The WRONG WAY road sign stands unique in the pantheon of road signs. Barely more verbose than the abrupt STOP, and definitively more forceful than the deferent YIELD, the WRONG WAY sign is alone unto itself. It does not speculate like BRIDGE MAY BE ICY, and it does not equivocate like SLIPPERY WHEN WET. No, WRONG WAY has a warning and declares it in bold and frank and certain terms.
The other unique attribute of the WRONG WAY sign is that you rarely ever see one. They are usually only posted for travelers who, in a state of severe discombobulation, or under the influence of a controlled substance, and/or perhaps on the front end of a wild police chase, are traveling the wrong way down an otherwise One Way street.
Granted, we who are correctly cruising on the right side of the highway, and ably navigating our life’s course through the vistas and valleys of this world, do sometimes catch an errant glimpse of an askew WRONG WAY sign. It’s usually a startling and unnerving moment, albeit brief. But our fears are quickly assuaged by a thousand points of solid reference—“Ah! No, that sign wasn’t intended for me. I am going the right way in the right lane.” (But that’s a metaphor about life in Progressive [so-called] America for another day).
If the WRONG WAY sign isn’t the most severe of all roadside warnings, it’s certainly one of them. What could be more dangerous than driving into oncoming traffic on a closed highway? What action behind the wheel could put more people at more severe risk? The WRONG WAY sign should get our attention immediately. It should stop us in our tracks and cause us to get help, get turned around, get going the right way right away.
But the sobering analogy is that we all know that friend, that family member, that congregation, that leader, etc. who has been blowing past the WRONG WAY signs for miles. Withdrawing from fellowship, nurturing callouses, despising a spouse, abusing a substance, erecting an idol, embracing heterodoxy. The list goes on. How did he get so turned around? Why is she continuing on that path—and at such speed?! Where were their WRONG WAY signs? Did they see them?
Tolerance is a good and necessary principal to practice in a multi-faceted society. But there are plenty of things that we are fools to tolerate: day-old anger (Ephesians 4:26), sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3), laziness (Proverbs 6:10), idolatry (Romans 1), apathy (Philippians 2:12), fear (1 Peter 3:6), heterodoxy (Galatians 1:8), etc. etc. There are plenty of WRONG WAYS to be avoided at all costs. There are roads that are objectively harmful, hazardous, and lead to certain destruction.
Maybe better than asking where did that friend go wrong or when did she miss the WRONG WAY signs in her path, we should consider Who? Who were the friends, family, neighbors to flash the WRONG WAY signs? Who followed up with the brother who slunk out the door after Sunday worship without speaking to anyone? Who could have made a point to have coffee with the withdrawn housewife? Who should have spoken up after a man’s harsh words to his wife? Who could have macheted through “busy schedules” and “I’m fine” and “life’s just so crazy right now” to get to the heart of the matter? Who could have spoken the truth in love, called a spade a spade, and administered faithful wounds of a friend?
Maybe you’re watching that loved one hurtling the wrong way right now. Maybe you think your friend has made a few wrong turns. Maybe you know that your own life is not headed in the right direction. Maybe you’ve already made a shipwreck of your family or a friendship or your faith. Maybe you know what’s at the bottom of that slippery slope because that’s where you wake up every morning.
There is good news! There is hope for the hopelessly lost. Today can be the day you turn around. You don’t need to dwell at the end of the road you’re on. There is forgiveness for the wayward. A feast and a robe and a birthright for the prodigal son who comes home. From the hymnal: “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore. Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, grace, and power.”
From the book of Hebrews: “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
March 19, 2021