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.

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Filed under: Movies

soundoff (3,288 Responses)

    HEY ATHEIST! WHAT IF YOU ARE WRONG..............ask us if were wrong then nothing happens we go into the great abyss of nothing lol............BUT IF YOUR WRONG............wow :*(

    May 3, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • mburg6761

      I'm an atheist myself but I'll put aside my viewpoints regarding the whole deity thing aside except for one question. Why, oh why, was Morgan Freeman left off of this list? Other voices that seem pretty obvious choices to me: Peter Cullen (Yes, Optimus Prime.), Bob Ross, Hugo Weaving, Charleton Heston, Liam Neeson, Ian McKellen, Michael Gambon, Justin Wilson (Host of a Creole Cooking Show back in the 80's on public television...) Not that I disagree with any of the choices here but... ;D

      May 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Mister Jones

      If I am wrong, then I burn in a Lake of Fire for all of eternity because my "father" did a really bad job of consolidating the rules. Therefore, for my 40 (as of now), maybe 60, 70, or even 90 years of existence on this planet, I am going to suffer for 90 million years, wait ... 900 million years, and then we will just be getting started. 5 billion years later, I may realize the error of my ways, but it will be far too late!! I will be there forever!!! ... Which is an incomprehendible amount of time, so what were you saying again? Forever is a timespan that makes sense to children, and children only.

      May 3, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Steven Harrison

      To answer your "what if you're wrong" question, in the spirit in which it has been asked;
      If a Christian is right, they get to go to Heaven.
      If a Christian is wrong and an Atheist is right, you just die and that's the end.
      If an Atheist is right, they just die and that's the end,
      But if an Atheist is wrong they go to Hell.
      So by your logic, it makes more sense to be a believer in that the odds are more in your favor.
      I could tell you this is a very paltry way to live one's life, and that IF God does exist, He knows YOU'RE just choosing because the odds are better. Consequently, such a God will throw you into Hell for not REALLY believing.
      But consider this;
      There are over 1,000 Religions in the world with over a million adherents. OVER 1,000. And only 1 or NONE can be correct.
      This means your chances of being correct are at BEST, LESS than 1 in a 1,000
      Given such lousy odds, you might want to consider living for what you ACTUALLY believe instead of treating Faith like a cheap poker game.

      May 3, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
  2. Sarda

    Please read this book " The Philosophy of Divine love" by H.D. Swami Prakashanand Saraswati. You all will find answers to your questions and concerns.

    May 3, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  3. Ed Sledge

    Karen, like all people to hear God or talk to God, you are delusional.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  4. steve

    i think your psychiatrist can prescribe medication to take care of your mental disorder, i mean hearing voices sounds tragic, attributing them to a "god" is dillussional at best.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  5. Caroline

    I think this concept of hearing the voice of God is so interesting. I believe that God exists but I struggle heavily with faith and the proof of his power and presence. I've known other people to say they actually hear a voice, and I wonder, knowing the type of person that I am, why God doesn't just speak to me outright so that I will know without a doubt that it is Him speaking to me. I've also heard the premise that God speaks through people, and I'm more inclined to believe that, because it's more realistic to me. However, if that's true, then you truly have to have the gift of discernment to decipher whether or not it is truly a "message from God" or just Tyrone speaking his mind. And I think that's where faith comes in, because people who believe that God speaks to them and has a plan and purpose for their life simply believe it, independent of reasoning that might say otherwise. I've never been one to talk against another person's religion, so if the author believes that God speaks to her, I respect it. But I wish that I had the clarity that she seems to have, because for me, it is very much a clouded pool of doubt.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Steven Harrison

      I'm an Atheist who for many years was a Born-Again Christian, and frankly, it sounds like you just need a little push to be willing to consider Atheism. It's not nearly as negative as most people think, as most Atheists don't believe there's no God, we simply don't possess the belief that there IS one. What's the difference? Well, frankly, it means that Atheists are fine with there being a God, fine with there being an afterlife, fine with there being a rich, meaningful spiritual world, but the world Religions by no means seem to represent such a force and such a spiritual world if it exists.
      If conceptually this seems strange, think of "belief" as a commodity that you can pick up and carry around in your hands. Atheists don't like touching or handling this "commodity" called belief because it's so incredibly UNRELIABLE when it comes to determining what's ACTUALLY the Truth. So we don't mess with it. We don't pick it up and we don't carry it around. Consequently, we also don't "use" belief in the negative sense, either. I, for instance, don't believe God doesn't exist. Again, this is because belief is unreliable. This ISN'T Agnosticism, by the way, but there really isn't time to get into that.
      My advice? Just spend six months or so living your life AS THOUGH there isn't this personal, interacting God. I think over time you'll agree it's a more rational approach to the situation we humans find ourselves in. It also makes suffering, tragedy, death, etc. a lot easier to understand. Good luck.

      May 3, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  6. David

    I wonder how it is that religion does not improve the religious one iota. I can only imagine how they would be were they not so religious.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:38 am |
  7. David

    You religious whackjobs please keep your religion to yourself or at least ask your god to forget your soul and feed the starving billions. What a hateful god you nut worship. (Won't even feed the starving.)

