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. I am John

    Obviously, some of you hear the voice of a different father who is not He who Elijah heard! Time is short for the prince of darkness and this world who deceives mankind to believe that my Father-Creator-God does not exist. The prince thought he himself was God and was cast from heaven. The children of him will rage at what I just said for they think their father is greater and his reign is eternal. Rage on! The Lord Jesus defeated him and death. Behold, the Lord Jesus comes quickly!


    1 Kings 19:11-12 (NKJV): "11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. 13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

    April 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Rational1

      Quoting the bible to prove god exists and that the bible is right, is like reading a definition of a word that references the word in the definition.... Pointless. I have a book, I say it is the word of god, my proof? It says so on the first page. If you hear voices from someone who's not there, you need to be in a padded room.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • sybaris

      People who copy and paste bible verses to support their claim clearly have no concept of corroborative evidence.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Those used guys.

      I am a poor ignorant heathen and would like your help relating to your post, thank you. The verses you quote, I am not familiar with and you do not provide a reference. I have seen and heard similiar quotes in the Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, is that where you got your info from? In that fiction the all seeing eye was on a massive tower and had this really awesome scary voice but was the bad guy and ended up as toast. So in your silly story, where the voice seems to be a puny still small voice, how does it relate to reality? I mean really!
      RAmen....blessings from the FSM....Peace.

      April 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  2. FSM

    I'm from Alabama and moved away as soon as I was able b/c you have to listen to quite a few of these mental cases on a daily basis.

    April 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • JE

      People believe in God in all 50 states and around the world...not just in Alabama.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • seyedibar

      stupid people are everywhere. It's impossible to flee their presence, Better to stay and fight back with science and rationality.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • FSM

      Did I say they're only in Alabama?

      April 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  3. pleasecalmbe

    wow ah sorry to inform you but mary had a boy his name is jesus he loves us so much he died on the cross and arose 3 days later for everyones sin he is the best almighty awesome patient mericiful god so be silent if you aint telling the truth

    April 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • ruemorgue

      did you take meds, today?

      April 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • sybaris

      praise zombie jesus!

      April 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • n8263

      Tell us the story of the Easter Bunny again!

      April 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  4. Yo Momma

    Hey, hey, hey! Leave atheists out of this! 🙂

    April 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  5. Shaun187

    If you think the voice inside your head is god...Ask that voice if slavery is a good thing... If the voice says no then its not god you're talking to.... Cause god is totally into slavery Ex21

    April 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  6. JE

    4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.

    9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

    April 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  7. rochdoc

    Wonderful post – not. You are using a secret weapon for hitting the Christian faith – emotion and feeling of betrayal. If you had some disillusionment due to the behavior of some parishoner or family member that is your problem. I am not trying to be rude. But like so many others, including me in the past, you put your hope in wrong things. God is not your santa clause or tooth fairy who brings your money. Jesus in fact frees you from this disllusionment. Now come to terms with yourself and and your own past, live your life "as if: you are clean. that is all that matters.
    In fact this bring to my mind two points, one is that an oversimplification of Christian concepts can do general harm. Second is that I could see how a secular culture first brings up two essentially antichristian imaginary characters into public imagination (santa, Easter bunny and Tooth fairy) for commercial reasons and secularization of Christian holydays, atleast two of them started possibly within the century and then the same use these imaganiary characters to suggest that God does not exist. Is it time that churches make a bold stand against commercialization of their religious days?

    April 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • sybaris

      The problem with your post is that you have it backwards. Christianity borrowed those holidays/occasions from pre-existing pagan rituals and other religions of the day. The characters did not arise out of commercialism but from mythology.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  8. Wastrel

    This is a pretty silly article. If you actually hear voices, instead of getting inspirations and convictions about the right thing to do, you probably need psychiatric help. James Earl Jones? Yeah, God sounds like Darth Vader to me.

    April 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  9. brokenteeth

    God is a black Vulcan . Tuvoc!

    April 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  10. The Dude

    Schizophrenia...it is treatable now with the right medication.

    April 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  11. pleasebecalm

    wow cant believe this hog wash god is jesus who died for our sins and arose 3 days later the grave was empty think some here better study thier bibles a little more mary had a boy all the earthquakes torando valcanos everything you call mother nature is jesus wiping out the baddness in this world so hit the bible from genesis to revelations and study it hard and be a silent follower if you dont know the truth may your guilt overwelm you and wake up n repent those sins i saw here

    April 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • sybaris

      So when your god whips up a tornado in an uninhabited area it was practicing? Bad aim? Wanted to kill just animals that day?

      April 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Mick

      Punctuation, dude. Look into it.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  12. Ec1warc1

    The real question is, why does god's voice appear like a delusion?

    April 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  13. Rainer Braendlein

    For times immemorial God proves his love for us by the creation.

    God made the stars, the sun and the moon, heaven and earth, plants, fellow human beings, animals, good weather, good harvests, etc..

    Yet, we don't thank God and praise him for his creation, but focus on things, which are void.

    The Romans and the Greeks worshipped Zeus, Hermes, etc., which they called Gods, but which are in fact demons.

    We, today, adore Mammon the God of materialism and capitalism (beside people adore a false cheap grace – Jesus, a false God like Allah, a lousy human dwarf, called pope, etc.)

