The Taser's Edge

What Does God Sound Like?

Today is Transfiguration Sunday (a fact I admit I didn’t realize until seeing the bulletin at church this morning).  From Matthew 17:

[Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.

I like this image of the Transfiguration, because despite the pasty-whiteness, it really captures some terror on the part of the disciples:

In the scheme of things, it doesn’t seem as important how the sound waves created by God’s voice are heard by human ears in comparison to the information conveyed by the language used by God.  Google “What does God’s voice sound like?” and you will find a lot about discerning God’s will but nothing about pitch or timbre.

However, it does matter for our imaginations of God what God’s voice sounds like, and the Church could help its members’ imaginations by talking about the question.  Does God sound like Charlton Heston?  James Earl Jones?  Some other rumbling male voice?  Alanis Morissette?

Many waters (Revelation)?

Okay, this book is not about Revelation.

Thunder (Baptism of Jesus)?

Sheer silence (NRSV’s thought-provoking take on the classic “still, small voice” to Elijah)?

The point being that the voices we think of as God (from famous movies or from church productions or skits which have an offstage speaker into a microphone) almost always belong to faces with at least some stubble and possibly a full beard.  So what do we do to challenge that?  Use a female voice, and you may get people to think or to question (which would be great), but you may end up replacing a male God with a female God, which repeats the same problem.

The response to this which I often hear from theologians is that God is without gender or sex.  I hate that answer, abhor it.  If there is no connection between the image of God and the sexes, then sex is meaningless.  And sex is far from meaningless.  There must be a connection between us and God, not in every single thing (lest we get into, What does the inside of my elbow reveal about God’s character?) perhaps, but you can bet that if something is as important to us as sex is, it indeed is part of the image of God in us.

What does it say about how limited our imaginations are that there are only about five different ways that we can imagine God’s voice sounding–clearly male, clearly female, purposely androgynous, and maybe electronic or some kind of animal?  Start imagining bigger, because you can bet that a voice that brings out the type of terror that God’s voice on the Mount of Transfiguration did in the disciples, and which is described in so many different ways in Scripture (as the above only scratched the surface) just might be slightly more interesting than our current imaginations allow.

This makes me think of a couple folks I have known who do claim to have heard the voice of God audibly.  I wonder what that was like.  One of them was driving at the time, and is still alive, so I don’t think the voice inspired pure terror for him.