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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. Smitty

    God – Morgan Freeman

    Satan – Samuel L. Jackson

    I thinks it's time for another Bruce Almighty movie. Who's with me?

    April 29, 2012 at 7:32 am |
    • lolzz

      Yes and some Samuel Jackson. Good mothaf@*@#in choice. Who's with me? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uiirbLQ0dwI Mmmm, MMMMM b$@%!

      April 29, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  2. Samuella

    God will not speak or bring Himself into presence with you, unless you desire that more than anything else...there is alot of voices out there, that we hear. Those voices we have heard in the past and present is how we make our decisions. To hear from God is to be totally unselfish and want everything that God wants not what you want.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • Mirosal

      No, to hear from "god" is a pretty good indication that you need meds or therapy.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:34 am |
  3. Dexter

    Chritianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

    Learn to have faith in yourself and not fairy tales.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:31 am |
    • jerry148

      Oh, come on. When you word it like that, it makes it sound ridiculously stupid.

      That's like saying "a million-year-old dead plant now fuels my car". There's a LOT more to the story.

      Btw, you definitely didn't get that quote from Digg, or anything like that. Definitely made that one up by yourself.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • rochdoc

      OK Dexter. I have heard these lines a thousand times now, may be a 100 times just in the CNN blogs which are crafted to set up a antichristian gathering. Apparently most Christians are not even caring about what BS you antichristians are dishing out. BTW this "Jewish Zombie" thing usually appears fundamentalist HIndu forums.
      The lady is not "Christian"... of course CNN will not allow a true Christian to write in this blog. She "plays" with the antiChristian groups of USA. All they want is a starting point where people like you can join to a anti-christian tirade.
      Do you wonder why the "evangelicals" are only strengthening as a group in their right wing poitical views? Christianity is being attaked in USA on a daily basis. There is no critical comments about any other religion, any controversial views, lifestyles which are all beyond criticism and will be "politically wrong". But when it comes to Jesus – OK, it is anybody's game. You should try this in Iran (or even Turkey) about Muhammed or the blood thirsty Durga in India. But Christianity, which actually caused a progressive social evolution in this world, must be killed right away, so we can start creating our own little gods and "spiritual systems".

      April 29, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  4. gary

    delusions can take any form, any voice .... there are no ghosts or deities or demons ... but many delusional people

    April 29, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  5. Welled

    I would like to add to that Colin if I may. The supposition is that after the Hebrews were booted out of Jerusalem 2k or some odd years ago all "offical" writtings stopped. To add to that supposition. If the Hebrews were really back would not the "offical" writtings start again. Other than peoples opinions and live television events. Either way the current Jerusalem does not ring true or make sense to many. Unless your good at rationalization. Even "Christianity" will not take on offical writtings one has to ask themself why? I think you pose at least in part of your writtings some very valid questions. Christianity in my estimation. Was never a part of Jerusalem or the Hebrews. In that what they have for writting clearly contradicts and other people as being Gods own. That would lead one to think I am a Hebrew I am not. I am semetic. There are about 9 different Semetic peoples. In addtion to the Hebrews. They are never added to things to keep everything simple of course. The camps. The Bomb. Miraculous entry into Jerusalem. 6 and 7 day wars that are nothing but a miricle not to mention the miraculous 19 day "Yom Kippur" war. Deal is anything over 19 days they could overrun the entire place. What am I saying? For a people cast out of their land brought back through the fire cleansed and purified. With a God that fights miraculous wars for them. The people that believe in all of that that Israel has more usury in it than one can imagine. 17 banks countem. Home loans, boat loans, car loans, land loans, student loans, credit card loans, commerical loan, business loans, All with rates worse than ours. One might consider the fact. That on a house that only takes 3 months to build. It takes 30 years to pay it off. Same thing there. Then one might consider where the "miricles" really derive from. Christianty never discourages one from being gullible in any meaningful way. I suggest you check the facts and leave rationalization at the door.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  6. Bobo

    Wow. This "column" made the least sense of anything I've read on CNN to date. Is the entire point that this woman hears the voice of god as Garrison Keller? Perhaps she should be looking into what a diagnosis of schizophrenia means...

