Advent: Johnny Cash, Despair & the Bright Light of Hope

Growing up in Georgetown, Texas I learned to love a handful of things very early – hunting, two stepping and country music. I’ll never forget one of my shining moments as a young man. I got up in front of my kindergarten class decked out in my black jeans, black boots, pearl snap shirt and black felt cowboy hat and sang Toby Kieth’s “Should Have Been a Cowboy”.  Man, those really were the glory days…

If you know anything about country music then you know that Johnny Cash is a patron saint. The man behind hits such as “I Walk the Line”, “Ring of Fire”, “Folsom Prison Blues” and “A Boy Named Sue”. I can remember listening to Cash’s unique voice on road trips as a kid with my dad and now enjoy sharing his music with my own children.

Even though I enjoyed Johnny Cash, I never knew his back story. Sure, I knew of the famous country star, but I didn’t know of the drug addict that at one point lost all hope for living. In October of 1967, after years of drugs use, he decided that he would end his life. Recalling the incident in an interview, he said, “I had wasted my life. I had drifted so far away from God and every stabilizing force in my life that I felt there was no hope for me.”

Cash wondered into NickaJack Cave in Tennessee with the hopes of never coming out. Three hours into the cave his flashlight battery wore out and he laid down. In that same interview, he said “The absolute lack of light was appropriate, for at that moment I was as far from God as I had ever been.” He continued, “My separation from Him, the deepest and most ravaging of the various kinds of loneliness I’d felt over the years, seemed finally complete.


I wonder how many of us share Cash’s sentiment? How many of us are experiencing an overwhelming feeling of loneliness, defeat or despair? Maybe it’s the sin whose chains feel too heavy to break. It could be the relationship that’s in shambles with seemingly no chance of reconciliation. Or, it might be that your life has faced one trial after another with no end in sight.

Whatever it is, I have been to the place where there feels to be no more hope. I didn’t take the same drastic steps as Cash did, but I can vividly remember many times closing my eyes at night and asking the Lord to simply take me home.

The interesting things about these darkest moments is that God isn’t done working. In that cave, an overwhelming revelation struck Cash. “I thought I’d left Him, but He hadn’t left me.” In a moment of sobriety, Cash knew that God was with him and wasn’t done with him. Miraculously he made his way back out of the cave. Once outside, much to his surprise, his wife and mother where there with food. They had sensed something was wrong and had gone looking for him.

Highway in the city at night with streetlights and long exposure

I love this story because it reminds me of the beauty in Advent. Even in the midst of hopelessness, we’re reminded that He’s Immanuel, God with us, in every situation (Matt. 1:23). Not only is He with us, but his light shines into the darkness. No matter if that darkness is found in the depths of a cave or the depths of our own heart, the promise is that the darkness shall not overcome the light (John 1:5).

No matter what darkness you are facing, Advent is the reminder that the bright light of hope entered into the world wrapped in swaddling clothes by the God of hope who desires to fill you with hope and lead you to eternal hope (Rom. 15:13).

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