I was poking around some old columns and found one I wrote after the death of Johnny Cash, that volatile contradiction of a man and brilliant entertainer who seemed to find a modicum of peace in his later years. My thought was that we all face the “Endtimes,” that is, the end of our time on Earth, and although we may very well miss the second coming of Christ in our lifetime, we face the same questions at the end that John heard in his famous dream.
Is your life hot, cold or lukewarm?
Here’s what occurred to me back in 2004:
Cash shared an authentic love of God even though – or maybe because – he had a dark side that made much of his life resemble an impending train wreck. Especially after he met and married June Carter, his songs of killers and rebels blended with gospel tunes in a mix that made no obvious sense but sounded perfect anyway.
“I believe what I say, but that don’t necessarily make me right,” was the quote this weekend from a 2000 Rolling Stone interview. “There is a spiritual side to me that goes real deep, but I confess right up front that I’m the biggest sinner of them all.”
That dichotomy in Cash hit home with me, because I think we all struggle that way with darkness and light. No, I never “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” but like most people I’ve made enough missteps in life that I am uncomfortable talking about faith because I know for certain I am not holier than thou.
I think that’s what Cash meant in that interview. As time goes on, I think that while it’s interesting to speculate about Armageddon – that final struggle between good and evil that’s described in mysterious terms in the book of Revelation – we each spend our lives in kind of a private Armageddon. Every day we can decide whether we’re going to seek the truth or chase after the beast. Sometimes it’s an easy choice, and sometimes it’s like walking a tightrope over a ring of fire.
No one knows the day and hour of the “real” apocalypse; no one knows the day and hour of his own death, but the choices are the same, just on a different scale. In those last four albums, I believe his impending death was always close to Johnny Cash’s thoughts, and the choice of songs reflected his personal Armageddon. I also have a strong feeling that he won the war and is now at peace.