How Great Thou Art

how great thou art

Late one Summer afternoon in 1885, an unknown, twenty-six year old Swedish writer named Carl Gustav Boberg was walking home with friends from his church in the town of Kronobäck to his home in the nearby seaside village of Mönsterås. Suddenly the sky grew dark. Lightning flashed across the sky. A violent wind swept across the grain covered fields. Boberg and his friends ran for shelter as the rain poured down, but then, just as quickly as it began, the storm subsided and a rainbow appeared.

When he arrived home, Boberg opened a window to his house and gazed in awe at the now calm Mönsterås Bay reflecting the clear blue sky like a mirror. Church bells chimed in the distance. Overwhelmed by the power and wonder of God’s creation, Boberg sat down and wrote a poem, O Store Gud, literally, “Oh Great God.”

The nine stanza poem was first published on March 13, 1886 in a local newspaper. Two years later, Boberg visited a neighboring church in Sweden and was surprised to hear the poem sung to the melody of an old Swedish Folk Tune. In 1891, Boberg once again published the poem, but this time with piano and guitar instrumentation.

In 1907, the hymn was translated into German and quickly spread throughout Germany. By 1912, it was translated into Russian as well. In 1931, the British missionary Stuart K. Hine, heard the hymn in Russian as he shared the gospel in the remote villages in the Carpathian Mountains of the Ukraine.

Hine wrote an English paraphrase of the first two verses, the birth of the hymn we now know as “How Great Thou Art.”

O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand hath 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;

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, how great thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, how great thou art!

But the story doesn’t end there. As Hine and his wife shared the good news of God’s love in Jesus in the tiny Ukranian villages, they stopped outside a house where a local woman was reading and teaching God’s Word to other villagers. As they sat outside, listening to people inside voicing their repentance and faith, they wrote down the phrases they heard. Hine later incorporated those phrases into a third verse of the English version of the hymn:

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:

In 1933, Hine and his wife were forced to flee the Ukraine due to Joseph Stalin’s Famine Genocide. Years later, during World War II, Hine met a Russian refugee in England who told him about his wife who had been left behind. He didn’t know if he would ever see her again here on earth. The Russian Christian, however, expressed his confidence that he would see her again in heaven.

Moved by the conversation, Hine wrote the final verse of “How Great Thou Art.”

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home – what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!

May we never stop gazing in awe-filled wonder at God’s created order. May we never stop marveling at God’s astonishing love that he bled and died to take away our sins. May we never stop looking ahead to the day when we too will see God face to face and there proclaim, “My God, how great thou art!”

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