    May 3, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  8. David

    It's not god talking to you but the craziness in your brain. If you hear voices go see a psychiatrist.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  9. Jokesterer

    He sounds like Bobcat Goldthwait.

    May 3, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  10. billbugbee

    Me too! Me too! I am on the downhill side of the bell curve of life. I have come to realize that a chunk of God is in each of us. Many call it the Holy Spirit. Read Peter Russell. He explains it well. So God speaks to me through others and so does Satan often more than the Holy Spirit. And Satan can be very persuasive. Ask Eve or one of our Wall Street banksters.

    May 3, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Which God?

      Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit:
      Is a set of tools that skeptical thinkers use to investigate any new concept. A few tools include: a healthy distrust of information that isn’t independently verified, critically assessing an idea rather than becoming irrationally attached to it simply because it’s intriguing, and a preference for simpler explanations over wildly speculative ones

      May 3, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  11. cosprons

    all civilizations have some type of creation myth. it is my hope that one day man will overcome this vacuous necessity for some type of supreme being, zeus forbid!!!

    May 3, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Ed Sledge

      Right on!

      May 3, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  12. D V

    She is indeed blessed.

    May 3, 2012 at 2:36 am |
  13. Kyle

    Karen Spears Zacharias, have you ever asked God why he doesn't speak to other people? Like Patti Callahan Henry, for example?

    May 3, 2012 at 2:28 am |
  14. a visiting alien

    clearly most everyone here has missed the point that the author of the article is making. She doesn't mean that she literally hears God's voice. She means that God speaks to her through different people and in different ways. A mother's rebuke, a father's encouragement, the unlikely parallels drawn between Yoda and Buddhism; these are the ways that she perceives that God speaks to her. It's too bad so many of us have to view life in a manner so very narrow sighted, as to immediately jump to insulting conclusions toward our more intuitive counterparts, i.e the conclusion that she must be mentally ill.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
    • Loc-nar

      She IS mentally ill! Are you thinking she's sane? LOL

      That means you are also insane. Just because you share a psychotic delusion, doesn't make it real or true.

      May 2, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Kyle

      So why does she call it an audible voice? Why the talk of burning bushes? Almost every line in the article suggests that you're wrong and it's not just a metaphorical voice of God.

      May 3, 2012 at 2:32 am |
    • David

      I see what you mean, she imagines stuff and then lends it credence. I see. I see.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:31 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Apologist answer.

      May 5, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  15. jamessavik

    When God is talking to you, it means that you have forgotten to take your medication you crazy git.

    May 2, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • David

      Good one James.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  16. brian

    if you hear voices you are insane. faith or believing that a voice is a god's voice is a sign of being delusional.

    May 2, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  17. mlblogssignedhofbaseballsmuseum

    Isn't this all just a sign of schizophrenia?

    May 2, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • David

      It sure is.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  18. fromtheid

    Karen, do you know how infantile you sound? Take a first year psychology course and learn to look at the real world and the people in it with some form of intellectual and emotional maturity.

    'Voice of God'? I do believe that is your own thoughts coloured by your own life experiences. No god required, only your brain, working as a human brain must.

    Seriously, I know this comes across as insulting to you. But to hear things like "when the voice of God goes silent" is just eye-rollingingly rediculous. No external 'voice' powered by an external omniscient intelligence has ever spoken to you in your head, Karen. It's only your mind, your intellect, your emotions, your experiences, your neurons, your body.

    No external 'voice' has ever spoken to me, and no external voice ever will, no matter how many sermons I go to, how many psalms I read, prayers I say, etc etc. The voices in my head are all mine and I am responsible for them, just as they are yours. Take ownership of your thoughts and feelings, be proud of them. And take pride in the thoughts and feelings of your fellow man, for they are not 'the voice of God', but the voice of Humanity realizing all it's wondrous potential, for good or ill.

    Delight in the voice of your species Karen, for we are all that we have. Cherish us, love us, honor us, nourish us and encourage us. Don't detract from humanity's will and ability by placing responsibility for our deeds at the foot of an imaginary Father figure. You do me, yourself, all of us a dis-service.

    May 2, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  19. EDJ

    I think God speaks to some of us (who do not hear voices) through intuition.

    May 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Jeff

      then by the very nature of intuition, God must sometimes be wrong.

      May 2, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • David

      You mean you hope that's what it is.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  20. Beth

    I hear my God's voice all the time. I see Him sometimes, too. Have I PHYSICALLY seen Him? Not yet, but I will. Nomatter, though, I don't equal God's voice to an actor's/actresses' voice or even to my Mother's. His voice is His own. There are people out there that haven't personally heard His voice, but that doesn't mean that He doesn't ever talk to people. ^^

    May 2, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • momoya

      BEth, what do you think of people who worship a completely different god than you do, but report the exact same words as you just gave?

      May 2, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • David

      There is still hope for you Beth. Please don't join the delusional. That just makes you crazy.

      May 3, 2012 at 10:34 am |
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