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. Jimmy Rustles

    Amazing what passes as news in the United States. If you hear voices in your head I would recommend a visit to a psychologist. Oh wait, they hear Zeus talking to them so it is ok then. What? You don't believe in Zeus? You believe in the Christian God? Oh. That changes everything because Zeus was just a mythological figure, amirite?

    April 29, 2012 at 7:04 am |
  2. José

    Mam, with all due respect, if you hear voices you are hallucinating. It's people like you that have helped me see the ridiculousness of religion. Thank you for allowing me to reaffirm how intelligent I really am and how mistaken I was for so many years.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:03 am |
  3. phnxrth

    Thanks for writing a very cute piece, Karen. You and I are kindred spirits. If I were to write about it I would tend to take an approach based on what people seem to have not wanted to know. Your approach that they do want to, will, and deep down already do is, I think, the right approach.

    I also tend to think there are two messages in each situation, a divine and a satanic. Most of humanity has always only heard one. The wrong one.

    If it's a stick or carrot approach, some communication needs to occur to show people they are going to like the divine voice much more than they've supposed. Or do we somehow have to get in our right minds first?

    April 29, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      So you too hear voices...in the real world that is known as mental illness or schizophrenia.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:05 am |
    • Jimmy Rustles

      Child, I think that you should convert to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I fear for your soul if you don't. It has been written by a man a long time ago that Pastafarianism is the only way to eternal salvation. Please, I want to help you.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:06 am |
  4. .

    Yet another CNN softball article for the hatetheists to gather and say how much they hate.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:01 am |
    • Karloff

      What's wrong with hatred of stupidity (in this case, the belief in god)?

      April 29, 2012 at 7:02 am |
  5. Human Ape

    I don't understand Karen Spears Zacharias. Is she just pretending to believe in a god fairy? To me it seems like she's ridiculing Christians. I hope that's what she's doing.

    Type "darwin killed god" in the google search box then click the I'm Feeling Lucky button.

    April 29, 2012 at 6:59 am |
  6. David Thelen

    Are we all part of a grand picture, where each of us represents one color point of it? Yes, there are bright positive color points; however it also has dark "evil" color points.
    Good, many times, comes from evil afterwards. Sort of like after you prune branches from a tree: it grows stronger afterwards. The dark colors also are required to make up this grand picture.
    Is God made up of all matter in this Universe? The Universe and this Earth is God. Do all life forms behave like your smart phone? After it is done, it is fed back to a central Intelligent being. That would make sense and explain that every life's experience has purpose.
    Is earth, like a garden used by intelligent beings, millions of light years away? Once in a while they visit to pull the weeds. They also plant new seeds, as well. That would explain how the dinosaurs vanished and mankind appeared.
    Do these intelligent beings broadcast new knowledge to people? That would explain famous people like Einstein, Newton, Franklin and others. They are simply connected to these intelligent beings and their knowledge to transform this Earth.
    God connects us all. And we have the purpose of our lives to transform information to God. Therefore we all have purpose.

    April 29, 2012 at 6:58 am |
  7. Burden of proof

    God sounds exactly like your own voice, in your own head, because you have to invent him/her every time you claim you hear him/her. Imagination is a powerful tool

    April 29, 2012 at 6:58 am |
  8. casualscientists

    Wow... I can't believe just how completely messed up it is that someone not only believes they hear the voice of a mythological being but are also so willing to tell everybody else and wear it like a badge of pride.... just wow....

    April 29, 2012 at 6:56 am |
    • Hitchens

      Because God is a person it is not unusual that he speaks. Prayer is the act of having a conversation with God. A practice that has been used by millions of people over thousands of years. Fact is more people talk to God than do not, 80-95% more. The normal is talking with God, the peculiar or odd balls would be those that don't.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:02 am |
  9. Rideitout

    No tv for the kids?

    April 29, 2012 at 6:55 am |
  10. Gerald

    People say the reason why there are virtually no atheists here in Africa is because we are poor, so we have to believe in something, some form of hope. Well, that ain't true. Down here when someone says he doesn't believe in God, nor higher powers, we tend to consider such bloke seriously unreasonable cos we see first-hand the works of high powers. I myself have seen a man's head chopped off and he put's it back on, and this is not magician coning people. I have seen a man eat a basin full of broken glasses and still live. I've seen a man turn to a turtle before my very own eyes! How can you explain that, science can't!
    So you see, if a man says he's an atheist here, we don't waste time tryin to convice there exist higher powers, evil, and logically God.

