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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. Margaret

    I don't know what God sounds like, but I do know that if He/She says take a knife and cut your baby's heart out, it is definitely not God.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • Abinadi

      We all remember the cartoon characters who had an angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other. I believe that is a true principle. I believe we do hear suggestions from the other side from the good realm and from the bad and then we act on those suggestions. No, God won't tell us to pick up a knife and kill someone, but the devil will. God is always positive and tells us to love our neighbor and do kind acts. Those who use God to do acts of terrorism are really following Satan!

      April 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  2. rochdoc

    CNN may hang in as a mouth piece for libs now that Newsweek has camled down a bit because nobody was reading that antiChristian magazine. May be they should remember they made blood money out of iraq war. But as for real journalism, they should focus on important issues than rallying for liberal ideology only,
    Try reading the piece in NY times about Apple Inc sidestepping taxes and wonder how CNN can do real job as journalists instead of working for corporations and liberal ideology. You create division and anger inside USA, all along hiding the reality about how regular citizens get taken advantage both by politicians and the rich (ofcourse one and teh same)..

    April 29, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  3. Welled

    I think the subconcious is good if your a child. I don't think an adult should give it all that much consideration except for sleep. Otherwise he should be more of a man and deal with reality instead of entertaining himself or going on space expeditions with his mind. Its not healthy.

    April 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  4. Roger

    The Bible says to build your house upon a rock, not upon sand. How utterly ironic, then, that people cite faith as their reason for believing in God. There is no "rock" in faith. It is no more a foundation for belief in God than sand is a foundation for a house.

    April 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  5. Ben

    I think its very nice that this lady took time to tell us about how she hears God, and I think a lot of these people here who are writing should stop posting comments. If you don't like an article, don't read it, you don't have to hurt others to make yourself feel powerful or smart.

    April 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • joe

      The lady is a bone head

      April 29, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Voice of Reason

      "If you don't like an article, don't read it,"

      How the heck are you going to know if you like it or not if you do not read it? Hello? Anyone there?

      April 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • Serious

      Ben is clearly retarded. I'm serious.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  6. Rob in San Diego

    Rally up the religious for better ratings while real news doesn't get reported. CNN has reached an all time low.

    April 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  7. Rallph Smith

    I guess Christians would agree that the author of this article should follow Paul's epistle. 1Corinthians 14:34-35 "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for a woman to speak in church........I guess she hasn't learned anything.. Women are chattel in the Bible and there is surely nothing bad said about slavery or child abuse.............What a collection of mumbo jumbo.

    April 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Margaret

      That quote from the Bible has caused women more grief over the last 2000 years.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Abinadi

      That was probably good advice in Roman times, but is no longer applicable in our time.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  8. Martin

    author is just plain nuts, what a pile of dribble

    April 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  9. phneutral

    So she makes a living at this? Might have a credibility problem.

    April 29, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  10. Welled

    Answer is simple don't live in the forest or near water. The earth keeps a lot of people healthy on a daily basis. It's not the floride in your water that does. Trees are a dumb place to live food dosen't for the most part grow there. Water isn't all that bright either. Water is not supposed to damn that up because where you are supposed to live is downstream where everything gets carried that makes you very healthy. So don't live near water. Dig a well dugan.

    April 29, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  11. MashaSobaka

    A friend of mine recently had a psychotic break and ran around on the streets naked because she'd heard the voice of God. I never did ask her what the voice sounded like. I was too busy worrying about how she was doing in the psychiatric ward.

    April 29, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  12. bluemax77

    Sound’s like a fake...

    April 29, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  13. Mopery

    Is there any reasonable way to distinguish schizophrenics who hear voices in their head from religious zealots who hear voices in their head? It seems to me that in both cases the person should be considered mentally ill, as there is no difference in their experience except maybe for the supposed source of the voices.

    April 29, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      I have a lot of voices in my head. It's called being a part-time writer. Please don't throw me in the psych ward.

