October 24, 2003

Faith, Fame and Mortality
by Donald G. Mashburn

Johnny Cash died September 12, at 71. Since his death, more positive stories have been written about Cash than for any comparable period of his life. His fame, and through it his faith, touched a world audience.

In some ways – not all having to do with music – Johnny Cash is even bigger in the public’s mind than he was in life. That’s because his faith became so much of his persona, public and private. He’s remembered for faith – “In My Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,” as he put it – along with his pleasingly rough, textured voice that won millions of fans across multiple music genres.

That voice could belt out “Folsom Prison Blues,” sing tenderly of “I Still Miss Someone,” and with throat-clutching poignance, make “Bird on the Wire” better than its composer, Leonard Cohen, wrote it.

But what set Cash apart – a huge, towering “apart” – from the entertainment crowd was his public declarations of his faith in Jesus Christ. Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash – who died May 15 from heart surgery complications – were famous for their appearances at Billy Graham Crusades.

Their testimonies were unpolished, direct, sincere. A loose translation would be, “My life was a mess. I was a sinner; I heard the call of Jesus; and believed and accepted Him as my Lord and Savior. Since then, life has been full of hope and joy.”

Other famous names have publicly expressed their faith in God. During his 2000 campaign, President George W. Bush declared his faith in Jesus Christ. Some in the liberal media treated the declaration with contempt and scorn – not much surprise, there.

When he was asked to name his favorite political philosopher, Bush said, "Christ, because he changed my heart." Later in New Hampshire, Bush called Jesus' teachings the "foundation for how I live my life."

Unfortunately, devout faith is not the norm among the famous. Katherine Hepburn, who died at 96, won a record four movie Oscars and 12 Oscar nominations. Her universal fame would lead one to conclude she had all anyone could want.

And she did, from a world viewpoint. But Hepburn’s spiritual side was not so full. She became known for her overt atheism. Many of her admirers were saddened to think the vibrant and talented Hepburn might have died with no change in her attitude toward God or His saving grace.

Hepburn had almost a century in which to discover the free gift of salvation purchased on the cross by God’s own Son. Perhaps she did. It’s not for us to judge. God knows, and the Son who will judge all. But if she ever recanted her unbelief, it hasn’t been widely reported.

But contrast Hepburn’s reportedly faithless exit with the joy seen and heard in the lives of Johnny and June Carter Cash. Their enthusiasm in telling others of their salvation indicates they looked forward with joy to their final journey home.

The choices we make for living prepare us to die. The choices we make regarding faith in God determine our eternal destiny. We don’t get to program our exit from this life. We only get a chance, at some point, to accept the pardon Christ has paid for.

Our exit may be prolonged, and we may have the mental capacity to ponder life and make decisions. But having time for decisions doesn’t mean we’ll come to thank God for what He gave us in this life, or accept by faith His promises for eternal life.

In the end, faith and God’s infinite grace are all we have going for us. Fame won’t help us. The all-important thing is that our “entry permit” to heaven already has been purchased at Calvary. All we have to do is get it validated in this life, by faith.

Fame counts only in the world. Faith brings eternal rewards. And in heaven, mortality ceases to exist!