Inclusive Language, Living in This World

O Store Gud

How-great-thou-art O Mighty God. 

It's a hymn some people think must have been around since Jesus walked the dusty roads, based on a Swedish poem once set to a folk melody and actually translated into English by a British missionary in 1949. 

That's the way you probably know it, not actually ancient, but popularized by the Billy Graham Crusade and recorded by Elvis Presley.

When the United Church of Christ brought out its new hymnal fifteen years ago, amid the cries of outrage about the maiming of Christmas carols, there were also heard angry rebukes of the new version of this hymn. Like many others, it lost its "Thees" and "Thous." And in this case, the "Thou" resonated for people, because it was burned deep into their memories. 

But I looked into it. This was a translation of the poem by Carl Boberg, a poem written to express his experience of God on a rainy afternoon, with storm clouds and thunder and lightning. And it seemed just right to be singing it this morning in the midst of a weekend of the same kinds of storms. Boberg names the beauty and wonder of God's creation and also the ways we do not care for it well enough.

O Mighty God.

On the way home I said how much I enjoyed singing the hymn, and LP said, "I hated it!" For a moment I thought perhaps times and tastes have changed, but she quickly followed up, "I like the old words."

O Lord, My God…How Great Thou Art.

I went searching for as literal a translation as I could get and found this one when I had Google Chrome translate from the Swedish Cyberhymnal page:

Earth O great God, when I view the world,

As you create with your allmaktsord,

How where your life's wisdom lead wires,

And all beings saturate at your table.


When deficiencies soul into worship sound:

How Great Thou Art! How Great Thou Art!

When deficiencies soul into worship sound:

How Great Thou Art! How Great Thou Art!


Oh, my. Apparently some things defy translation, in either direction.

Yesterday, I spent more time watching news about the oil spill than I have been able to bring myself to do before. We've been too busy arguing over language to pay attention to what really matters, too determined to win to even consider doing what's right, too blind to beauty to see it clearly until we may lose it.

O mighty God, forgive us. We forgot How Great Thou Art, and how fragile are the things you made, and how important our role in caring for them. Help us to make amends. 

If we can.

Reidel spill

(The photo by Charles Reidel is from the New York Times, and I first saw it at Robin's blog, Metanoia.)

14 thoughts on “O Store Gud”

  1. Translated in ’49? I had no idea that hymn was so young. I love the version with all the thees and thous, but I’d love to hear the literal translation sung too. Literal translations are always hilarious. “All beings saturate at your table…”
    When I look at the oil spill and think about the hymn, it just about makes me cry.
    Thanks for this powerful post!

  2. I want an allmaktsord. And I want to wave that allmaktsord over the Gulf of Mexico. And I want a thousand other allmaktsords handed out to all sorts of folks so they can wave them over the Gulf of Mexico with me, until the only thing saturating that place is the glow of health, not the sheen and mirk of oil.

  3. I must be obtuse because I still don’t get what an allmaktsord is.

  4. I believe it’s automated translator gobbledygook, but I like MaineCelt’s suggestion.

  5. That photo is heartrending, isn’t it? I keep thinking: Where is she supposed to land? And rest? And what is she supposed to eat?

  6. “Thou” to me always has a special ring to it. It is very intimate, and powerful, and I associate it with Shakespeare and the Bible. There’s just something about the way it rolls off the tongue- even as a child, I knew that it had power. I have to admit, while I’m usually okay with updating hymns, the new version lost a lot of its power for me. Yes, part of religion should be evolving to serve the needs of the present community, but not sacrificing the spaces, traditions, and words that have such great worth, sometimes ONLY in religion. “Thou” is not a word I want to be lost in my faith.

  7. John, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Even with *two* hymnals, we don’t have the other version available!

  8. No modern version available here, so it wasn’t til I read LP’s response that I realised which hymn you were discussing…The Babelfish translation is priceless, but the photograph made me weep.
    I grew up by the sea and one of my early memories was of the impact of the Torrey Canyon oil disaster – a tanker was wrecked and miles of beaches covered with oil for months. My father was a great one for picking up injured birds, and that year he was constantly taking oiled seabirds to the RSPCA to be cleaned…but most still died.
    What shocks me is that though the BBC continues to give a high profile the the Gulf disaster, it’s NOT a hot topic of conversation in my communities. How do we bring people to care????????

  9. I am making myself look at the images now. I don’t know why I think that makes a difference. But I still gasp or cry out each time one comes up unexpectedly, which means that my spouse keeps saying, “What?” “What?” “WHAT!?” God, don’t let us lose our horror and shock from seeing this.

  10. The sick feeling in my stomach at this disaster just keeps growing and that picture, words fail. The reminder that I heard in your post though was “How Great Thou Art, God, How Great Thou Art”, despite our humanness and how badly we mess life on earth up, “how great Thou art”.

  11. I had only read the first part of your post before going to church yesterday. As the pianist played “How Great Thou Art” (those were the words in my head as she played), images of crosses in beautiful settings shown on the screen overhead. It gave new meaning to “thou art” as I watched the beautiful art of God’s creation. Now, reading the rest of your post about the oil spill, that “aha” moment is even more poignant and requires great confession of sin on all our parts. Praying for all those affected and for those seeking a solution.

  12. Allsmaktsord means “almighty word”. So the Swedish poem starts with “O Great God, when I watch the world that you have created with your almighty word” etc.

  13. That Oil spill is the worst that happen in our earth. It is like blood that comes out in our body. Thank god that the oil spill has been stopped but still the oils are in our ocean.

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