    April 29, 2012 at 6:50 am |
    • Colin

      I've seen a man turn to a turtle before my very own eyes! How can you explain that, science can't!

      Yes, it can, the relevant field is called psychology.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:52 am |
    • Karloff

      I see someone is off his meds.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • Realist

      I read an article about a woman who cut off a guy's penis and it was reattached....not by a priest or pope, but by a medically trained surgeon.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • Gerald

      Colin_ Yeah, true! Psychology: The study of how humans can turn into animals forms.

      Am leaving the practise of Medicine, am going back to College to study Psychology!

      April 29, 2012 at 7:02 am |
    • José

      My advice to you is that you see a psychiatrist very soon.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:07 am |
    • Gerald

      Realist_ Ha Penis! You're a joker. I said "Head" and in splits of seconds, not 7hrs surgery! Even by the year 3012, science have not achieved that!

      April 29, 2012 at 7:07 am |
    • Karloff

      "Am leaving the practise of Medicine, am going back to College to study Psychology!"

      Be sure to take a remedial English class. Your writing is atrocious.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  11. brad

    There is a reason why there are more christians in prison than in the scientific community.

    April 29, 2012 at 6:43 am |
    • Hitchens

      Christians get paroled, atheists do not. There are no atheists in fox holes either.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:56 am |
  12. Colin

    Here are some basic principles of rational thought that all Chhildren should be taught, instead of silly mythology from Iron Age Palestine.

    1. DO NOT automatically believe something just because a parent, priest, rabbi or minister tells you that you must.

    2. DO NOT think that claims about magic, miracles and the supernatural are more likely true because they are written in old books. That makes them less likely true.

    3. DO analyze claims about religion with the same critical eye that you would claims about money, political positions or social issues.

    4. DO NOT accept it when religious leaders tell you it is wrong to question, doubt or think for yourself. It never is. Only those selling junk cars want to prohibit you from looking under the hood.

    5. DO decouple morality from a belief in the supernatural, in any of its formulations (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc.). One can be moral without believing in gods, ghosts and ghouls and believing in any of them does not make one moral.

    6. DO a bit of independent research into whatever book you were brought up to believe in. Who are its authors and why should you believe them in what they say? How many translations has it gone through? Do we have originals, or only edited copies of copies of copies– the latter is certainly true for every single book in the Bible.

    7. DO realize that you are only a Christian (or Hindu or Jew) because of where you were born. Were you lucky enough to be born in the one part of the World that “got it right”?

    8. DO NOT be an apologist or accept the explanation “your mind is too small to understand the greatness of God,” “God is outside the Universe” or “God moves in mysterious ways” when you come upon logical inconsistencies in your belief. A retreat to mysticism is the first refuge of the cornered wrong.

    9. DO understand where your religion came from and how it evolved from earlier beliefs to the point you were taught it. Are you lucky enough to be living at that one point in history where we “got it right”?

    10. DO educate yourself on the natural Universe, human history and the history of life on Earth, so as to be able to properly evaluate claims that a benevolent, mind-reading god is behind the whole thing.

    I sometimes think that, if we first taught our children these simple guidelines, there would be far less people hearing voices in their head and attributing them to the Christian sky-fairy.

    April 29, 2012 at 6:43 am |
    • NClaw441

      But ALWAYS follow the advice of a guy who posts his suggestions online, with no credentials shown. Forget your holy book and ignore your pastor, Colin knows what is best.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:53 am |
    • Colin

      NCLaw441 – you really think a person needs "credentials" to promote rational thought?

      April 29, 2012 at 6:55 am |
    • Sam

      Colin forgot #11 – Thou Shalt listen to colin's 10 because he is so much smarter than God or any of his people who wrote the original 10 down. You are so arrogant to think the way you do Colin. Your right and running around trying to correct all the wrong Christians. Thanks ~

      April 29, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • Realist

      What is wrong with asking Christians to look at their faith objectively as opposed to just nodding in sync with their indoctrination?

