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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. Flim Flam Sauce

    Wait a minute, wait a minute... the very fact that Ms. Zacharias has to ask what the voice of God sounds like to others, when she so obviously hears it herself is troubling...she should be TELLING us, not asking us...

    Thus, it is evident that, at least to this author, "God" has no definitive "voice."

    I'd settle for Truman Capote's voice though. At least it would help me get through my quiet time with a little more humor.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
  2. Qwerty Elemeno

    I wonder why God sounds exactly like the voice you would have chosen subconsciously, and provides insights that are not genius but instead at exactly the intellect of the listener, and the results are often poor, and God gets mad when you think God would be mad, and is happy when you think God should be happy

    Oh yeah, it's because God is actually you talking to yourself. I find it interesting that religious people scream that atheists have decided they are gods when in fact the god these religious people obey is themselves. That is why God tells them that different rules apply or don't apply, and that other Christians are not "real" Christians simply because they do not agree with you.

    Religious people: What you think is God is only you talking to yourself.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Welled

      Thats a good point. The subconcious would be a place where you would draw on right from wrong. Thats why I'm not big on tv its to much of a somnambulant state of conciousness. Besides I detest a one way conversation. Where I have to listen while they talk.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  3. logan 5

    What does god sound like? Perhaps it's best to prove the Christian deity exists at all before we go inquiring as to how he sounds LOL

    April 29, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Elmo

      April 29, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  4. Flim Flam Sauce

    And just for the record, the voice of God HAS been recorded and sounds surprisingly similar to that of comedian Steve Buscemi in Escape from L.A. Why God happens to be saying the same dialogue as Buscemi's character, and why Kurt Russell's voice can be heard in the background, along with explosions...is ultimately beyond me. But the proof is there, ladies and gentlemen. God said it, I believe it, that settles it!

    Hallelujah. Holy sh!t. Where's the tylenol?

    April 29, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Welled

      Try Steve Bucsemi in St. John of Las Vegas pretty good flick

      April 29, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
  5. I am God

    God sounds like me. He sounds like any regular person. As an Atheist the word "God" is just another word form for "humanity."

    April 29, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Observer

      Do you demand that everyone do exactly as you say and it not, send them to hell?

      April 29, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • I am God

      Yes for I am God/Atheist/Whoknows/Whocares.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  6. cucotx

    1 – The subconscious mind of Man in its relentless unsuccessful quest to find answers to all the fearful questions from the ego. Since the mind is on a perpetual state of worrying about all sorts of perceived threats to its survival, and since it cannot find answers to most questions it generates, it has conveniently come up with the belief in a God ...

    2 – Since an important part of our mind is to do whatever it takes to keep us alive, e.g. breathing, heartbeat, etc. It cannot accept the reality of it dying. Therefore, it has conveniently invented an after-life for its "soul".

    There is no God you monkeys!

    Live the Now and stop believing in that outside of what you can explain rationally. Or keep believing, if it makes it easier to cope.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Bill

      Although i get your point quite clearly, you don't further your argument by referring to your readers as monkeys. Perhaps your superior intellect can wrap itself around considerations that communication only happens when you're not insulting your readers/listeners.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • cucotx

      Bill,
      the reference was just as a way of a reminder to the fact that we're just one of the many creatures that roam this planet. Since we find ourselves at the top of the food chain, it is easy to forget the fact that we're just creatures that must kill other living things to feed ourselves, while we try to keep other creatures from killing us ...

      I think I may have been thinking about the "Planet of the Apes" movie at the time. Great movie 🙂

      IMO, whenever we ask things like: "God help me with the problems I have with my teenager", or "God, why do I have this disease. Why me?", or "God take my pain away", etc, etc. Our subconscious minds can come up with an endless number of issues that it cannot find a satisfactory solution for. Most problems in life seem to be outside the control of Sentient beings. But, such unresolved issues and perceived threats are still of concern to our minds. Our minds just cannot find answers to most problems, so it has created something outside itself to help it find an answer. I think we create the concept of a God in order to have something outside of ourselves that can receive our endless questions. So the belief in a God is just our fearful self finding a way to cope with the dynamic state of being alive.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  7. Welled

