Johnny Cash: He Sure was No Saint (or was he?)

I just finished reading the biography of Johnny Cash entitled Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn. It’s a fascinating account of one of America’s most iconic music legends whose career spanned both genres and generations. If you’re looking for a scrubbed down, sanitized version of his life, this book is not for you. Instead it is an unvarnished chronicle documenting the triumphs of his early years along with the agonizing lifelong struggles that doggedly pursued him to the very end. Cash was a deeply flawed and insecure man whose repeated forays and lapses into addiction and adultery threatened to end his career. His entire life, it seems, was also a fight for recognition as an artist. His unique style built on the tradition of the old-time country music while often defying its most stultifying conventions. This combination made his music difficult to classify. But through talent and determination he rose to the top of charts in both the country and rock music world. In accomplishing this feat, he traveled some very dark and disturbing – even dangerous – roads.

To people of faith who have long associated Cash with Billy Graham, the question arises: is Johnny Cash to be numbered among the saints? Of course that depends on what you mean by a saint. If sainthood is measured by an untarnished life, free of sinful switchbacks and relapses, then Cash simply does not qualify. But if the saying is true that  it’s not how many times you fall that counts, but how many times you get up after you fall, then Johnny Cash certainly satisfies the admittance requirements to being one of God’s own. Truthfully, his life followed the same tortured pathway that some of the Bible’s most recognizable characters also followed, men who started and failed, then started again: Jacob, Moses, David and Samson, to name only a few. These were flawed people who wound up in the camp of God’s redeemed. Turns out when all is said and done that “The Man in Black” also became a man after God’s own heart. How did he get there? Johnny Cash became a child of God by means of God’s grace and mercy alone – just like the rest of us!

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