      April 29, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      @Sam: You call Colin arrogant but fail to see your on arrogance. You are the one claiming that a god exists when in fact it takes faith to believe that and faith defined is belief without evidence. Being a believer requires one to be gullible, lazy and close minded. Being a believer stops an otherwise thinking brain from functioning. No-one is born as believer, it is something that is taught to them. You're an Atheist in your own sense...you reject all other gods, we just take it one step further and reject the concept of all gods. We have chosen to believe the facts based on actual evidence (things that can be tested using the scientific method). When science is wrong they make corrections, when religion is wrong they blame another imaginary friend better known to you as satan. Your own arrogance is shining through.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • gjp

      What I don't get is how you atheists have a problem with our beliefs when you can't prove Jack $h1t. The best atheist's minds can only come up with unproven theories of how some things in the universe were created. So why the heck should I listen to someone who is spouting something that they can't prove? Has anyone proven that God does not exist? If you don't believe in God that is fine however before you start preaching rules then have some FACTS that support your thinking. I don't care to listen to your fairy tales.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  13. Jerry Pelletier

    CNN will never poke fun at or put down Islam, Me thinks their afraid!

    April 29, 2012 at 6:42 am |
    • Archibald

      Are you insane? It's not enough that they actually put up an asinine article about some lady hearing from god you want them to actively denigrate another faith?

      You sir or madam, are an idiot.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:09 am |
    • Rick

      jerry: how has this article made fun of or put down christianity?

      April 29, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    April 29, 2012 at 6:39 am |
    • brad

      atheism teaches people to think for themselves and to not blame some mythical devil for their problems. yeah that cannot be healthy at all.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:41 am |
    • Hitchens

      Right you are atheism is not healthy and correction atheists do not "think" for themselves, they tend to think what their gurus tell them to think.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:54 am |
    • Those used guys.

      Prayer changes nothing beyond your own cranium, give you head a shake.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:03 am |
    • Archibald

      When has prayer ever changed anything? When I was a kid we were told to back up our claims with evidence.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:13 am |
  15. Those used guys.

    Me and the wife were just getting in the mood to be fruitful and multiply, when I heard this voice in my head chatting away about nothing intresting at all and wouldn't stop, kind of broke the mood. This was the first time for me, I will seek help. In the mean time, for those of you who hear HIM whenever you want, how do you get HIM to shut the ____ up?

    April 29, 2012 at 6:37 am |
  16. JerseyJeff

    God sounds like....
    The voice in your head talking back to you.

    CNN this is not journalism nor is it of the calibre we expect of CNN. Don't become FOX or MSNBC. Let them do the non-news patisan garbage.

    April 29, 2012 at 6:37 am |
  17. Karloff

    Hearing voices? It's called schizophrenia, which can be controlled with medication.

    April 29, 2012 at 6:35 am |
  18. Bootyfunk

    if God was a furbie, this is what he'd sound like:

    April 29, 2012 at 6:30 am |
    • Quid Malmborg in Plano TX

      Fear your Dark Lord. Indeed.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:41 am |
  19. Veritas

    It amazes me how many people are on here mocking the idea of God, and mocking beliefs that others hold sacred. My question is,, "Why?" So you don't believe in God. Fine. Why, if you don't believe so much do you waste your time not only reading articles about Him but taking the time to comment. And as rude and disrectful as your comments are, do you honestly think you are going to convince anyone that you have anything to say worth listening to? Do you honestly think someone is going to say, "Gee, this person just mocked and made fun of everything I hold sacred. I think I'll adopt his/her point of view and come over to that person's thinking"? Many of you said those of us of faith are deluded, but to take the time to read articles about things you do not believe and then to take the time to write comments that would alienate those who do believe for the purpose of somehow making them not believe seems pretty deluded to me. Or maybe that isn't your purpose at all. Maybe your purpose is to reassure yourselves that you do not truly believe. Finally to deny the possibility of the existance of a Supreme Being is not intelligent, logical, scientific, or open-minded as some of you seeem to think. On the contrary, it is close-minded and arrogant. I wish you peace, joy, and fulfillment in your philosophy of nothingness. May it comfort you in times of morning and bring solace in your time of fear. Use it to help the sick, feed, the hungry, and make the world a better place. Since so many people have done this in the name of athiesm already. Just look at all of the aithiest founded hospitals, soup kitchens, and schools. Truly this philosophy motivates and encourages people to do many good and wonderful things. Just look at the societies of North Korea, China, and Soviet era Russia. Surely those societies, founded upon a denial of God are noble and just societies that we should strive to be more like.