    As we submit to the powers of death our sin explodes and we have become sinners althrough:

    Romans 1:

    And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    We need to return to the true God, which is the source of life and who wants to give us life in abundance.

    What is his name?

    Answer: The Lord, the Eternal God, which has made heaven and earth. This is his eternal name.

    How can we return to him?

    He gave us a second revelation of himself beside the creation: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Jesus has borne our sins, when he died for us on the cross. He resurrected from the dead for our justification.

    Believe that and get sacramentally baptized. Get born by Water and Spirit and receive the Spirit. Become a member of a New Mankind, which obeys the Eternal God and will suffer on earth, but enjoy eternal community with God and the lamb in heaven.

    April 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • sybaris

      "God made the stars, the sun and the moon, heaven and earth, plants, fellow human beings, animals, good weather, good harvests, etc.."

      and to this day you still cannot provide one shred of evidence to support your claim.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Tet


      April 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Those used guys.

      Jimmy Swaggert, HIMSEF sounds like Jim boy, when he is asking for forgiveness, yet again. Jesus must have packed it in already having to bear all the sins of mankind. He must sound something like this, in Jimmies voice, Can't you people just follow the damn commandments and quit bugging me, get over yourselves for my (Christs) sakes.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  14. Voice of Reason

    @Ryan said:
    "So yeah. The main question is, how did beings survive under dangerous phases of the Earth?"

    Apparently you haven't educated yourself have you?

    April 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Ryan

      I have, and as much science as there is, there needs to be more logics.

      You, however, believe in nothing but treating science as if it were a religion, which is where I don't see science in that way. I see it as a study of life.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  15. n8263

    God's voice sounds exactly like Santa Claus.

    April 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • sybaris

      I'm more of a James Earl Jones kind of god voice myself

      April 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm |

      And we have a winner!!

      April 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  16. BuleriaChk

    Just because you're schizophrenic doesn't mean that everything is not a figment of your imagination...

    April 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  17. sanjosemike

    Howcome nobody asks why the god of the old testament "behaves" like a psychopath, ordering people to kill their own children and decimate neighboring villages by killing every man, woman and child therein?


    April 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      Because they avoid that kind of stuff, they cannot explain the mysterious ways of god. Puke!

      April 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
  18. J

    "A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell." – C.S. Lewis

    April 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • jamesT297

      OK then, that settles it.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Because everyone should seriously consider the writings of someone who used the device of a drug to "get small" in a children's story?

      April 29, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Dave Bradshaw

      Have you tried scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of your cell?

      April 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • JE

      Are you talking about Alice in Wonderland? That was written by Lewis Carroll...

      April 29, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • AGuest9

      You are correct – brain spasm. This was the guy who wanted to go through his wardrobe to a land inhabited by half-goats standing around in the snow by a lamplight in the middle of the woods.

      April 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  19. Voice of Reason

    @Henry said:
    "If you are an atheist what are you doing in a belief forum! Go back to the hole you crawled out, stupid!!"

    It appears you are the "stupid" one!

    April 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Ironic, isn't it? Hopefully, he stays off the Science pages.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  20. Beam

    Thanks yet again CNN for giving the aggressive atheist another reason to attack our faith. I truly wish you would stop the blogs, and opinion articles on our faith. It seems you do it to get alot of people to come to your site and post and for no other reason! (later they will do another article posting some select comments from here) ugh!

    April 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      A little sensitive are we?

      April 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • Kevin

      We're not really attacking you. Just making fun of you and your silly beliefs.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • jamesT297

      Well, yeah. What do you think would happen when you put up the notion of a god that has not appeared in over 2000 years and who could not reason himself nor his holy texts out of a paper bag.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • sybaris

      Beam said, "I truly wish you would stop the blogs, and opinion articles on our faith."

      Control of the press, so indicative of Fascism. If you do not think like we do then out you go!

      Someone said, "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross"

      Regardless, atheists are not bashing your religion, they are just intolerant of ignorance.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • sam stone

      beam: feeling a little put upon? no one is forcing you to come to this sight.

      April 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • sam stone

      sight = site

      April 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Crixus

      Don't blame CNN. If you people don't want you're "faith" criticized, you should not write inflamitory articles like the one this woman wrote. Many people who are not right-wing, evangelical Christians find it inflamitory for the following reasons:
      -To make a claim that God speaks to you in physical direct way is putting yourself on a pedistal above other and necessarily talking down to them. I was Catholic and I have never known anyone to make that claim unless they were evangelical. The same goes for the faith healers, teleevangelist, and other bs that has proliferated our society.
      -Many people are sick and tired of the recent phenominon of evangelicals taking over our schools and public lives, preaching to us, imposing their beliefs on us. When there is any resistance to their cause they have the gall to claim that they are the victims. That is SICK!!!! People do not want to be preached to. This is why we have separation of church and state.
      -Evangelicals have been getting involved with politics, somtimes directly. It affects my life and, I DO NOT WANT IT. Maybe those churches should pay taxes.

      So then, the people who are criticizing this article and religion, in general, have every right to do so. They need to fight religion tooth and nail to prevent it from controlling our lives. I look at it as self-defense. If you're getting your feelings hurt then, maybe you should keep your rligion to yourself WHERE IT BELONGS!!!!

      April 29, 2012 at 3:31 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.