Thursday, February 17, 2011

Song Spotlight: 'Hurt' by Johnny Cash

*Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement of the song/video 'Hurt' or of Johnny Cash himself. This is only an attempt to engage with culture and apply some Biblical points.

Sometimes, by God's common grace, even those who reject God and/or Christ are able to describe aspects of truth from which we can learn. In his sermon on Mars Hill, Paul quoted the poets of the time (Acts 17). Today I am going to quote the chorus to 'Hurt.'

The song 'Hurt' was written by Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails (definitely not Christian). Johnny Cash covered the song at age 71, after his life-long love died, and just 7 months before his own death. Cash's video to 'Hurt' is absolutely haunting, and was named best video of the year in 2002 by both the Grammy Awards and the Country Music Awards (

The reason I want to spotlight this song is because of its vulnerability and humility. Cash's video shows a pop culture icon at the end of his life, struggling with ideas of loneliness, confession, and the vanities of life. Here are some lessons I learn from 'Hurt':

1. Self-Reflection.

What have I become?
My sweetest friend...

At the end of his life, Cash asks "What have I become?" This is good advice. Are we our own sweetest friend? Do we have self-preservation as our motive, harming others to protect ourselves?

2. The Mortality of Man.

Everyone I know goes away,
In the end

Having just lost his love, and having lived long enough to see many of his friends and family die, Cash laments the frailty of life. All die. We know from Scripture that the wages of sin is death. Death has entered through sin. This is something we tend to forget: our days are numbered! How should we live in light of this?

3. The Vanity of Things of This World.

And you can have it all,
My empire of dirt

All of the awards won in Johnny Cash's amazing career now seem meaningless. What a reminder to us to ask ourselves, "What am I living for?" An empire of dirt? Everything in this world is going to burn. All that lasts is what we've done for Christ. Jesus taught us to lay up treasure in heaven, rather than on earth. The treasure we lay up on earth will be lost, but what we do in the kingdom lasts forever.

4. The Sinfulness of Man.

I will let you down.
I will make you hurt.

Cash recognizes his own sinfulness as he confesses that he will only let people down. We cause pain. We are sinners who hurt others. How refreshing for a pop 'idol' to admit that he cannot live up to the expectations, but will only let his 'worshipers' down. But the admission came at the end of his life.

Although this is a sad song (it's not pleasant to think of death, our own weakness and wasting our lives on vanity), it is good for us to consider these things. We need wake up calls!

And praise God, there is good news! Jesus Christ came to rescue us by being hurt for us at the cross. He took on himself all our vanities and sins and rose from the grave that we may not waste our lives, but live victoriously through him. Yes, all of us will die. But for the believer, Christ has conquered this enemy! There is glory coming! We don't have to approach the end of our lives in despair. Through Christ, we have joyful hope.

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