Ross K. Nichols

Author, Explorer, Researcher, Teacher

Somehow I only recently realized I am a Johnny Cash fan. I am a bit surprised by this as I have never been a real fan of any country music, but I must admit that some of his spiritual songs contain something that stirs the soul. Perhaps it was the rebel in the man that appeals to me. There is something refreshing to me when one expresses a respect for God and the Bible but does not conform to any rigid and standard religiosity. It just seems more genuine to me than the myriads of standard religious types that one meets every day. I am not sure; but I like him.

I first connected with the man in black when I saw a photo of him standing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Many people have traveled to Israel and many have had their photo taken at the Western Wall, but something about the photo made me wonder if there was more to the photo than met the eye. Johnny Cash was considered a “troubled but devout Christian.” He seemingly resisted labels and was not easy to put in a box when it came to his religious views. I find the following incident to be interesting in this regard.

Once when pressured about his personal beliefs. He reportedly responded, “I, as a believer that Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew, the Christ of the Greeks, was the Anointed One of God (born of the seed of David, upon faith as Abraham has faith, and it was accounted to him for righteousness)—am grafted into the true vine, and am one of the heirs of God’s covenant with Israel.”

“What?” the writer replied.

“I’m a Christian,” Cash shot back. “Don’t put me in another box.”

I was taken back by this response. In just a few words, Johnny Cash stated that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew, he defined the term Anointed One – contrasting it with the Greek word Christ, and then spoke of the faith of Abraham, his own special relationship, and of God’s covenant with Israel.

He may have been troubled, but it seems that the man who became famous as the man in black spent some time in the Scriptures. He evidently became aware of the Hebrew roots of his own faith somewhere along the way. In 1968 he recorded an album titled The Holy Land. In that album of songs and recordings he connects his own Christianity to the land of promise. While in Israel he obviously gained a great appreciation for the Jewish people. I read that when he visited the Sea of Galilee he said, “Israel is really again in its glory, a beautiful place, much greater than she was in the days of King Herod. I’m proud of the Jews today.”

In 1973, Johnny Cash returned to Israel to film a documentary called The Gospel Road. I have only begun to tap into the musical genius of the troubled but devout man in black, but what I have seen so far I like. I may not agree with his entire theology, but I do agree with his love for Israel and his avoidance to be placed in a box when it comes to his personal faith.

One of my favorites so far is his song, Ain’t No Grave. Take a listen.