Pause to Wonder (First published in the Sol Times on 7th September 2018)
For some years now, I gather that one of the most frequently requested hymns in the BBC charts is “How Great Thou Art”. And little wonder really, as it so brilliantly summarises the awesome nature of the universe, which utterly amazes and inspires most of us, when we really consider the incredible size, forces and power involved. So recently, as we witnessed the storms bubbling up around us after the heat of July and early August, that sense of awe was never far away.
But I wonder how many of us know the history of this beautiful and evocative hymn, written originally in 1885 by Carl Boberg in Sweden, following a particularly impressive thunderstorm, at a time when many Christians there were suffering persecution. It was subsequently translated into German through a migrant Swedish community in Estonia and this German version was translated into Russian in 1912. And it was an English paraphrase by a British missionary working in Ukraine of this Russian version in 1949 that first introduced it to the UK, where its popularity soared, when used as one of the principal hymns of the Billy Graham Crusades in the 1950s.
Amazing how this hymn has developed, attributing the awesome forces of nature to a loving and almighty God, in societies where faith, if not actually repressed, is, as in our own society today, largely treated as irrelevant. So let’s look at the words, listed below without the refrain, pausing to consider the forces celebrated, and ask ourselves who, but Almighty God could be the author of such amazing power.
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works thy hands have made; I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder; thy power throughout the universe displayed.
When through the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees. When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur, and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze.
And when I think that God, his son not sparing, sent him to die – I scarce can take it in. That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, he bled and died to take away my sin.
How great indeed, God is!