The Story Behind “How Great Thou Art”

Carl Boberg had recently quit his work as a sailor and started working as a lay-minister in his native Sweden (he would later go on to be a newspaper editor and a member of Swedish Parliament).  One day, while visiting the coast, he was caught up in a midday thunderstorm filled with awe-inspiring moments of flashing violence, followed by a clear brilliant sun.  Soon afterwards he heard the calm, sweet songs of the birds in nearby tress and the ringing of a church bell.  The experience prompted him to pen the poem “O Great God”.

Although the poem was published, Boberg’s nine-verse poem didn’t really catch on and it seemed to be forgotten.  Several years later while attending a meeting in another part of Sweden he heard the congregation sing his poem to the tune of a traditional Swedish melody.  A few decades later and this poem, put to music, had traveled across borders.  English missionary Stuart Hine heard the song (in Russian) while in Poland.  Deeply moved by the song, he translated it into English, tweaked the musical arrangement, some of the wording, and took it home with him to England.  In English the song was now called, “How Great Thou Art”.  Dr. J. Edwin Orr of Fuller Theological Seminary is said to have brought the hymn to America.  After hearing it sung in India, he introduced it to various Christian groups in America.  Along with “Amazing Grace,” it ranks as one of the top two hymns in America.

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