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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. Mott the Hoople

    Isn't hearing voices a symptom of schizophrenia?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Your Panties in Texas

      Not in my case because I AM GOD.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
  2. iLL Uman Ati

    GOD is BLACK What color is the universe?... yeah think about it.. He surrounds everything, he is black. End .. of .. conversation.

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

    I bet her anus is super loose.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
  4. bizziel

    I wonder if she would swallow my load?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
  5. ProHazleton

    This article made no sense. What relevance did it even hold. Rubbish.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      CNN = Fail

      April 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm |
    • bizziel

      You think I could fit my whole forearm in here butt hole?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  6. Reality

    HEAR YE ! HEAR YE ! HEAR YE ! said the gods of rational thinking:

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    (References used are available upon request.)

    ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

    April 29, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
  7. Bootyfunk

    just look at her eyes. she has that christian cult stare. makes you want to move a few chairs down if you sat next to here at a dinner table. creeeeeeeeeeeeeeepy!

    April 29, 2012 at 10:48 pm |
  8. Proffiteer

    "That’s nothing more than boot camp for a bunch of hellions anyway." Just like a religious fanatic to knock someone who has tried or is trying and you haven't or won't. Let me see you say that in a room full of rangers. We'll see where your god is then...

    April 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • Your Panties in Texas

      Texas Rangers?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  9. Wondering

    Karen Spears Zacharias, John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Mark David Chapman etc... need I write more?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • Wondering some more

      John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer, Albert Henry Disalvo, Theodore John Kaczyinsky and many more....

      April 29, 2012 at 10:42 pm |
  10. Brody Kauff

    This article is either high comedy and very very scary!

    This woman is INSANE.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
  11. SciGuy

    If CNN were serious about finding out what the Scriptures teach about these things, they would seek out a person who actually understands that the Bible is the word of God. Here are some ideas for you CNN: R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Sinclair Ferguson, Don Fortner, John Piper, Henry Mahan. Please, please find someone who understands the gospel when you want sensible information *regarding* the gospel.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • HmmThatsWeird

      And I'll bet each of them will have a different interpretation, as is the case with so many religious topics.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • htc_away

      Sensible?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:44 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      all those guys are kooks. sowwy.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:50 pm |
    • Reality

      More NT scholars and their views of JC;

      :Jesus the Myth: Heavenly Christ
      Earl Doherty
      Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy

      Jesus the Myth: Man of the Indefinite Past
      Alvar Ellegård
      G. A. Wells

      Jesus the Hellenistic Hero
      Gregory Riley

      Jesus the Revolutionary
      Robert Eisenman

      Jesus the Wisdom Sage
      John Dominic Crossan
      Robert Funk
      Burton Mack
      Stephen J. Patterson

      Jesus the Man of the Spirit
      Marcus Borg
      Stevan Davies
      Geza Vermes

      Jesus the Prophet of Social Change
      Richard Horsley
      Hyam Maccoby
      Gerd Theissen

      Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet
      Bart Ehrman
      Paula Fredriksen
      Gerd Lüdemann
      John P. Meier
      E. P. Sanders

      Jesus the Savior
      Luke Timothy Johnson
      Robert H. Stein
      N. T. Wright
      Raymond Brown

      See http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/theories.html for a review.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  12. Your Panties in Texas

    I know what God sounds like because I AM GOD.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
    • C

      Can you whisper in my ear next weeks mega millions numbers? and can you sound like Angelina Jolie?

      April 30, 2012 at 1:20 am |
  13. SciGuy

    Based on this article, if Karen Spears Zacharias is a Christian, I am Spock from the planet Vulcan.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:32 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      Funny how xtians ignore, "judge not lest ye be judged..." If there were such a thing as a spiritual transformation as xtianity, what makes you think you'd have the authority or discernment to judge another person's xtianity?

      April 29, 2012 at 11:12 pm |
    • SciGuy

      Ash, because God has given us his rational revelation and he has given us rational minds with which to understand it. Those who claim to be followers of it, and yet display profound ignorance of its contents are not hard to discover, if you take the time to understand the scriptures. The passage you quoted regarding judging is not speaking of discerning false teachers. In fact, believers are commanded to weigh what professing believers teach and to highlight those who pervert the gospel. This woman falls into that category. Which you could discover if you compare just this article to the contents of the scriptures.

