According to tradition, in 1885, Carl Boberg (then 24 years old) was walking home after attending church (and participating in it) with a few friends (he lived Sweden) when the church bells started going off—and in that moment he also saw a sudden thundercloud make an appearance over Mönsterås Bay. It was dark and ominous, and strong winds started kicking things up. By one account, thunder peeled in loud claps—then rain showers—but as soon as it appeared it peacefully went away, a rainbow appeared overhead, and this feeling of calm came over Carl.
When he got home, he opened up the windows, looked at the now peaceful bay before him, and he heard birds singing from the woods on the other side as their voices carried across the glass-like water … and then, again, he heard the church bells. And so it was the sight, sounds, smells, and all that he experienced that led him to write, what would eventually become, “How Great Thou Art.”
According to Boberg’s great-nephew, the story and its song were paraphrases of Psalm 8—and that song would eventually become the battle cry for the underground church in Sweden in the late 1800s when the Baptists and Mission Friends were being persecuted.
Psalm 8 reads:
1 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild,
8 he birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
I’m struck by the words from “How Great Thou Art”—this revolving understanding and declaration of the beauty of the works of God—the very things his hands have made. Here in Colorado we can see the majestic mountains, the cool springs, the stars in the night sky—and while I haven’t experienced “rolling thunder” in Colorado, I did get quite a bit of it in Iowa—and it’s breathtaking when coupled with sheets of lightning that streak across the sky. But there is the understanding that God’s hand is in all of that.
We declare that every square inch is God’s, every square inch was made for and through Christ, and that every square inch God declares is his … but how often do we look, and recognize, the awesome hand of God in you? How often do we recognize that the hand that formed the mountains, the voice that gave existence to the planets, breathed in, and formed us? Because we should—and we must. When we don’t recognize this, we not only fail to see how big and awesome our God is, we not only fail to recognize that the one on high came down below to give life to us upon the cross, we not only fail to acknowledge the Holy Spirit—but we then begin to fail to recognize that by extension the work we do is via the hands of God. That if WE are the workings, the hands of God, then all we do is by his hands, too.
That gives us a new perspective when we see a neighbor in need. That gives us a new perspective when we see someone struggling to hold their shopping cart, keep their child happy, and put groceries in their car. It gives us a new perspective when we walk down the street and see someone in need. It gives us a new perspective when we are in the workplace, soccer field, swimming pool, and our own front yard.
The awesome and wonderful God, the one who made the heavens and the earth, made you—but that’s not it. The Holy Spirit descended down on that day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and entered into the people of God to HELP THEM be the hands and feet, the love and kindness, the mercy and grace, of God. So the hand we extend, has the Holy Spirit extending it, as the very hands of God.
About the Author
Kelly Vander Woude is the pastor of Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Fort Collins, Colo. He loves to smoke all kinds of food, hang out with his wife and kids, and he enjoys trying to build things on the side, which usually just means he has sore hands, lots of mistakes, and tons of sawdust.