    Look the well heeled have to engage in pacification. So does the government that protects their assets and them so well. Otherwise you wind up like the let them eat cake people at the guillitone. Or meat sauce like the Czar and his family. They know theres a certain part of the populace that is extremely disgruntled. They don't want it coming for them. Even the police say praise God tell them anything so we don't have to deal with an angry mob. The 68 riots brought LBJ out really quick with the Great Society. Its reallly nothing but paper and hauling some food in some old housing to keep people from burning the place to the ground.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • Welled

      Plus the odds of Obama being elected don't look good seeing as we never really had a Black Senator or a Black Govenor. Plus no white majority has ever elected a black in any other country. Give me a break.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Welled

      So I think we need a leader that says to the world look. We are sorry for all the invasions for oil and stuff and we are going to change things. So no more invasions. Sorta. Cause well weapons mean nothing when your outnumbered 1000 to 1. I mean use your noodle. Or try.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Welled

      Ignorance is bliss but good grief. You want change do it for yourself. Instead of being a lackey for some business and a true believer.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  8. Flim Flam Sauce

    Well, by the very publication of this article by CNN (presuming she received money for it), it is evident that Ms. Zacharias has worked one more day in her life than Mitt Romney's wife.

    By the content of the article, however, it is not quite as evident. Resorting to arrogant high-mindedness in a. failing to state her own (obviously Christian) bias about who God is, b. failing to include any non-Christian examples in the article, and c. presuming that another's experience of God is invalid because it fails to jive with her own; the author has shown a consistent disregard for objectivity, fairness, and openmindedness.

    I sincerely hope that the readers of this article have the same response that Noah had upon hearing the voice of God in Bill Cosby's famous skit:
    God: this is the voice of God speaking.
    Noah: riiiiiiight.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  9. Bill

    Has anyone actually ever recorded the voice of God. I doubt it. I also doubt that God has a voice. The "voice" that one attributes to God is probably much like the "voices" that schizophrenics might hear, i.e., one manufactured by our desire to have our Deity speak to us on a personal level. So when people say "Oh, God spoke to me", i usually take that to mean "I was moved by an inspiration that I attributed to God's influence in my life" rather than think that God ACTUALLY AUDIBLY spoke to them. In truth, God has never spoken or written anything that anyone can prove.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  10. Terry Smith

    God speaks to the heart so is felt rather than heard.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • momoya

      So Allah is the right one? Cool.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  11. Flim Flam Sauce

    My bet is God sounds like Kathy Bates, and probably looks like her too. At least that would be consistent with the state of the world today.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  12. Peggy K

    Alan Rickman ..... God sounds like like Alan Rickman. Come to think of it, the Devil sounds like Alan Rickman as well. Oops.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  13. popeye1128

    These stories crack me up. If there is really a god out there, he/she/it is most likely nothing like we imagine. I'd have to say the sound is like your sphincter slamming shut when you realize you are in the presence of the one and almighty being.
    Not saying I necessarily believe in such a being, simply saying the question and idea of god having a voice of any kind is a bit amusing.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  14. tensai13

    "What does God sound like?" – He sounds like a jerk! Next question!

    April 29, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
    • Matt

      No that's Bill Maher whose a jerk

      April 29, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Welled

      I'll second that on ole Bill. See I'm not fooled by anyone. I saw his film and how he played with the rubes. But when it got to the slick peachers well then they were pretty much on the same page. Bill knows where the Christian writtings come from. If he was square he would tell it. The next day he would be out of a job of course. Theres the fools. Then the fools that think they are fools. They are just as fooled.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • popeye1128

      God sounds like a Republican, the epitome of jerkiness.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • tensai13

      Biil Maher can certainly be a jerk at times no doubt about it, but the subject under discussion is your "God" delusion not Bill Maher.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  15. BK

    It's all fine and dandy to have voices in your head until the voices tell you they want you to hurt someone. I don't know how many articles I've read about parents killing their children and claiming 'God' told them to. If there is anything we can be sure about with that particular brand of insanity is that it ONLY affects people who believe in God; otherwise they realize that they're hearing voices and go get help.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  16. nonPCrealist

    If you hear god's voice in your head you have other problems than figuring out what celebrity he sounds like..

