Recently, a friend and I started a music podcast (Impossible to Say), during which we review new and old albums, and this week, we paired the new Bob Dylan album, Shadows of the Night, with one of Johnny Cash’s American albums, The Man Comes Around. Returning to this Cash album, which is full of amazing songs, I encountered his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” again. Here’s the link to the video. I would encourage you to take a few minutes and watch it, as I’ll be referring to it throughout the rest of this post. I first heard this cover in class my junior year at Grove City. I was in literature class, we were discussing Dostoevsky, and my professor showed the video for “Hurt.” I have never forgotten that moment—Cash’s inimitable voice transforming a song about drug addiction into an expression of universal pain and regret. Simmering right below the surface of this rather simple song are several powerful insights, many of which the video intensifies. The lyrics of the chorus are the first thing that jump out to me now, just as they did almost five years ago: “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.” Released one year before his death, this song and Cash’s weary voice resonate with impending mortality, a reminder that death still claims us all. Often cutting to clips and pictures of Cash’s younger exploits, the video for “Hurt” places his confrontation with death front and center, a bittersweet reflection on life. The second verses picks up where the chorus left off, as Cash sings, “I wear this crown of thorns upon my liar’s chair, full of broken thoughts, I cannot repair.” By this point in his life, Johnny Cash has reached a place where he can acknowledge the brokenness that has pervaded his life. It doesn’t matter how famous or successful he became, these things were like an “empire of dirt,” while his crown of fame has transformed into a “crown of thorns.” Likewise, while it’s unlikely any of us will experience the fame and success Cash had, all our good works, as Paul reminds us, are nothing but trash. Several shots in the video show us decadent food or walls full of awards, but they are filmed with a filter that sucks all the color and light out of them—an appropriate metaphor. However, “the crown of thorns” line pulls double duty, lending another level of meaning to this song and video that connects to Christianity. In this line, Johnny associates himself with Christ and his suffering, an image that powerfully appears near the end of the video, as we see Christ being nailed to the cross. Only Christ can rescue us from our individual empires of dirt, whatever they may be. Undoubtedly, we will hurt and let down each other, but healing waits in arms that bore our scars, and that sacrifice, not death, has the final word.