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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

Filed under: Movies

soundoff (3,288 Responses)
  1. Writerscramp

    I can't believe CNN is devoting website space to some delusion person hearing voices in her head that she believes is God

    April 29, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  2. J

    I don't hear the voice of God. I long to. The sound of many waters. The sound of a crowd. A still small voice.
    ---------------------------
    11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

    Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

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

      And the gentle whisper said: "Ahem, are you some kind of idiot, standing around where all these natural disasters are happening? Wind, Earthquake, Fire? Get a clue, doofus!"

      April 29, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  3. callongod

    FIX THE DOLLAR AND EVERYTHING WILL BE FIXED

    I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9 NIV)

    April 29, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      Comment on the article or someone's post or F'OFF!

      April 29, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  4. tokencode

    I'm glad there is nothing more news-worthy in the world than a story about some crazy lady who hears voices in her head. If you think god speaks to you, please go and get medicated and relinquish any firearms you might own to the state you live in. The only voice Patti Callahan Henry heard was the one telling her to extort the faithful by writing some garbage books she could hawk to those not intelligent to realize they're full of BS. Good for you Patti, I'm sure you even donate 10% of your ill-gotten gains to some phony religous organization to make you feel better about yourself.

    I'm quite sure god would select the voice of Yoda, some finctional character one of his own characters created....

    April 29, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • J

      You prove the Bible's point. It describes the world exactly as it is: dissenters, disbelievers, mockers.

      Reading Pilgrim's Progress right now. Except for the language, it, too, exactly describes the world just as it is now.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • old golfer

      Good post, I agree.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • J

      3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

      8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

      10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.[a]

      11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.[b] That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • tokencode

      The bible also says:

      1."I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet." (1 Timothy 2:12)
      2."Go, now, attack Amalek, and deal with him and all that he has under the ban. Do not spare him, but kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and asses." (1 Samuel 15:3)

      Go take your 3,000 year old book of shepard's tales and shove it.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  5. hal

    God does not exist. So the question is irrelevant

    April 29, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Thinker

      You can't hear sounds in a vacuum. That's unless you are an airhead. Even the insane know that lol.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  6. Frank Rizzo

    God is a concept
    By which we measure
    Our pain
    I'll say it again
    God is a concept
    By which we measure
    Our pain

    April 29, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      No, our brain and its receptors measure our pain.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  7. Rainer Braendlein

    The state of the mankind is a clear proof that we would need help from above.

    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 11:30 am |
    • TexasCentrist

      You are in serious need of a dose of reality. Everything you state has not a shred of evidence to back it up. A god who creates man, and then when he does not turn out perfect, banishes him to eternal pain and suffering. Where's the logic in that? Your religious beliefs are complete nonsense. You fabricate stories and call them "logical". Baloney.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Snap

      Sin is a made up concept as much as God is.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • old golfer

      You really need to read, THE AGE OF REASON, written by Thomas Paine. I would also recommend, THE BIBLE ACCORDING TO TWAIN, written by Mark Twain. Nah, what with your closed mind it would do you no good.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  8. KimbyDI

    Karen…bravo!

    You instantly brought to mind a scene in an old movie called "The End" with Burt Reynolds. The character escaped from a mental hospital with his friend in Dom Delouise…had enough of life and decided to end it all by swimming out to sea until he was exhausted and drown. Hmmm…when the shoreline dissolves from sight, he has second thoughts on the whole dying thing and starts to bargain with God in this scene:

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzqbqDW9z6E&w=560&h=315%5D

    My voice would be Dane Cook's impersonation of the voice that does the movie trailers. Booming...caring...angry...loving...

    April 29, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  9. TexasCentrist

    What a bunch of babble. Longing so much to hear the voice of God that you project God's voice onto movie characters. Pathetic. Try simple reality for a refreshing change of pace.

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

      We should try talking to one another. Maybe asking your brother or neighbor how you could be a better person and friend. I'm sure you will get more helpful hints going that direction then trying to listen to a made-up voice in your head.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  10. Idol Girl

    For me, the "voice" of God is the consciousness that tells me right from wrong.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      Why does it have to be a god?

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

      There is no need to introduce the notion of a god. It's just your own brain.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • Snap

      No truer statement from a Christian, for in Psalms 82:6 it makes clear that all humans are gods. I don't believe this, but it certainly explains the incredible nonsense that comes from Christian's mouths as they actually believe their subconscious to be god himself.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  11. xeno

    It sounds like 1% of the static on an analog television.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  12. hammer

    That's the way some Christians think they need to put a face or voice to GOD.It's just like a picture of a long hair pretty man hanging on a wall.Do you really think thats what Jesus looked like.He was a carpenter until he was 30.I would say he looked nothing like that.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • lolwut

      Plus, y'know, hypothetically he would be pretty brown.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Phil in Oregon

      Also, just before He was crucified, He was beaten to an unrecognizable pulp.