    April 29, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  17. Observer

    Everyone just picks and chooses from the Bible and pretend that God said what they want to hear. That's why there are so many Christians who hypocritically pick on gays or pretend the Bible trashes pro-choice supporters.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
    • Matt

      "Everyone" picks and chooses. That's not a very astute observation but I do think there is a theme throughout the Bible that murder is wrong and it doesn't say anywhere that 3rd trimester abortions are really about women's rights or that the founder of Planned Parenthood was a racist who attended KKK rallies and wanted to suppress minority populations. Killing unborn babies because they have down syndrome in the 3rd trimester is sick regardless of religion.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • momoya

      The god of the bible advocates murder and does it himself a lot more than he commands it to cease or stops it from happening..

      April 29, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • Matt

      Jesus never killed anyone. However the atheist Stalin killed millions.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Observer

      Matt,

      The Bible offers more to support abortion than to oppose it.

      The Bible says that at one point God torturously murdered EVERY pregnant woman, child, baby and fetus on the face of the earth.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • momoya

      LOL!! The god of the OT is the one who "changes not".. He killed and commanded the killing of many.. Genocide and the like.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Observer

      matt,

      "the founder of Planned Parenthood was a racist who attended KKK rallies'

      Thanks for the history lesson from, what, a HUNDRED years ago?

      April 29, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  18. Stormy

    According to Eddie Izzard, God sounds like James Mason.

    I Like that idea, but I like her ideas, too. Particularly the one about God sounding like Spock. 🙂

    April 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  19. Matt

    Every single president going back to GW senior promised "alternative energy" in their political campaigns. Kind of funny. Doesn't matter democrat or republican. They all have said similar things in their campaigns. Good thing is no one will invade the U.S. for windmills and wind energy.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:15 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      You have apparently failed to notice the subject of this article.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
    • Welled

      Natural gas works really well. Of course coal is out. Things like this Iran is one of the most seismically active countries in the world, being crossed by several major fault lines that cover at least 90% of the country. As a result . See why are you people trying to turn the middle east into a seismic event. You screw around with things like iron and you get 35k auto deaths a year not to mention the crippled and maimed and still you keep chugging. Honestly I'm just looking for some sense in people somewhere.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  20. TG

    The apostle Paul wrote to the Hebrew Christians: "God, who long ago spoke on many occasions and in many ways to our forefathers by means of the prophets, has at the end of these days spoken to us by means of a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things."(Heb 1:1, 2)

    Hence, how Jesus spoke and taught the crowds is how God speaks, with Jesus telling the Jewish crowd: "Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls. For my yoke is kindly and my load is light."(Matt 11:28-30) Thus, God does not speak in a demeaning tone, but lovingly, as any loving father would their child.

    In these "last days"(2 Tim 3:1-5), Jesus has appointed a "faithful and discreet slave" class to speak God's thoughts and his counsel, providing "meat in due season".(Matt 24:45, King James Bible) These ones are responsible for taking care of our Creator, Jehovah God's interest on the earth. These ones are assigned to dispense true spiritual food that teaches people "the truth" about God and not lies.(John 8:32)

    April 29, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
    • edwardo

      Did you leave any kool-aid for the rest of us?

      April 29, 2012 at 7:16 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      You do know, don't you, that the "last days" have been going on for about 2000 years now?

      April 29, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • DisCusTed

      We are all children of God and the son you speak of Jesus was a prophet like Mohammed and all of the others in the religious books out there. Most people don't understand that god does not favor one religion or another but looks to those who serve God and mankind. All religions serve the same power but do it in a way of their own choosing. God is more spiritual than favoring Christianity over other religions, God is here for all mankind not just your narrow beliefs.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • AGuest9

      "God does not speak in a demeaning tone, but lovingly, as any loving father would their child."

      It's just that, well, every once in a while, he gets really upset and kills several hundred, or a few thousand, or occasionally, the entire human race and starts over. Because, well, he loves us so much.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
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