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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. person

    Right. That's called intuition. Nothing special about it.

    May 10, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  2. starr

    God speaks to His followers in according to His written words which they have read and stored in their hearts. If you have a question about anything in life, read what the word of God says about it, eventually God will give you farther revelation within your heart on the subject.

    May 10, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • tek

      Really now????

      “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

      May 10, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  3. Shannon

    "Your Enemy" I totally know what you mean... I have never heard God as in a big booming voice from the sky... it's more like words read on the heart. [And yes, He DOES repeat til we get it...] I know it is Him because He tells me things I could never have known myself [prophecy] and uses very archaic language like you would read in the Old Testament. Phrases like, "The Lord your God has called you unto Himself," and elaborate vocab like "Iniquities." I am sure there are people out there thinking that sounds crazy, but I assure you I am perfectly sane, competent, and very very smart. I think God speaks to people in all different ways, sometimes through signs and coincidences, other times through people, and, rarely, through words and messages. It has happened to many saints throughout the ages... it happened to Akhenaton, the one and only monotheistic pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, it even happened to Plato–I believe he called it "The Voice" [look it up.] Plato, it should be noted, was a firm believer in the idea that we are born knowing the Truth, and that the world's imperfections distort it...but through reflection and looking inward we can come to arrive at what is real. This is not unlike the contemplative meditations of many others who have "heard" God.... Silence should not be underestimated. In fact, the first time I ever experienced anything Godly like the author, the phrase I heard/read internally was: "In solitude you will find Me, in the silence I will come."

    May 9, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
  4. Robert Ray

    Talking to god is religious. Saying that god talks back is psycotic.

    May 9, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  5. JTB

    Normally when people say they hear voices in their heads, its called schizophrenia, say it was God though and your a great Christian!

    May 9, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  6. keyser

    The next time he talks to god could he find out who is going to win the fifth race at the Belmont race track next week?

    May 9, 2012 at 12:28 am |
  7. Carol

    I was surprised to read this, I hear God all the time. Sometimes it's to comfort, to answer my questions, and sometimes He cracks me up. It sounds strange but the thoughts come to me and so there it is.

    May 8, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • mickey1313

      If you "hear god" you suffer for scitzophrenia. SEEK HELP, there are meds for that

      May 9, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  8. Joe Dawn

    “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!”

    Best Quote of the article and Star Wars.

    We are God, one is all and all is one. Separation is an illusion.

    How do you listen to God? You meditate, and clear your mind.

    Watch the Star Wars movies, they give a lot of valid points into psychic development and enlightenment. In fact, if everyone were to watch and study Star Wars the world would be full of Buddhas.

    May 8, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  9. kindness

    A thought to consider without ego
    Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Trancend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
    The world denounces truth....

    Accepting Jesus Christ will result in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.

    Currently.... your constructing your own path that suits your sin lifestyle.

    Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .

    Trancend the temporal world.

    Just think if you can find a truth you can take with you in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life. You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf, the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed, your good deeds are forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated, your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over .
    Trancend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Relise your a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent....

    Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.

    Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.

    You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth.

    Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment. You don't get what you want you get what you are in christ.

    I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .

    Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?

    Down is up. Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.

    once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.

    Your all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.

    May 8, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  10. Religion is not healthy for children and other living things

    Hearing voices from imaginary beings is a common symptom of mental illness.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  11. lillian

    LinCa, sorry, I was trying to be nice to you, I don't need "proof" of my GOD, I feel him, I hear him, I see him, that is called faith, I don't need, don't want your approval, you have made your choice, good for you. I found out a long time ago, it is easier to go to church with a hypocrite than go to hell with one, no escaping there. I pray GOD lets you live long enough to find him before you dle. I will continue to pray for non-believers. That's one of my jobs, I care whether you do or not......in another lifetime.........

    May 7, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
  12. Voice/Word

    The first matter one needs to deal with when speaking to God or hearing from God is his or her own sin problem. God is Holy and our sinful condition has to be dealt with. This is why God sent His own Son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. When one accepts God's free gift of eternal life through faith in Christ and his atonement for our sins, then we can go to the next level. First things first. Ask God to forgive you for your sins, in the name of Jesus, because you are trusting in His finished work (atonement/sacrifice) on your behalf. Do that, and then see where you stand with God. I did over 30 years ago and my life has never been the same. awesome! God bless

    May 6, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
  13. phoenix224

    When regular people say that they are communicating with an invisible person they are insane. When religous people say the same thing they are obviously correct and you cannot criticize them on anything.

