The song is about Armageddon, the end of days when God will appear and perform the Last Judgment, and this event is presented as pure and arbitrary terror: God is presented almost as Evil personified, as a kind of political informer, a man who “comes around” and provokes consternation by “taking names,” by deciding who is saved and who lost. If anything, Cash’s description evokes the well-known scene of people lined up for a brutal interrogation, and the informer pointing out those selected for torture: there is no mercy, no pardon of sins, no jubilation, we are all fixed in our roles, the just remain just and the filthy remain filthy. In this divine proclamation, we are not simply judged in a just way; we are informed from outside, as if learning about an arbitrary decision, if we were righteous or sinners, if we are saved or condemned – this decision has nothing to do with our inner qualities. And, again, this dark excess of the ruthless divine sadism – excess over the image of a severe, but nonetheless just, God – is a necessary negative, an underside, of the excess of Christian love over the Jewish Law: love which suspends the Law is necessarily accompanied by the arbitrary cruelty which also suspends the Law.

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