all these seperate and distinct groups which have divided themselves from each other...to start celebrating all of our similarities. Relgion, all of it, is destroying man kind and this earth.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • jqent

      In other words, religion is wired into our brains because of the old monkey-band instinct to defend the band's territory. Just watch two packs of baboons or chimpanzees interacting. Ook! Ook! Kreegah! Bundolo!

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

      People need to see the big picture and realize that religion is merely used by the elite to control the slaves, all of us!!! It is one of many tools that those in power use to control, oppress and enslave. Religion should be kept separate from any notion of a god, if one exist. I personally believe in God but, abhor religion. The two can be separated and God can be understood through reason alone. God cannot br empirically known by man. The time to rise up is now.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  9. SciGuy

    The pastor's daughter got it right. God speaks to us through his written word today. Something that this writer should spend more time reading.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Steve

      Except he has not written ANY words. they are all written by people. your faith is not in a god but that the person who said that the person who said that the person who said ... (a hundred times) that the person who wrote it was genuine. You faith is that people are not lying. And we know they never do that!

      April 29, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • n8263

      How do we know what text is His written word? Is it the Q'uran, the Torah? The hiroglyphics from Ra?

      April 29, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  10. Moses

    If I started hearing God's voice, I'd be getting myself a CAT scan.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  11. 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 11:18 am |
  12. Steve

    when I think of the "voice of god" I think anyone who claims to have heard it are f-ing crazy.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  13. chester

    You would think that with all the different religions in the world he would have one hell of an accent. Why is it such a great powerful god can't get all the religions on the same page of belief? Religion is a business and a tax free business in America. Great business idea, start a church, take money from delusional people, don't pay taxes.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • edwardo

      I've thought of that very thing. But, since I'm gay, the other religions have already put me outta business.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:18 am |
    • Steve

      Because he either does not exists (this one) or is an evil god who wants maximum discord in the world and enjoys wars and watching people butcher one another on behalf of their "faith"

      April 29, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  14. John Paul Deuteronomy

    People who respond in the religious section of the website tend to write LONG comments compared to other topics. If you had a name more like the author does, you would be more believable here (Zacharias). I'm changing mine to John Paul Deuteronomy.

    One day on my way to church, I heard a voice from above "watch out!". Just then a spaceship landed in the same spot I was standing a moment before.... the hatch opened...out came....

    April 29, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Crixus

      The comments, rebutals and such, in order to be intellegent, require some length in explaination. Nine second sound bites cannot do not suffice. Peoples' lack of thought and their ignorance on matters of faith and reason created such a mess like this article. Just read the bible and bob your head, no questions,- we'll think for you. wink, wink.

      April 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  15. Richard

    She thought God sounded like Perry Mason to Adam and Eve? What did she think God sounded like when he told Abraham to kill his son? Walter Kronkite?

    April 29, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Snotty Kid

      Walter Kronkite? No, we don't allow news at CNN. More like Alfred E. Newman

      April 29, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  16. JesusChristLordGodAlmighty

    This is god speaking...I want all who here me to go out and find a person who believes in me, and nail them to a cross. If they complain, tell them I want them to know how my son felt. It will be a real life experience for them.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  17. Snotty Kid

    Let's see... At the top of CNN's webpage this morning we have the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner and this comedy piece about God sounding like Pee Wee Herman, Spock, or Yoda. CNN should be ashamed. None of this garbage is news.

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

      CNN does not do news, they are "News Entertainment". Part fiction, part sensationalism, with some tiny basis is some fact.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • jqent

      Think of Fox "News" network geared to a slightly higher-class, less paranoid and hostile audience. It's "Infotainment."

      April 29, 2012 at 11:33 am |
  18. johnfrichardson

    This piece is just awful. Absolutely turdly.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  19. Spaghetttymonster

    I wish CNN would create an atheist blog so all of you nice folks would have someplace else to congregate on Sunday mornings and perseverate about your pointless existence and future as fertilizer. Why even bother, just down a bottle of Jack and jump off a cliff – nothing matters anyway. At least you'll go out in style.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • n8263

      If all we have is this one life why would you waste it by jumping off a cliff?

      If the only thing keeping you from an eternal life of bliss in heaven is your flesh, why would you NOT jump off a cliff?

      April 29, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • jim

      Who said nothing matters? The point is to not just make stuff up and pretend it matters.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Eman

      atheists tend to cherish the single life they know they have and not to waste it doing crazy things based on make belief.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Russ

      You miss the point bub, if the afterlife doesn't exist, then the life we live is the most important and should be cherished! Get out and live it to the most – not spend it bowing and kneeling and chanting in hopes you get taken off to some fantasy land in the clouds where you can spend an eternity with aunty mildred and your long lost pet puppy...

      April 29, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • jqent

      Or, we could amuse ourselves by sitting around and inventing worlds like "perseverate." Why do you PERSEVERE in denouncing atheists?

      April 29, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  20. Rainer Braendlein

    Everything is in order on earth?

    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 11:13 am |
    • mattinacan

      ..not sure if serious, or just drunk

      April 29, 2012 at 11:18 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.