    May 6, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • Your Enemy

      I may no like criticism but I do accpt it...I get a notherpersons point of view...because I have listened to God speak more than sixty times to me , It's really hard to listen to advise from someonw who contradicts what Gdo has said to me...He has spoken t me in my sleep and or he repeats Hmself , (what he is saying till I acknowledge it.) Can you say failsafe? What he has spoken to me not oonly identifies his intentions but he ven confirms hi s promises in th ebible sucvh as Jeremiah 31:31-4... which says he would write his laws in my heart as he promised to do for the New covenant with Israel...He calls them engrafted Words or Exceeding great and precious promises...by which we partake of his divine nature...

      May 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
    • derp

      ".because I have listened to God speak more than sixty times to me"

      Cookoo for cocoa puffs.

      May 8, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Shannon

      "Your Enemy" I totally know what you mean... I have never heard God as in a big booming voice from the sky... it's more like words read on the heart. [And yes, He DOES repeat til we get it...] I know it is Him because He tells me things I could never have known myself [prophecy] and uses very archaic language like you would read in the Old Testament. Phrases like, "The Lord your God has called you unto Himself," and elaborate vocab like "Iniquities." I am sure there are people out there thinking that sounds crazy, but I assure you I am perfectly sane, competent, and very very smart. I think God speaks to people in all different ways, sometimes through signs and coincidences, other times through people, and, rarely, through words and messages. It has happened to many saints throughout the ages... it happened to Akhenaton, the one and only monotheistic pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, it even happened to Plato–I believe he called it "The Voice" [look it up.] Plato, it should be noted, was a firm believer in the idea that we are born knowing the Truth, and that the world's imperfections distort it...but through reflection and looking inward we can come to arrive at what is real. This is not unlike the contemplative meditations of many others who have "heard" God.... Silence should not be underestimated. In fact, the first time I ever experienced anything Godly like the author, the phrase I heard/read internally was: "In solitude you will find Me, in the silence I will come."

      May 9, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  14. gary

    when god talks to you it's delusion ... no demons, deities, dragons, leprechauns, fairies, trolls, sprites, etc .. all mythical pretend made up imaginary beings. Learn some science, please

    May 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
    • Sortakinda

      Is that what is called "inductive reasoning ?" it never happened to you, so it cannot happen to anyone elelse? Maybe you should learn a little science to learn why that is erroneous.

      May 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Your Enemy

      Sortakind got you 🙂 🙂

      May 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
    • HawaiiGuest

      And individual experience that cannot be repeated by anyone under the same conditions is not a basis for empirical proof.

      May 7, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  15. GOD

    Here is your master crapper

    May 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Sortakinda

      Are you saying that YOU are the master crapper? That's where people go to void. You are very self-deprecating.

      May 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  16. whybs

    Every god should sound like Ra, the Sun god! Yeah right, yours sounds different! 🙂

    May 6, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  17. lillian

    LinCa, you are pathetic, to say the least. Are you from the monkey or the sea, the baboon, no doubt. Why aren't you complaining about Buddha, or some other stone God. Perhaps you should criticize the Dali Llama. why don't you try to pick on something on your own intellectual level-since you cannot grasp the Christianity thing. When did you make a flower? A blade of grass? A tide? A season, A star? A universe? A brain? A baby, perhaps, now that is miracle upon miracle. Did a seaweed tell that baby when to be born? (you know the brain does that}. If you can't understand our devotion to GOD, at least don't criticize US for it. I will continue to pray for you. You know GOD is the only god I can think of that takes credit for all of creation, am I wrong?

    May 5, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • Sortakinda

      Nothing gets a self-convinced shallow thinker a bigger thrill than upsetting a believer. Those who have faith have a great gift. Pray you never lose it. Pray in those times you are in doubt that it will return even stronger. My argument is that you do not have to believe in the God of Abraham to know that everything we see around us exists in a chain of history. The pyramids are there because people built them. It snows or rains because of evaporation and condensation. There MUST have been a first cause. You can't have had a second cause and so without the first cause. We believe what we believe beyond that by faith. As believers we have faith, but also hope and charity. Poor LinCA has none of these and is so intent on saying that we are ignorant that even the simplest threat to her self-acclaimed Atheism requires loud intellectually dishonest rancor. Lin CA will be thrown into a tailspin over this. She apparently is incapable of honest objective appraisal of a half-baked angry empty espousal to atheism. I will join you in a prayer for LinCA. THAT is what WE do.

