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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soundoff (3,288 Responses)
  1. Dave

    The existence of God doesn't pass the laugh test and religion poisons everything.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • Rob

      No, what poisons everything is atheism/secular humanism as evidenced by the fact that 93% of all of humanity's wars were started for non-religious purposes.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:16 am |
    • Atheist

      Rob, you're being blatantly dishonest here. Just because most wars are started for non-religious purposes doesn't automatically associate them with atheism or secular humanism. Usually, wars are started over resources. Please name one war specifically linked with atheism or secular humanism. You can't do it without lying, because there have been none. You're just using a weak and dishonest tactic to gloss over the rivers of blood spilled throughout history in the name of various gods.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:38 am |
    • lolzz

      the muslim nutjobs start wars... over religious issues.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  2. Russ

    I don't know quite what to say to this. If you REALLY think that some voice in your head is an all powerful being who made the entire universe and wants to chat with you about whatever problems your having today then I think your having a bit of a delusion. Of course its your life, your head, and as long as your voice doesn't tell you to strap a bomb to your chest and walk on a bus then I could care less what it tells you. It does concern me a bit when our politicians vow their religious zeal over and over... what does ol Obama hear when he listens to the 'voice'? What does it tell him to do? What about Romney? Its not hard to guess with ol GW and Palin though... definitely the garbled whims of a running dishwasher... 🙂

    April 29, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  3. stjdsj

    “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind and not holding fast to the head, Christ, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” (Colossians 2:18-19)

    April 29, 2012 at 8:06 am |
    • jshelley

      Let me guess: your net worth, about $2.00.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  4. jshelley

    god was invented by man, by philosopher kings to keep the masses in check. the hordes have no desire, determination or dinero to stand above their miserable lives, so they buy in. every smart, wealthy person knows this. if you beliieve in god, you brand yourself as a believer, know that some wealthy (or Chinese) person is chuckling all the way to the bank (or library).

    April 29, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  5. truthkeeper

    To unbelievers their God is the adversary the devil that blinds them to God and His way, ... so how can they hear Him unless they sincerely seek Him ?

    April 29, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • Dave in Portland

      I am so tired of hearing this. I'm agnostic, but I try to live as a good person. Am I perfect? Heck no. I'm still probably d@mned by the so-called loving Xtians. Your "devil" holds no sway over me. I know, I know, your answer is that if I don't love God, then I serve the other. Let me tell you this....if there is a force of benevolence in this universe, I would definitely fall on its side. Stop trying to say that everyone who doesn't believe as you do is a servant of Satan. It's insulting and ignorant. If I don't believe in your God, why would I believe in your devil?

      May 7, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  6. j

    To Karen, you know nothing about the bible.

    God speaks in a still small voice, nothing more, nothing less.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  7. kevin

    If you hear the voice of god, you have a neurological disorder and require medical attention.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  8. Welled

    Ancient desposts. Once again. I'll say it again. People with considerable resources print that bible. Ask yourself does every hotel chain in America have a bible? I guess one guy owns owns all the hotels. Or does that come with the loan papers? Some people get paid well to screw with Christians. Once again pacification. I like smart people I really do. People that have fine tuned senses. One has to wonder about a country that has really never elected a black govenor or senator. The gullibity of people. Especially and Iraqi or Afgan that thinks that their government is just swell and nothing was done to assure the right people were in there to disuade any revolt. I mean some things are really obvious. A world upset at constant invasion for resources needs to be asuaged in my opinion. The Christians are considered gullible by some. Just how gullible are you?

    April 29, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  9. merkuti01

    People hear "god" in whatever voice they find appealing and it doesn't occur to them that they are simply hearing what they want to hear? This is no different than playing the Beatles album backwards and hearing a voice say Paul is dead. People find patterns where there are none. We impose what we want to hear or see over what is really there. People are so desperate to believe that a big wise daddy in the sky is real that their imagination provides one, and just like the GPS in their car, they have a choice of voices that will provide guidance. And what is most baffling about this is that Karen Zacharias (and many, many others, apparently) can talk about this with a straight face, and others will take them seriously. Religion is a fairy tale, except that this particular fairy tale is killing people all over the world. And CNN gives it attention, thus credence. Sheesh.

    April 29, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • Winning!

      CNN gave it attention because they knew you'd read it. Winning! Hang in there, more to come. More winning for CNN!

      April 29, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  10. Eutychus Christian

    The hidden story of Jesus. “The Wonder of Jesus” by Eutychus Christian is life changing. It begins at creation and tells the story of Jesus through the patriarchs, the prophets, the nativity and the resurrection.

    The Kindle version is $2 at the link below.
    The paperback version is available on Amazon for $5.


    April 29, 2012 at 8:00 am |
    • david esmay

      money wasted.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:03 am |
    • lolzz

      Unsolicited spam.

      April 29, 2012 at 10:04 am |
  11. p4p

    Well, I like the Christmas Jesus best and I’m saying grace. When you say grace you can say it to grownup Jesus, or teenage Jesus, or bearded Jesus or whoever you want.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  12. Atheist

    Since god doesn't exist, he sounds like whatever the believer imagines he sounds like. And most interestingly, god always agrees with believers, even when two different believers have exactly opposite opinions.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • John

      'He' just likes to stir up trouble. Why else create the mess he made?

      April 29, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  13. Those used guys.

    The prophet Bobby Henderson has yet to sell the movie rights to the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Of course there is no actor worthy or able to play the lead role and putting the characters into animation and or 3D would be a blasphemy to all Pastafairians. The really nice thing about the FSM is that he does not chat with anyone, even Bobby, but reaches out to touch his followers with a noodly appendage. Tired of being bugged by all that endless chatter, everyone is welcome, try us for thirty days, no dogma, no cash offerings required, no churches to attend (your local bar will do especially on Fridays), of course buyijng a T-shirt wouldn't kill you and would help spread HIS word.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:55 am |
  14. Sid

    Aren't you kind of old to have imaginary friend?

    April 29, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  15. dvdfiend

    Is it worth asking why (as of sunday the 29th) James Earl Jones looks white in this picture? Some people shouldn't be allowed to use photoshop.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  16. stjdsj

    “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
    “And His Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)

    April 29, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  17. Steve

    Shouldn't the fact that god was talking to you in a voice from your psyche be clear evidence to you that it's not god talking to you?

    April 29, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  18. dron3

    It's stuff like this that makes me think, "what century are we in?"

    April 29, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • AGuest9

      The 21st, 13th or 2nd, depending on where you live.

      April 29, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  19. Josef Bleaux

    People who hear voices should seek psychiatric help.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:51 am |
  20. Todd

    If you're hearing "the voice of God" it's surely a sign to change your medications.

    April 29, 2012 at 7:51 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.