    April 29, 2012 at 7:28 am |
  7. jerry148

    As my friend Mr. Nietzsche once said, "God is dead".

    April 29, 2012 at 7:28 am |
  8. The Enlightened

    How does God sound?

    -Exactly like in the Bible!

    April 29, 2012 at 7:27 am |
  9. Jonathan Thomas

    Reblogged this on ecclesia2020.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:26 am |
  10. Realistic Bob

    Slow news day, CNN? I can't believe you wasted time on this nonsense.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:26 am |
    • lolzz

      There are states that are voting for Romney, who is by far worse than this religious nutjob.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  11. joshua

    see truth with dr owour i challenge all of you to take a look at his message with st luke 16 & deuteronomy18 see the truth.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:24 am |
  12. Peggy

    My god sounds like a woman, not sure who, maybe Oprah.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:23 am |
    • augustghost

      if god sounded like a woman he would never shut up

      April 29, 2012 at 7:30 am |
  13. Sean

    For some reason I can make God speak in any voice I want, and he's always saying things like "I'm not God, this is just your split personality talking" and "Seriously. Not God, you gotta see a shrink". LOL. Silly God.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:22 am |
  14. joshua

    check dr owour

    April 29, 2012 at 7:21 am |
  15. Jimmy Rustles

    http://edge.ebaumsworld.com/mediaFiles/picture/628470/80431456.jpg

    Please represent pastafarianism more! Christianity is a lie heathens!

    April 29, 2012 at 7:15 am |
    • Christian_Tom

      YOU ARE GOING TO HELL

      April 29, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      @Christian_Tom: Typical christard comment! How horrible of you to wish suffering upon anyone...makes christardation look even less appealing than it already is and given that you can't prove hell exists it also makes you look like a liar!

      April 29, 2012 at 7:19 am |
    • Jim

      Thanks, Tom! I needed a laugh this morning!

      April 29, 2012 at 7:21 am |
    • Mike

      Fri-kin hilarious! I see Tom the all knowing Christian has condemned you to hell for that. Just remember, all of those child molester priests are gong to be where he's going. What do you think they'll want to do when he gets there?

      April 29, 2012 at 7:31 am |
  16. padawan

    spock = star TREK
    yoda = star WARS

    April 29, 2012 at 7:15 am |
    • padawan

      stealth edit. sneaky god. wait a tick.. i just heard Gollum. was that god?

      April 29, 2012 at 7:33 am |
  17. Bootyfunk

    i picture God sounding like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:14 am |
  18. Colin

    Wefor we start attributing voices in our heads to any particular being, there are some pretty fundamental problems with the concept of the Christian god.

    1. At its most fundamental level, Christianity requires a belief that an all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal being created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies 13,720,000,000 years ago (the age of the Universe) sat back and waited 10,000,000,000 years for the Earth to form, then waited another 3,720,000,000 years for human beings to gradually evolve, then, at some point gave them eternal life and sent its son to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in the Middle East.

    While here, this divine visitor exhibits no knowledge of ANYTHING outside of the Iron Age Middle East, including the other continents, 99% of the human race, and the aforementioned galaxies.

    Either that, or it all started 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake. Either way “oh come on” just doesn’t quite capture it.

    2. This ‘all loving’ god spends his time running the Universe and spying on the approximately 7 billion human beings on planet Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He even reads their minds (or “hears their prayers”, if you see any difference) using some kind of magic telepathic powers. He also keeps his telepathic eye on them when they are not praying, so as to know if they think bad thoughts (such as coveting their neighbor) so he knows whether to reward or punish them after they die.

    3. Having withheld any evidence of his existence, this god will then punish those who doubt him with an eternity burning in hell. I don’t have to kill, I don’t have to steal, I don’t even have to litter. All I have to do is harbor an honest, reasonable and rational disbelieve in the Christian god and he will inflict a grotesque penalty on me a billion times worse than the death penalty – and he loves me.

    4. The above beliefs are based on nothing more than a collection of Bronze and Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology, much of it discredited, that was cobbled together into a book called the “Bible” by people we know virtually nothing about, before the Dark Ages.

