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How Great Thou Art

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind."

~ Job 12:7-10 (ESV)

I remember the first time I saw the ocean. Having grown up in the midwest and not traveled a lot in my childhood beyond road trips, I was in my mid-20's before I stood on one of our nation’s coast lines and gazed out upon the seemingly endless expanse of water. Still today when I get the chance to visit the ocean, I can’t help but stand in awe of the early explorers who, having no real idea of what to expect, left family, friends, and everything they knew behind to see what lay beyond the horizon.

Today we have so very many resources to tell us what lays beyond the horizon. We have travel books and shows. We have webpages and digital photographs. We have virtual tours and experiences. We can literally see the entire world from the smart phone so many of us carry in our pockets. In many ways, I love this benefit of technology. But I also wonder if we have lost our appreciation for the power there is in experiencing the world.

How Great Thou Art was originally penned by Swedish poet Carl Boberg around 1885 after a particularly powerful experience of creation. As he was walking home, a sudden storm blew up with rains and wind. Then, just as suddenly, it dissapaited with the skies clearing and the beautiful sunny day resuming.

The story reminded me of many days living in Scotland. I don’t think there was a single day with no rain in the forecast. But it wasn’t about the overall chance of rain for a given day, it was about the hourly forecast. Often those rains came through in brief showers lasting less than half an hour. And it was not uncommon at all for them to come through without a cloud in the sky to be seen. In fact, one day with barely a cloud to be seen, I stood at a bus stop and waited while it snowed.

The world God created for us certainly can still surprise us at times, can’t it?

One of the things I have grown to appreciate in my adult years is my childhood on the farm. Making your living as a farm family means you are largely at the mercy of nature. The seasons need to start and end on schedule to get the crop planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. You are always needing just the right amount of rain at just the right time. You can do everything in your power 100% correctly and see all your work destroyed by an insect, a storm, or a drought. The power of creation is nothing to take lightly.

Job knew this. Job was a farmer as well. Specifically, Job was a landowner which meant he was a wealthy farmer who had lots of people working for him. He was blessed by God and his life bore witness to that success. He owned lots of land and animals. He had a large family with many sons. He had lots of friends. He was the poster child for the prevailing belief at the time that, if you were a good person and didn’t sin, God would bless you. If you were a bad, sinful, unrepentant person, God would punish you.

The story of Job makes a lot of us uncomfortable because it begins with a conversation between God and Satan. Satan taunts God saying it is easy to follow Him when times are good and blessings are flowing but everyone, even the most faithful, will fall away when times get hard. Job finds himself losing everything as a result of this conversation. His land, his livestock, his servants, his children, and even his health. Job and his friends can’t understand why this is happening. Afterall, in their limited understanding of God, bad things only happen when you have sinned. The worse your sin, the worse the stuff happening to you will be.

But they all know Job. They simply can’t imagine what Job could have done to anger God to such a great degree. And in chapter 12, Job’s friends have ceased being helpful as he tries to make sense of why his world is falling apart. Job starts out by pointing out to his friends that their logic has failed them and will die with them. Why? Because creation itself declares that God is in charge.

Job and God go on to wrestle through a lot of stuff but in the end, Job realizes acknowledges God’s power and remains faithful despite his lack of understanding of the reasons he has suffered. Job’s story does have a happy ending with land and livestock being restored and additional children being born but I can’t help but wonder of how Job remembered that season in his life.

Job’s story is a powerful reminder of how big, and often incomprehensible, God’s ways truly are. We don’t see the whole picture. We only have glimpses of God’s great power over all the earth. And it was after experiencing one of these glimpses the words to the popular hymn featured in this post were penned.

Follow Up

Check out one, or all, of these versions of How Great Thou Art and find one which invites you to ponder the power and greatness of God.

The story of how the poem became a hugely popular hymn is actually a really interesting one filled with chance encounters. Click here to read more about it. How many chance encounters have you had with others in your life which have turned out to be pivotal in your journey?

For a challenging Bible study, consider the book of Job. Take a few moments and check out the video below for a great basic overview of the book of Job.

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