I love when a song has such a rich history–the telling of which sparks movies in the mind. Such is the case with “How Great Thou Art”(aka “O Store Gud” – “Oh Mighty God”).
Carl Gustav Boberg was walking home from an afternoon service at his church near Kronoback, Sweden when the peal of church bells suddenly gave way to a peaceful winter calm. He looked out over Monsteras Bay and the radiant sun filled him with momentary awe, only to be broken by the presence of a thundercloud stealing away the light and flashing it’s might across the sky as the storm it led came into full view. Once home he heard church bells ringing in the distance. Gazing out the window the glorious scenes of the day poured into his mind and he wrote this hymn which was first published in 1886 in Swedish.
In 1907 the song was translated from Swedish to German and popularized under the title “Du grober Gott.” (“O Mighty God”) A few years later, in 1912, the song made it’s way to Russia where it was called “Velikly Bog” (“Great God”). The first English translation appeared in 1925 under the title “Oh Mighty God”:
Oh Mighty God, when I behold the wonder
Of nature’s beauty, wrought by words of thinge,
And how thou leadest all from realms up yonder,
Sustaining life with love benign.
In 1931 a British missionary names Stuart Wesley Keene Hine head the Russian translation while in the Ukraine. He was the one who created the English paraphrase known as “How Great Thou Art.” He is also responsible for adding added the very powerful 3rd verse:
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.
After World War II Hine’s wrote additional verses. One of which went like this:
O when I see ungrateful man defiling
Bounteous earth, God’s gifts so good and great;
In foolish pride, God’s holy Name reviling,
And yet, in grace, His wrath and judgment wait.
Hines’ final version was published in 1949. It was introduced in American in 1951. It became a signature song in the Billy Graham crusades of the 1950s–popularized by George Beverly Shea.
In 1957 a version of the hymn was commissioned by Intervarsity which harkened back to the Boberg original.
The United Church of Christ released a revised version of the hymn in 1995, which uses the refrain:
My soul cries out in songs of praise to you.
O mighty God! O mighty God!
This hymn is one that has now been translated in a multitude of languages around the globe from Spanish to Swahili to Slovak and Vietnamese.
It is hard not to get caught up in ardent praise as you belt out:
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art, How great thou art.
[Sources: Trinity Hymnal; Wikipedia]