      April 29, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
  14. K. Mapson

    There is a theological theory called Pandeism, first named by German philosophers over two centuries ago, which is the belief that our Creator (which humans conventially package as 'God' despite certain baggage associated with that name) in fact essentially 'became' the Creation. Our Creator, Pandeism contends, is so great that it even underlies and holds together every subatomic of our Universe, all the time, and so that we are 'within' our Creator, unknowing fragments of its inestimably greater whole. Under the theory of Pandeism, we hear the voice of God in so many different people and things because all of them are indeed part of our Creator!! Leonard Nimoy and James Earl Jones and yes, even Pee Wee Herman and Jeff Bridges and Yoda and our mother are indeed our Creator!!

    April 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      sounds more or less like Deism.

      April 29, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Jadugara

      I like that! I think that's a cool concept!

      It feels "right"...

      April 29, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Train

      Along that track, everything must be the voice of the creator. So when some thug tells you to f-off, thank you god. So that means god is a jerk a lot of the time.Right in line with the Christian one...

      April 29, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • Roger

      How can you have a theological theory? A theory requires actual supportive evidence, and theology, by its very definition rejects evidence. It's all "based" on faith, which is like trying to stand on jello.

      April 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • johnfrichardson

      Are you sure of the term" Sounds like pantheism.

      April 29, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • K. Mapson

      To Bootyfunk who finds that this "sounds more or less like Deism" and to johnfrichardson who suggests, "Sounds like pantheism," yes to both of you Pandeism is pantheistic Deism, combining the idea in Pantheism of idea of all things being 'God' with the the idea in Deism that our Creator set forth a self-operating Universe, and need not actively intervene in its operations - which both things are true in Pandeism; all things are within a Creator which set forth our Universe by becoming it, and which allows it to unfold as it will, simply experiencing all of existence without choosing outcomes.

      To Train, we are unaware of our status as fragmentations of our Creator; the vulgar thug doesn't appreciate either that he is within his Creator when he speaks offensively, nor does he appreciate that whoever he directs his scorn against is equally a part of his Creator. To Roger, I think you unnecessarily conflate 'theory' with 'hypothesis' there; theory being a general term not owned by any field of endeavor. Great comments, thank you all (and thank you especially Jadugara)!!

      April 29, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  15. Vote Early, Vote Often!

    Quick vote! Is this indeed the absolute dumbest, worst article ever to putrify the Belief Blog?

    I vote yes.

    April 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • NoTheism

      Good point. I think they just wanted to reconnect with Christians, so they published this joke.

      April 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
  16. Emilio Dumphuque

    How do you know it's not an alien talking to you by some alien technology? Oh, wait, there's not really any difference!

    April 29, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  17. Johnny

    Karen,

    I am happy you were able to admit that you have a serious mental illness. Please seek out help, you don't have to live like this. There are a lot of treatment options for hearing voices. You can have a normal life again.

    Johnny

    April 29, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
  18. bobcat2u

    Did you notice the picture of Pee Wee Herman. I'm sure when god spoke to him, he said, Pee Wee, Quit plaing with your Pee Pee in the movie theater.

    April 29, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  19. esparmc

    Sad thing is these people are considered perfectly sane. If someone else hears voices that are not god, people think they are nuts. goes to show you how freaking crazy religious people are.

    April 29, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • JE

      So the question is: do you vote for them, work for them, live near them, associate with them?

      Why?

      Why would you associate with insane people?

      Obama believes in God. Colin Powell believes in God. The list goes on and on and on....

      Somehow people who don't believe in God are able to ignore this very obvious fact.

      April 29, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
    • Pheadrus

      For Pete's sake, CNN. While you're at it, why not publish the manifestos of Breivik, Kaczinski, Manson, et.al. As long as you (CNN) insist on giving schizophrenics space that could be used for legitimate, worthwhile news ( I know, but I can dream), you might as well go with the big guys...

      April 29, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  20. Prometheus

    The-crucible.weebly.com

    From lead to gold.

    April 29, 2012 at 3:33 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.