The Cross in Prince and U2

March 1987. That was the month two pop records were released—albums that eventually gained iconic 1980s status. It might have been a well-timed conspiracy, or it was more likely a reaction to the era, but both reflected an unsettled view of America.

Prince’s Sign ☮ the Times (intended to read “Sign ‘O The Times” using a peace sign) came out on March 31, just three weeks after U2’s The Joshua Tree. Each had the feel of a commentary on a country that was wandering into decadence, greed and unbridled self-indulgence. Superficiality reigned as Wall Street seemed to supply every desire. Both albums were a call to things that should matter more than the stuff of materialism: peace, identity, soul and a vision for the future of what could be.

Though Prince was about half of a decade ahead of U2 with his exploration of human sexuality (that wouldn’t come until the 1991 release of Achtung Baby for the Irish quartet), there was another theme Joshua Tree and Sign had in common: they each offered a song that provided bold spiritual commentary. Prince’s “The Cross” and U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” are so startlingly similar, it’s worth a look.

Here’s a lyric comparison.

 

Each song signals something that is in the process of coming but isn’t quite here in its fullness. The Gospels call it “the kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of heaven,” and offer the hope of Christ’s return in the midst of suffering and incompleteness.

“The Cross”
Black day, stormy night, No love, no hope in sight
Don’t cry, he is coming, Don’t die without knowing, The Cross

“Still Haven’t Found”
I believe in the Kingdom Come, Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one, But yes, I’m still running

 

Each song describes the tension of a world that is both plagued by pain and evil, while at the same time on a journey toward restoration. Heartache will eventually be overcome by joy. Evil will, in the end, submit to the Divine. But we’re not left without signs of hope along the way.

“The Cross”
Ghettos to the left of us, Flowers to the right
There’ll be bread for all of us, If we can just bear, The Cross

“Still Haven’t Found”
I have spoke with the tongue of angels, I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night, I was cold as a stone
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

 

Each song asserts that the very hope we all look for is ultimately found in the cross. And whether you hear this as a metaphor or a literal reality, both Prince and U2 suggest that the very cross of Christ—that tool of suffering imposed on the perfect man—marks a dividing point between good and evil. “Look to the cross for help and comfort,” our artists say.

“The Cross”
We all have our problems, Some big, some are small
Soon all of our problems, Will be taken by, The Cross

“Still Haven’t Found”
You broke the bonds, And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame, Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

 

Prince and U2 were reflecting a need in 1987 for a spiritual conversation. Each, through means of a “secular” album, picked up the theme and crafted one of the most religious songs of their careers. I don’t think it was a coincidence. More likely it was a response to a Spirit that was moving like a current below the surface of a calm river, deep in the souls of the artists. I’m glad they were each listening. Their responses gave us a prophetic word that’s still relevant nearly thirty years later.

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