    5. The stories of Christianity are not even original. They are borrowed directly from earlier mythology from the Middle East. Genesis and Exodus, for example, are clearly based on earlier Babylonian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Jesus story itself is straight from the stories about Apollonius of Tyana, Ho.rus and Dionysus (including virgin birth, the three wise men, the star in the East, birth at the Winter solstice, a baptism by another prophet, turning water into wine, crucifixion and rising from the dead).

    6. The Bible is also literally infested with contradictions, outdated morality, and open support for the most barbarous acts of cruelty – including, genocide, murder, slavery, r.ape and the complete subjugation of women. All of this is due to when and where it was written, the morality of the times and the motives of its authors and compilers. While this may be exculpatory from a literary point of view, it also screams out the fact that it is a pure product of man, bereft of any divine inspiration.

    7. A rejection of the supernatural elements of Christianity does not require a rejection of its morality. Most atheists and secular humanists share a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent we reject Christian morality, it is where it is outdated or mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, our basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – we just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over our head in order to act in a manner that we consider moral.

    Falsely linking morality to a belief in the supernatural is a time-tested “three card trick” religion uses to stop its adherents from asking the hard questions. So is telling them it is “wrong to doubt.” This is probably why there is not one passage in the Bible in support of intelligence and healthy skepticism, but literally hundreds in support of blind acceptance and blatant gullibility.

    8. We have no idea of who wrote the four Gospels, how credible or trustworthy they were, what ulterior motives they had (other than to promote their religion) or what they based their views on. We know that the traditional story of it being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is almost certainly wrong. For example, the Gospel of Matthew includes a scene in which Jesus meets Matthew, recounted entirely in the third person!! Nevertheless, we are called upon to accept the most extraordinary claims by these unknown people, who wrote between 35 to 65 years after Christ died and do not even claim to have been witnesses. It is like taking the word of an unknown Branch Davidian about what happened to David Koresh at Waco – who wrote 35 years after the fact and wasn’t there.

    9. When backed into a corner, Christianity admits it requires a “leap of faith” to believe it. However, once one accepts that pure faith is a legitimate reason to believe in something (which it most certainly is not, any more than “faith” that pixies exist is) one has to accept all other gods based on exactly the same reasoning. One cannot be a Christian based on the “leap of faith” – and then turn around and say those who believe in, for example, the Hindu gods, based on the same leap, got it wrong. In a dark room without features, any guess by a blind man at the direction of the door is as valid as the other 359 degrees.

    Geography and birthplace dictates what god(s) one believes in. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own gods and they all seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams, and prejudices. Do you think they all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Faith is not belief in a god. It is a mere hope for a god, a wish for a god, no more substantial than the hope for a good future and no more universal than the language you speak or the baseball team you support.

    So the next time we want to choose which Hollywodd actor our invisible friend sounds like, perhaps we might first like to consider the possibility that we are talking to ourselves.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:12 am |
    • padawan

      Rational, not confrontational. I wish more people saw this side of the "religiously challenged"

      April 29, 2012 at 7:24 am |
    • Jesus

      This made me cry ghost tears, for real. It's not too late to repent. I'll still forgive you, even for this.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:35 am |
    • Greg

      A most excellent post! Thank you for that, as sarcasm, name calling, and denial seem to dominate these responses. I appreciate people that think and consider everything WE KNOW (and don't) regarding...this topic. Great read.

      April 29, 2012 at 7:50 am |
    • Ha Bowers

      Thank you!

      Your post was both thought provoking and intelligent reasoning.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:08 am |
    • rochdoc

