There’s a song that’s been on the radio for years called “Hurt.” It’s by the Nine Inch Nails – very grungy – and I’ve never liked it.
Never, that is, until I heard Johnny Cash’s cover (being apparently the last person on the planet to do so). I still don’t like NIN’s version, but Cash’s speaks to me. Loudly.
I think it comes down to a difference in tone. On the one hand, NIN’s gives the impression of rebellion and despondent hopelessness, while Cash’s feels more of disgust (at the things of this world) and broken repentance. It’s the subjective difference of how the two sound, but for me it’s huge. It’s a good reminder of how the exact same words (with the exception that Cash’s “crown” is of thorns while NIN’s is fecal matter) can come across in vastly differing ways depending upon how they are communicated, sound-wise.
At any rate, having mentioned that Cash’s version speaks to me, I’d like to share how in a couple of thoughts:
- For starters, the song identifies pain as a sober reality. It is not denied or passed over, but confronted head-on, even if in the somewhat masochistic fashion of a person who knows that, as long as he feels it, he is still in this world. Too much of what passes for “Christian” music these days, if it mentions pain at all, soft-sells it and does not take it seriously enough (my assessment).
- It asks the question: “what have I become?” – something I think most folks deal with each time they are truly confronted with their sin and their need for repentance. I know I do, as I recognize original sin’s stain on my being and know, “this is not what I’m supposed to be.”
- It also deals with the excruciating pain of the loss of those close to you. Death, disagreements, all kinds of things separate us from the people we hold dear.
- One thing that really stands out to me is this line: “I will let you down; I will make you hurt.” I don’t hear a threat (at least, in Cash’s version) – I hear a heartbroken promise. For the most part in the LCMS, folks don’t get to write their own wedding vows (which is fine with me), but I’ve long thought that if I ever got that chance, I would put in something like this. Something that communicates the message that I know full well what a wretched sinner I am, and in that I am bound to let that person down – to hurt them – and proactively ask for patience, forgiveness, and grace.
- I could probably go on for some time, but let me just note my favorite element of the song and be done with it for now, which is this: It’s (from my interpretation) built upon the deep melancholy of someone who’s come to realize that the book of Ecclesiastes is true. Vanity of vanities – all is vanity. All, that is, which is not of God. The line: “you could have it all; my empire of dirt” is more profoundly beautiful to me than all of Joyce Meyer’s advice, all of Joel Osteen’s pep-talk, and all of T.D. Jakes’ promises combined. Not that it’s even close – NIN’s crown is more worthy than those things – but you know what I mean. It’s a profound thing to realize that, contrary to what the world (and popular “preachers”) say: all the material treasures one stores up on this earth amount to nothing more than an empire of dirt. This line in particular has the ring of someone who has realized that and desires what the rich young man could not bring himself to do.
Anyway, here’s the actual song itself. Like I say, I could continue to pontificate, but feel free to take a listen yourself and leave your own thoughts. And for those who might say that this song is too “depressing” to be at all edifying… go read Ecclesiastes (and Jeremiah, Lamentations, many of the Psalms…).