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

      Maybe balding, squinty, with a couple of thick thumbnails from careless hammer blows, wearing a greasy cap with "Craftsman tools" on the front, baggy coveralls, and saying, "Gonna cost you a bit... You can't get the wood, you know."

      April 29, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  13. CommonSense

    " When God speaks to me, he sounds a lot like Garrison Keillor, host of the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion."
    It must be a joke because I can't believe that she is serious. If so, then I suppose people like her have the emotions of a small child, their entire lives.
    How sad this is. Does she write letters to Santa Claus as well?

    April 29, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  14. Mark

    The voice of God you hear in your head is nothing more than your own mind working i.e, it's your ego speaking. I believe in God, but I believe God is a bit too vast to be concerned with any one of us. To suppose God speaks to people is farcical. It is again mankind insisting that they are more important then they actually are. It is self centered behavior. Mankind was not created in God's image: God as we know it collectively was created in mankind's image by mankind because we think we are important enough for God to worry about. What a farce. We live, we die and return tot he elements and therein lies the afterlife, the metaphor of the bible. ashes to ashes, dust to dust that is the afterlife and no where does it outline a consciousness of self in the afterlife.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • old golfer

      Welcome, you must be like me, a Deist. Freedom is so wonderful.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  15. JohnW

    Articles like this are a fundamental cause of atheism in the world. When intelligent people read ridiculous accounts of God and ridiculous interpretations of religion, they tend to doubt that there can possibly be God. My advice is don't listen to these people–and especially don't listen to the ridiculous discussions by fundamentalist christians–they lost the essence of christianity long ago.

    April 29, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Mark

      Anyone who refers to God with a gender is an idiot. God has no gender. God is everything. Which means people who categorize God are merely representing their own interests and ego. People who claim to converse with God are liars. They are conversing with themselves and there is nothing wrong with that until they attribute God to it. GOD DOES NOT GIVE A HOOT ABOUT ANY OF US.

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

      There was no god, there is no god and there will never be a god.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:30 am |
  16. springheeledjack

    Morgan Freeman. Actually his entire character from the movies, Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty. I can get behind a god like that:)

    Seriously, the point of the article is that God is personal and individual to all people. Why shouldn't God speak to you in a voice you would find comfortable and pleasing or safe. It's not about schizophrenia and hearing voices, it's about having a relationship with God.

    And for those who don't believe in God, who cares. People attribute too much of the world's evils to God. Everyone likes to pass on the blame when something bad happens–how could God let something like that happen? The fact is, God didn't do those things, people did. It's not a question of whether God allowed those things to happen, but did you and do you approve of it?

    People place too much weight on this world and all of the bad things that happen here. Relax. Enjoy your time here. Make the best of it for yourself and those you care about and leave it at that.

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

      People attribute too much EVERYTHING to god.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  17. Rainer Braendlein

    Ain't right that most of us are servants of the Mammon?

    If you merely work, buy, sleep, save, sell, have some intercourse, etc., but don't seek God's presence, which would lead you to share your wealth with the poor, you are a servant of the Mammon.

    If you love Mammon, you don't love God.

    If you have a God beside God, the Creator, you have broken the first commandment.

    Why?

    Mammon commands you to keep all goods and money, which you have acquired, for your own benefit. In contrast, God, the Lord, wants you to help the people in need with your goods and money.

    Jesus said we cannot serve God and the Mammon at the same time.

    The world has not become a nasty wormhole of Mammonism?

    April 29, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Phil in Oregon

      Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus didn't come to give stuff to the poor? He also never took up a collection for them. He took what He had and made that enough. It took REAL faith to make that happen.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • jamesT297

      Where, exactly, have you seen/heard what MAMMON commands?

      April 29, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Jesus often commanded Judas Iscariot, who had the coffer, to give some money to the poor. Just read the Bible.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Voice of Reason

      "Just read the Bible."

      Just read about the theory of evolution.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  18. Revelation

    Hearing god's voice? It has a medical definition...it is called schizophrenia.

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

      These symptoms can also be achieved through heavy PCP use.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Dospo

      ...yawn!...

      April 29, 2012 at 11:31 am |
  19. bSharp

    I don't know what god sounds like but I know what the devil sounds like, Obama.

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

      Are you sure? I always thought Cheney sounded like the devil. He certainly acted like him.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • bSharp

      Yes, there is more than one devil.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • trueblue42

      Excellent reply, jim! Makes one wonder what kind of "faith" people have when they have to constantly politicize non-political threads and make unwarranted slurs against the President.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • jqent

      Yawn3 (That's "yawn" cubed).

      April 29, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  20. jamesT297

    Everyone else here has it wrong! God sounds like Charlton Heston. Charlton Heston might even be god. God meant for us all to have guns didn't he? Wasn't that one of those inalienable rights bestowed by our creator?

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

      Guns, by far the worst invention ever.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • AGuest9

      But, I'm sure that more people have been killed because of a god than by a gun.

      April 29, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
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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.