The life of Johnny Cash is one for the books, literally. His rise out of poverty to international fame, to touring the world, to the dark side of Cash as he struggled with alcohol and drugs and more. Cash’s story wouldn’t be complete if it wasn’t for the foundation of faith that he received as a child that he eventually came back to before his death at age 71 in 2003.
Faith was the foundation that he grew up with, attending church in Arkansas and learning hymns that he sang while in the cotton fields. Growing up Southern Baptist, Cash answered an altar call at an Assemblies of God church at just17 years of age.
In “Johnny Cash’s Gospel”, author Casey Cep writes in the New Yorker, “Gospel music changed Cash’s career, and the gospel of Jesus Christ changed his life. He grew up in the church, going to worship every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening, in Dyess, Arkansas, a New Deal town near the Mississippi River, where, throughout the week, he’d sing hymns in the cotton fields.”
Cep continues, “But it was Cash’s mother Carrie who was responsible for leading her seven children including Johnny to love God.”
“His paternal grandfather was a circuit preacher, but it was Cash’s mother, Carrie, who taught her seven children to love the Lord. Cash later recorded an acoustic album in her honor, called “My Mother’s Hymn Book,” filled with the spirituals of his childhood, such as “Softly and Tenderly” and “Where We’ll Never Grow Old,” and he swore it was his favorite record. For decades, his mother begged him to record himself reading the Bible, and when he finally did, he read the whole of the New Testament—nearly nineteen hours of the King James Version, released in 2004, by the Christian publisher Thomas Nelson.”
Cash, who in his later years would spend a considerable amount of time ministering to those enslaved in substance abuse, said this of his ultimate purpose in life, according to Billy Graham ministries:
“Only someone who has had such a problem (as substance abuse) can have complete love and compassion and understanding for such people. I love drug addicts. And I love alcoholics. When Jesus said He was sent to heal the brokenhearted and preach deliverance to the captives, I believe these were some of the people he was talking about.”
Cash became good friends with evangelist Billy Graham and performed at his crusades. “If some lost, lonely person somewhere out there in a dirty bed, in a dark room, can see the light of Jesus Christ in me, then that is my reward.”
Pastor Greg Laurie wrote the book on Cash’s faith – Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon released in August of 2019 and soon to be released as a documentary film. Lauries explained that Cash was indeed a man of deep faith, who made many mistakes, but in the end he came back to Christ and finished in the faith.
“Johnny was a Christian no doubt. But he had his ups and downs, highs and lows but he always returned to his bedrock of faith. He had a deep faith he always returned to. He started and ended very strong in his faith.”
“At the peak of his career, Cash had done it all—living the ultimate rags-to-riches story of growing up on a cotton farm in the Deep South to becoming a Nashville and Hollywood sensation, singing alongside heroes like Elvis Presley and performing for several American presidents.
“But through all of this, Cash was troubled. By the time he released the iconic Man in Black album in 1971, the middle-aged icon was broken down, hollow-eyed, and wrung out.
“In his search for peace, Cash became embroiled in controversy. He was arrested five times in seven years. His drug- and alcohol-induced escapades led to car accidents and a forest fire that devastated 508 acres. His time was divided between Jesus and jail, gospel tunes, and the “Cocaine Blues.”
“But by the end of his life, Cash was speaking openly about his “unshakeable faith.”
Now Laurie, the author and pastor plans to turn the book into a documentary film.