      April 29, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  14. SciGuy

    Jesus said something like this while on earth: When the son of man returns, will he find faith on the earth? The implied answer is No, and articles like this make it abundantly clear that he knew what he was talking about. Today's so-called religious/spiritual people know little to nothing about the Word of God, and have no understanding of Jesus, his work, and the gospel.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:31 pm |
    • OOO

      Don't you see the implicit catch-22 in the phrase attributed to Jesus? Anyone can say something like this, and obviously they did.
      It's similar to someone saying "someday they will no longer have faith in the tooth fairy"! You could never prove that the tooth fairy doesn't exist. So you statement can live on forever, catching anyone who is afraid of the consequences of not believing in the tooth fairy.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      it's probably you that doesn't have any understanding of the jesus. did you know jesus approved of slavery?

      Luke 12:37-38
      37 "Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.
      38 "Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.”

      here's jesus making a woman call her race "dogs" before he'll help her little girl. sound compa.ssionate?
      Mathew 15:21-28
      21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
      22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
      23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
      24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
      25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
      26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
      27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
      28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

      jesus said some great things about love - though he often only meant his affections toward other jews. but jesus said some other not so nice things, too. people always hold jesus up as the perfect good guy - but wouldn't someone full of compassion and love condemn slavery instead of supporting it?

      April 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm |
    • SciGuy

      Bootyfunk, I've read and studied the Scriptures considerably. You are correct about slavery. The inst.itution itself is not inherently evil. Those who claim to be Christian and teach that it is immoral own slaves don't know the scriptures that they claim to follow. Slavery is not to be desired, and the scriptures make this clear. But slavery, in itself, is not sinful. There were believing masters in the New Testament times that were commended for their faith. Paul told them how to treat their slaves, and did not indicate that granting them freedom was necessary. Jesus is the Lord of this world, the creator of us all, and the Judge of all the earth. Since he did not condemn slaveowners for being slaveowners, neither do I. And neither should you. I've had this discussion with many "pastors" who come up for air at the thought. It's indicative of what I was stating above. It is popular today to claim to follow the lowly Jesus and the God of "Smile, God loves you" fame. The only problem is that that is not the God of the Bible, and that is not the sovereign and holy Lord Jesus, Ruler of the world that the scriptures present.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      sorry, that is the biggest load of crock i've ever heard. christians try to justify slavery by pretending there was a golden age of slavery where slaves were treated like dear friends. lol. are you kidding me? here's a part in the bible that gives rules for how to beat your slaves. BEAT them.

      Exodus 21:20-21

      King James Version (KJV)
      20And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.
      21Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

      that's right, if you beat them so bad they die, you're going to get punished. but if you beat them and they can limp around in a couple of days, it's okay.

      it's ridiculous to think the bible/god/jesus got something as evil as slavery wrong. slavery isn't a sin? are you insane? is there a worse fate?

      April 29, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • SciGuy

      One difference between you and me, booty: I would not presume to tell God what is moral and what is not. However, I suspect that even you do not believe that slavery is inherently immoral. Men in prison are slaves. They come and go only as their masters allow them to come and go. They do whatever work they are given to do, and their wages are determined, if any, solely by their masters. Do you think it is immoral to have prisoners?

      April 29, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  15. HmmThatsWeird

    Umm.. even religious people think it's strange when someone says god talks to them audibly.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  16. R.T.K.

    Can you imagine finding yourself seated next to this woman at a dinner party?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  17. Traveling Partnter

    Jesus was great to travel with. We would walk town to town drinking mead. Then, Jesus would stop at the closest inn throw a sock-o-nails on the counter and ask "you you fellas put me up for the night ?" ahhh. good times.

    April 29, 2012 at 10:25 pm |
  18. kitt5

    this is such a ridiculous article.

    can you say ... super slow news day??

    April 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  19. CJ

    I think God looks like Hayden Christensen. 🙂 Sounds like him too. 😀

    April 29, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  20. blife

    several particular men and then.... "your momma" thrown in at the end; One who loves her son, even when he's a "bad boy". nice. What about this one, "My father, because he loves me even when I've been a bad girl!" That's fair, right?

    April 29, 2012 at 10:13 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.