For those of you who don’t like longwinded hymns—you know, the ones with fifteen stanzas—you probably won’t care for Psalm 78 either. It’s a whopping seventy-two verses. And a whole lot of it is rather depressing, since it hangs out Israel’s dirty laundry for all the world to see. Their kissing up to idols. Their bitching and bellyaching. Their snoozing while God preached. Were a hymnal committee to get ahold of it, and abbreviate it to a manageable length, they might just shrink it down to a single stanza, which would go something like this:
God filled the cup for Israel of old,
Love and mercy and treasures untold,
But Israel, like a stubborn ass,
Always saw an empty glass.
But were it up to me to save one stanza from this psalm, to extract it, gild it with gold, and hold it up for all the world to see, I would choose this verse:
When [God] killed them,
Then they sought Him,
And searched diligently for God. (78:34)
Now slow down, dear reader. Chew on each of these words: “When God killed them, then they sought Him.” It’s one of those verses that makes me want to laugh and cry all at once.
Laugh, because of the sheer lunacy of it, because that’s what it takes for people—for me—to finally “get it.” God must kill me. He’s got to slay me, put me six feet under, and shovel dirt atop my corpse. Then, it’s like, “Hey, I finally understand! You’re God and I’m not. You’re my Father and I’m your child. You know best, not me. I now see all you’ve done for me.”
It also makes me want to cry, because now I’m dead and it’s too late. I’m slain, buried, done for.
But I’m not. I’m not because I look beside me in the grave, and there lies a man. He too has been killed. I see his wounds. I can almost smell the iron in his blood. But he opens his eyes, and in them I read a volume of hope and redemption. In those eyes, I see the one who sought me, but from whom I fled. Now he has me, in the grave, beside him, right where he needed me all along. When he killed me, then I sought him. And found him in the grave.
In the grave, however, we do not remain, Jesus and I. As he rises, I rise with him. My repentant heart is healed. My dead body vivified. I live in him who lives in me. For that is how God works: he kills and makes alive. He brings us down. He slays us. He rips from us everything that is contrary to him, that when we have nothing left, we might find everything in him.