Preaching the Cross in Dark Times (2)

Broken Signposts and the Cross

Preaching the Cross in Dark Times
(c) 2021 N.T. Wright

„Let me explain what I mean by ‘broken signposts’. There are several
features of our human life and experience—common to more or less all
people and cultures – which seem to point beyond themselves, to the
meaning of life, and perhaps to God himself. One way of preaching
through Lent might be to take these one by one and explore what happens
if we treat them as signposts and follow where they seem to point – and
then watch, in each case, for the dark twist at the end of the story.
I have worked with seven such signposts. No doubt there are many more
but these are central.

The seven signposts I’ve worked with are Justice; Love; Spirituality;
Beauty; Freedom; Truth; and Power. We all know these matter. Sometimes
people try to ignore one or more of them but it usually comes back to bite
you. Think of socialist republics building brutalist housing blocks and then
wondering why the quality of life plummets; or think of those political
leaders who tell lies all the time and thereby chip away at the fragile
foundation of trust undergirding their societies.

These things – justice, truth, beauty and so on – are built into our
humanness. You don’t have to teach people that Justice matters. Children

in the playground say ‘That’s not fair’, without ever having studied moral
philosophy. When it comes to Spirituality, for the last 300 years many in
our culture have tried to do without it, culminating in atheist scepticism,
but other things creep in to take its place. The Romantic movement
sidelined ‘the sacred’ and substituted ‘the sublime’. Civic buildings begin
to function as churches. Did you notice how Americans were speaking of
the Capitol building in terms of a ‘shrine’, ‘sacred precincts’, ‘hallowed
halls’ and so on? We may try to avoid these foundational impulses but
they will still be there.

What do we do with these deep instincts? Many people have argued that
they actually point us to God. The reason we instinctively love justice,
value beauty, long for freedom, and so on is (some will say) that these are
implanted in us by the God in whose image we are made. We can
therefore argue from these instincts up to God himself.
Now that is fine up to a point . . . but only up to a point. Here’s the strange
thing: we all know these things matter but we all mess them up. Take
Justice. In our personal lives, we all want justice; if there’s a burglary we
want police and law enforcement. But when we ourselves slide on to the
wrong side of the law we somehow hope we’ll get away with it. In
international relations every country believes in Justice – until its own
interests are at stake. And so on.

Or take love itself, and relationships more broadly. We all know that they
matter enormously. But we all mess them up. We hurt people we love, and
we are hurt by them. We suffer what Shakespeare called ‘the pangs of
diseased love’. And the very best of relationships end in a graveyard. The
day I was drafting this talk was the anniversary of the death of a close
friend. I am still in touch with his widow who has now spent six years
coming to terms with the best thing in her life, for which she remains
deeply grateful to God, coming to an end.”

to follow

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