    April 29, 2012 at 6:29 am |
    • dogs rule

      We are mocking the idea that this person thinks "God" TALKS to her! If I told anyone that Elvis talks to me every day, I'd get locked up.
      I vino veritas!

      April 29, 2012 at 6:33 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      if christians didn't try to shove their nutball religion down everyone's throats, there would be no problem. unfortunately, christianity constantly sticks its nose in politics and personal freedoms.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:34 am |
    • Realist

      Don't be so one sided. Many attrocities have been performed in the name of religion as well. As far as bothering to read or comment, blame CNN for posting this crap as news on their main page.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:35 am |
    • Colin

      Veritas, you realize there are more Christians and other theists in China than in the USA, right?

      April 29, 2012 at 6:38 am |
    • galaxy101

      Those who CLAIM to talk to a god or diety and those who claim their chosen diety talks to them are DESERVING of ridicule. Why ? Because these claims are NOT claims of faith. When a person of ANY religious sect makes these claims, they are making claims of knowledge. They are extraordinary claims of "knowing something" that others can state, and rightly so, are NOT knowable. Stop confusing REAL faith with a claim to knowledge. You'll feel better.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:41 am |
    • JerseyJeff

      People listen to preachy people like you quite often, yet you prefer not to be questioned or called to heel ever....
      Well, the critics are using the same right and interest that leads you to preach.
      It's a 2-way street. You sound as ignorant to realists as those non-believers sound insulting to you.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:41 am |
    • galaxy101

      Further, Atheists don't deny the possibility of a particular god. We merely state that no evidence or argument has been presented that provides sufficient reason to believe in one.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:45 am |
    • Mark Taylor

      @Realist And many atrocities committed in the name of humanity too. Let's talk Stalin and Mao Tsu Tung just for starters. But I'm not here to argue or convince, throw scripture and waste words. I'm here to encourage logical thinking. About 13.5 billion years ago there was an event that resulted in the rapid expansion of space (where there was none previously). That expansion happened at PRECISELY the correct rate to allow elementary particles to form hydrogen atoms. If the 15th decimal place of this number representing the rate of expansion had been off by 1 then hydrogen would never have formed. No hydrogen, no nuclear fusion (stars) No stars, no supernovae. No supernovae, no heavier elements like carbon. No carbon, no life. No life, no consciousness to wonder about its origins. Don't mock people of faith. Science does not and cannot answer everything. Even if we take the String theorist view of a multiverse and colliding "branes" as the reason for the advent of the Big Bang one then has to ask... where do the branes come from? How did they become branes.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:54 am |
    • NClaw441

      Veritas, your screen name is well-chosen. God be with you.

      April 29, 2012 at 6:56 am |
    • John

      Because G.W. Bush said he heard the voice of God telling him to start a war in Iraq. And how many people have died in that war? How many civilians?

      April 29, 2012 at 7:04 am |
    • DsOpinion

      "but to take the time to read articles about things you do not believe and then to take the time to write comments that would alienate those who do believe for the purpose of somehow making them not believe seems pretty deluded to me"

      How can you weigh the facts without knowing both sides? Many Atheists constantly read topics on religion because that is how rationality works, in order to refute or support an argument you have to be knowledgeable about as many aspects of the problem as possible. The faithful never pick up a book on evolution or an article on quantum physics because their meme religion says those things are heretical and they think they already know god is always the answer. There has actually been research on this, the Pew Forum found that atheists/agnostics tend to answer the most religious questions correctly on their quiz: http://www.pewforum.org/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey.aspx

      If anything, people like me don't come here to try to convince you to change your mind, we come here to revel in the well written rebuttals to the comments like yours which are full of close-minded rhetoric. So in a way you are right, we do come here to reinforce our non-belief, and those like you do such a wonderful job of helping.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:08 am |
    • José

      Thank you for your level-headed commentary, but I think you should be talking to the person who says she hears voices in her head and convince her that a claim like that makes her wide open to ridicule; ridiculousness warrants ridicule.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:16 am |
    • Archibald

      Congratulations Veritas, this is the stupidest thing I've ever read.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:20 am |
  20. dogs rule

    I tried weed in college, and I thought I heard voices, too. Karen, stop using, and the voices will go away!

    April 29, 2012 at 6:28 am |
    • gjp

      That is one of the first times I've heard of someone using 'weed' and hearing voices. You got the wrong drugs idiot.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:38 am |
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About this blog

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.