Johnny Cash Walked the Line on Forgiveness



By Michael Joe Murphy

Forgiveness and redemption compel my thoughts since I read  “House of Cash: The Legacies of My Father, Johnny Cash,” by his son, John Carter Cash.

Country music’s greatest outlaw was a man of steadfast faith, hungry for spiritual wisdom throughout his life.

Well-known were his friendship with evangelist Billy Graham, his love for Scriptures, and testimonies on stage and off.

Just as well known well known were Johnny Cash’s demons. His son writes that his drug addiction in the mid-1980s “prompted him to search more persistently for his own salvation.”

As a broken person, Cash practiced grace and forgiveness with extravagance. Tortured by physical pain and loneliness, he reached out to heal other people, close friends as well as complete strangers.

JohnnyCash“He felt a kinship with the Apostle Paul, having been blind and misled for so long and eventually finding salvation,” his son writes. Cash, famously known as The Man in Black, wrote a book called “Man in White” about the transformed life of the former Saul of Tarsus.

Johnny Cash never experienced Dignity Serves training. Polis Institute was founded long after his death. Yet the lessons of Dignity Serves played out time after time throughout his life.  He searched for where God was working and built relationships in those places through sharing of each others’ stories, mutual exploration and offering of assets, and acceptance of help from one another.

Cash’s powerful acts of kindness confounded many.

In New York, in the 1970s, a man on the street hurled a rock through the windshield of a stretch limousine in which Carter, his son and wife, June Carter Cash were riding. The car came to an abrupt halt. Though “tiny shards of glass exploded everywhere,” the Carters were unhurt except for a few nicks, his son writes.

Johnny Cash picked up the rock from the floorboard, and he leapt from the car to confront “a tall shirtless young man, his eyes glazed over and his face blank,” jabbering in a language they did not understand but mixed with a few words of English.

Cash held out the rock and said, “Take it.”

He refused.

Again, Carter challenged him, “Take it.”

Finally the young man reached out his hand and took the rock.

As his son writes, the young man “looked up, not seeming to recognize my father as the same person who had just handed him the rock. I saw my father bend down on one knee, and then my mother with him. As they prayed, the man closed his eyes and began to cry. … My father showed that man immediate forgiveness and tenderness. There was never a moment’s hesitation on Dad’s part once he realized the man was confused and in pain. My mother was right beside him.”

There were no iPhones and texting. There were no paparazzi. I cannot find a reference to it on the Internet. Maybe you can. The account, to my knowledge, resides only in John Carter Cash’s book. It reminds me of Les Miserables and the forgiveness about candlesticks. (Check out The Les Miserables Bishop: An Example for Us All.)

Relationship is what God seeks with us and for us. Jesus Christ is the standard for human dignity. In Him the fullness of deity dwells (Colossians 2:9) and through his death you and I – as well as Johnny Cash and the stone thrower – may be reconciled to God (Colossians 1:22).

We don’t know what happened to the man who threw the rock through the limousine window. We know what happened to Johnny Cash. And we know our own perspective, responsibility and opportunity to love other people, close to us and in our circumstances – even in the most fleeting of moments.

When justice and peace seem impossible, one person can be an agent for God’s work. You don’t have to be a famous musician to change the world.

You just have to follow Jesus.

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy

Michael Joe Murphy, a volunteer for the Polis Institute, can be reached at


Consider signing up for Dignity Serves, a six-week course that helps you rethink the way we serve others in our community. It teaches you to see problems differently and respond in a way that empowers those you serve rather than just meeting their immediate needs.




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One Response to “Johnny Cash Walked the Line on Forgiveness”

  1. Karen (Murphy) Sheffer Says:

    Wow! Good story and what a witness June and Johnny were to his son. I was very moved. ‘Saw “Walk the Line” years ago and had a new look on Johnny Cash. I buy few videos but did buy this one. We just spent four days in Nashville in April and learned even more about country music, the Carters, etc. Good salt of the earth kind of people. What a testimony his son has written about his father and mother on forgiving and being the hands and feet of Jesus. Thanks, Mike for writing this and sharing it!

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