      When you need to fill in page you start numbering and bulleting. Yes, you have a choice, you can decide (in many levels) that you are not going to believe in a God, that you are not going to beleive Jeus was the "only begotten son" of God, that you do not care what will happen to you or your loved one's "core being" after life or whether the "Church" or "Bible" based morals are something that you can agree with, or if you want to follow your own "inclinations" as to what is the greater truth of the universe. At the end, what happens is that (if you have a "core being") your decisions and the way you treat yourself & others based on your convictions will affect you negatively or positively. Christians believe that a faith in Jesus, his sacrifice and proof of life after death is a complete "remission/cure" to the fate of "separation from God" which is the horriblest thing that can happen to the "core" you. Meanwhile, the believers have to follow the moralistic codes based on tradition and scripture lest they may become a "bad witness" to the truth of redemption by Jesus the Christ. Just like anybody who has his personal conviction, a Christian has the right to have his convictions. To attack this faith on a dialy basis is immoral in itself. People who do not want to believe, it is your choice, but do not blame the believers that they are denying you entry into a "heaven". If you have the "morals" written in your heart, if you follow it, definitely you will be saved even if you never knew the name of Jesus. But going into an attack mode, denying even the historicity of a person who is known to have existed – no just by western Christians, puts you in to another category.

      April 29, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • rochdoc

      1. You seem to have a total "need" to deny the existence of God. (Christian/ Jewish/ Hinduish). Most interestingly human kind is still wandering in dark about how the universe came into being. The average atheist will jump in and say , "we know – Big Bang". So, why the big bang? , why did this have to happen that the big bang should bring about self aware beings who starts to question their existence itself?
      Your main issue is that you think about "time" just too much. If there is a creator, possibly whom we cannot fathom (exactly like Bible says), do you think your "time" matters to him? (yes, there are verses in Psalms about this). "Time"/ "mass"/ "color" all these things are bits of informations in our brain, we use to make sense of what is happening around us. Defintely thes e things affect us, but for us their primary function is to bind us to what is around us. It is also true that our entire universe is interconnected that every change affects us, whether we want it or not. Genesis story? this was formed a 1000 years before Jesus and is something that could be easily understandble to the primitive human culture. A story which give relationship between Gd and human. There are other stories like that in OT – Job, Jonah which goes into surealistic premises. You take the spiritual facts from them, understanding the true relationship to your creator.
      2. Again sarcasm. If someone can create the entire universe, do you think he or she will be too weak to keep tarck of what is going on here? May be outsourced the operation. Just kidding. But, hey that brings to my favorite theory of the universe as a big computer. if an IT person in India can create programs everyday, the "living programs" like us can be generate easily, may be by self replicating and evolving, right? so when these "programs" die what happens? May be that great IT guy will have to reformat?.. also, did you know that the real shape of universe is – flat?
      I am stopping, I know the answer to each and every "bullet" you have, but no time now. What is the use anyway. You cannot open your heart by yourself.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • rochdoc

      "When backed into a corner, Christianity admits it requires a “leap of faith” to believe it. However, once one accepts that pure faith is a legitimate reason to believe in something (which it most certainly is not, any more than “faith” that pixies exist is) one has to accept all other gods based on exactly the same reasoning. One cannot be a Christian based on the “leap of faith” – and then turn around and say those who believe in, for example, the Hindu gods, based on the same leap, got it wrong. In a dark room without features, any guess by a blind man at the direction of the door is as valid as the other 359 degrees."
      OK. Don't think that Christians are ever feeling like "backed into a corner" for lack of evidence. This could be true for otherwise less infomed Christians who just follow the crowd. But there are plently of scholars who can easily debate you. If you want to believe every other God is the same as Christian God, you are just mistaken or you are just a deciever who wants to make people beleive that fallacy. I am an Indian and I know about Hindu Gods and you don't know a thing about what you are taking about – neither about Jesus, or Vishnu or Shiva. Jesus walked on earth, as witnessed by hundreds who were ready to be put on the cross or stoned for his sake. You can call it mass hysteria, but it happend. People know that there is a divine spirit that works in true Christians. You would not know about this, just like you would not understand what is the taste of some exotic fruit you have never tasted yourself.
      Hindu belief system is a completely different story and debate. They keep changing their story and stance depending on whom they are debating with. As a 600 AD, Muslim traveller noted, the Hindu Brahmins, who were the keepers of the faith keep changing their histories and stories to fit their needs. I believe the blind man you are referring to is yourself.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  19. richard Miller

    Whatever she is taking, don't let the DEA or the Cartels know.....they will want to either suppress it or sell it

    April 29, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  20. Guest

    obviously he sounds like darth vader! duh!!!

    April 29, 2012 at 7:07 am |
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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.