      May 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
    • LinCA

      @lillian

      You said, "LinCa, you are pathetic, to say the least. Are you from the monkey or the sea, the baboon, no doubt."
      So, I guess you've run out of rational arguments before you even started. Hence the insults. Sorta-kinda figures.

      You said, "Why aren't you complaining about Buddha, or some other stone God."
      All gods are equally unlikely as they share the same lack of evidence. I'm an equal opportunity disbeliever.

      You said, "Perhaps you should criticize the Dali Llama."
      He isn't trying to put pseudo science in the class room. He doesn't try to discriminate against fellow citizens. I have no beef with him.

      You said, "why don't you try to pick on something on your own intellectual level-since you cannot grasp the Christianity thing."
      Oh, I grasp the christianity thing, like I understand the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus. The real question is, why don't you?

      You said, "If you can't understand our devotion to GOD, at least don't criticize US for it."
      I understand that a belief in gods help people sleep better at night. A belief in gods provides all the "answers" someone might need, as long as having an answer is more important that getting it right.

      You are free to believe whatever nonsense you want. The US Constitution grants you that right. I will respect your right to believe and worship as you see fit. Your beliefs, on the other hand, don't deserve, and won't get, the same respect. Ideas and beliefs should be questioned. It's how we achieve progress.

      If you choose to announce your beliefs on a public forum such as this, you should expect them to be questioned. If your beliefs can't handle scrutiny, maybe you should reevaluate them.

      You said, "I will continue to pray for you."
      Do that, and I'll continue to think for you.

      You said, "You know GOD is the only god I can think of that takes credit for all of creation, am I wrong?"
      Your god doesn't exist, so yes, you are wrong. If you want to convince anyone your god is real, provide some evidence. So far you've got nothing.

      May 6, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I wouldn't waste a moment on the delusional moron. Really, get on with your life and flip the bird at the nimrod.

      May 6, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • WarhammerTwo

      Hey LinCA,

      As a research scientist, I got one beef with your argument. It's when you say "your god doesn't exist." You can't prove something doesn't exist. It's a scientific impossibility. You can say, "there's not enough evidence to support the existence of your god" but you can't say matter-of-factly that a god(s) doesn't exist. Science discovers new life forms all the time that we previously thought did not exist. While there are several instances where the existence of certain creatures like unicorns or sasquatch or god are highly dubious, you still can't rule out the possibility 100%. Not scientifically, anyway. I know its nitpicky, but as a scientist, it bothers me.

      May 8, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • LinCA

      @WarhammerTwo

      Agreed. While I will readily admit that there is a very minute chance that there is a god, the odds are so small that there is very little difference between:
      a) Believing there are no gods, and
      b) Not believing there are any gods.

      Version a is a position of belief and generally referred to as strong atheism, while b a position of disbelief and weak atheism. Both are based on the complete and utter lack of any evidence in thousands of years of data. Because I can't prove with 100% certainty that there are no gods, I typically identify falling in category b. On a side note, I'm also agnostic because I have no knowledge of any gods.

      That said, lillian appears to have a beef with my stance on christianity. From that I assume that she identifies as christian, and believes in the christian god (I'm also assuming lillian is a "she" based on her handle, but who really gives a shit, right?). The christian god is said to have mutually exclusive traits. So, as most often depicted, the christian god can't, and doesn't, exist. My statement, "Your god doesn't exist" is still correct. 😉

      May 8, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  18. Blooper1

    Remember the Zodiac ?? Heart voices ..

    May 5, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  19. crapper

    Why doesnt god just come out and say something?

    May 5, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • matilda

      @crapper.................."God is Spirit"( John 4:24-26), and God speaks to mankind through His prophets by dreams and visions and also his Holy Bible what it is he wants mankind to know( Numbers 12:5-8). God the Father also sent his only begotten son Jesus Christ to "speak in behalf of Him to mankind"( John 17:6-19)

      May 5, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Blooper1

      Oh, He did !! In 1914-918 and 1940-1945 he was even multilangual: 'In God we trust' and 'Gott mit uns'. I have to check for the other languages .. Shaped to his image .. Hallelujah.

      May 5, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • gary

      'cause he is pretend!!

      May 6, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  20. The ultimate truth

    Bill W. the founding father (which I really respect) had an spiritual contact with God, and it really makes sense after drinking twenty years in a row.

    May 5, 2012 at 2:15 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.