Hurt/The Man Comes Around (2 Cor. 12:8-9)

This week we wrap up our study of Richard Beck’s book Trains, Jesus, and Murder – The Gospel According to Johnny Cash. Please read chapter 13, Delia’s Gone, chapter 14, Hurt, and Chapter 15, The Man Comes Around. These three songs compose “Section 4: Suffering and Salvation” of our book in which an aging Johnny Cash sings from the perspective of an old man looking back on and evaluating his life, not unlike the writer of Ecclesiastes.

HURT:

In 2002 at age 70, Johnny Cash released his last album during his lifetime: American Recordings IV: The Man Comes Around. The album would win the 2003 CMA Award for Best Album of the Year. The only song of any commercial success released from this album is “Hurt.”

Hurt was written by and originally released by the alt-rock band Nine Inch Nails (“NIN”). The song was written as a reflection on the horrors and regret that come from heroin addiction. The song is about the suffering caused by making others suffer for your choices. The NIN music video tells this story well.

Cash’s version of the song has the same lyrics as NIN (with one exception), but he gives a different perspective on the song. Cash’s music video is filmed at the House of Cash, a museum dedicated to Johnny Cash that had shut-down almost a decade prior. The video juxtaposes Cash’s former life as a brash outlaw country musician with his current life as an old man surrounded only by his fading memories. As he sings: “I wear this crown of thorns/Upon my liar’s chair/Full of broken thoughts/I cannot repair.” One of the most iconic American musicians can only sing that all he has at the end of his life is “an empire of dirt.”

MESSAGE OF HURT (Part 1)

At a surface level, Johnny Cash is channeling the Preacher in Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Eccl. 1:2b. The Preacher says of everyone: “For all his days are pain, and his work is a vexation.” Eccl. 2:23. “Hurt” is the story of this pain and vexation. Johnny Cash had gained the whole world, and yet he sings of his nothingness. Cash knows that success, wealth, and fame are fleeting. The song ends with the line: “Everyone I know/Goes away in the end.” We will lose our treasures and then we lose those we love. Time and reflection break the brash outlaw.

THE MAN COMES AROUND:

Cash doesn’t record the song in a vacuum. “Hurt” is only Part I of the gospel message on “American Recordings IV.” The title track is a gospel song written by Johnny Cash himself entitled The Man Comes Around. The song is a compilation (with some artistic license) of various apocalyptic verses throughout the Scriptures, and particularly in Revelation. Although the song, like Revelation itself, contains images of divine retributive justice, the heart of the song is the proclamation of who is in control. For Johnny Cash, that person was Jesus. The Lamb that is slain is in charge (Rev. 5) and through his blood, we have victory over the torments of this world (Rev. 12:11). This song concludes with the lines “And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts/ And I looked and behold: a pale horse/And his name, that sat on him, was Death/And Hell followed with him.” The last thing to be judged and be destroyed by the Lamb is death and hell. Rev. 20:14, 1 Cor. 15:26.

THE MESSAGE OF HURT (Part II)

The message of Hurt is the very message of the Gospel – the Lamb is in charge. “Hurt” is the story of the judgment of the things of this world. John tells us that “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life . . . pass away.” John 2:15-17. Or as Jesus says “ Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where rust and moth destroy.” Matt 6:19. Jesus, who is the eternal Life, is in charge – not the transitory things of this world. The judgment of letting go of this world hurts.

Most importantly, however, “Hurt” tell us that it is only in our weakness when we are closest to God. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6. Paul writes of his torment given to him by God. When asking for the torment to end, God responds “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” 2 Cor. 12:8-9.

The story of Johnny Cash began with the death of his older brother Jack who wanted to become a minister and Cash’s promise to himself that he would take up his brother’s ministry in song. The story ends with Cash singing with weakness and humility. It ends with God’s grace being perfected within him. It ends with him having solidarity with Jesus.  

LYRICS – HURT:

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real

The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end

And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair

Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I’m still right here

What have I become?
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end

And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

LYRICS – WHEN THE MAN COMES AROUND

“And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying,
‘Come and see.’ and I saw, and behold a white horse”

There’s a man goin’ ’round takin’ names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won’t be treated all the same
There’ll be a golden ladder reachin’ down
When the man comes around

The hairs on your arm will stand up
At the terror in each sip and in each sup
Will you partake of that last offered cup
Or disappear into the potter’s ground?
When the man comes around

Hear the trumpets hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singin’
Multitudes are marchin’ to the big kettledrum
Voices callin’, voices cryin’
Some are born and some are dyin’
It’s alpha and omega’s kingdom come
And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks

Till armageddon no shalam, no shalom
Then the father hen will call his chickens home
The wise man will bow down before the throne
And at his feet they’ll cast their golden crowns
When the man comes around

Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still
Listen to the words long written down
When the man comes around

Hear the trumpets hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singin’
Multitudes are marchin’ to the big kettledrum
Voices callin’, voices cryin’
Some are born and some are dyin’
It’s alpha and omega’s kingdom come
And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn trees
It’s hard for thee to kick against the prick
In measured hundredweight and penny pound
When the man comes around

“And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts
And I looked, and behold a pale horse
And his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him

And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

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