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‘How great Thou art’ and the disconnect of ‘reality’


Published: 15 September 2016 (GMT+10)
Originally published in a CMI newsletter, March 2016.

The first verse and refrain from the commonly used English version of this classic hymn say:

iStockphoto countryside

“O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee:
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!”

Although this grand old hymn has taken many lyrical forms over the years it is generally credited back to a poem written by a Swedish preacher, Carl Boberg, in 1885. I know that I can speak for my colleagues in CMI when I say that this is probably the most popular worship song played when we are invited to speak on creation in churches. Indeed, it was voted the United Kingdom’s favorite hymn by the BBC TV’s Songs of Praise program, and How Great Thou Art was ranked second (after Amazing Grace) on a list of the favorite hymns of all time in a survey by Today’s Christian magazine in 2001. The wonderful lyrics remind us to be in awe of the creation.

No doubt, when this poem and subsequent song was written, the authors had no doubt that all they saw in Creation was the handiwork of a Supreme Creator. Even in a fallen world there is incredible beauty, and the majesty of the Grand Designer is revealed. However, when I hear this song played before I get up to speak, it often crosses my mind that although many might be moved by the stirring lyrics and beautiful melody, there will be an obvious ‘disconnect’ for some. They want to believe it, but doubt that the lyrics can be fully true. How do I know this?

The most asked question?

Undoubtedly it is “Why does a loving God allow death and suffering?” The reality is that the overwhelming majority of us have been exposed to the teaching of the evolutionary worldview that says death and suffering and culling the weak over millions of years is the mechanism that ultimately brought about mankind. Being taught evolution as a ‘science fact’ can even cause Christians who’ve been brought up in the church their whole life to actually look at the world, and thus creation, with a non-Christian worldview. How can one sing hymns about beauty in creation, when there is so much death, and particularly if such death is God’s method of creation? Our nature documentaries display gory scenes of animals being eaten alive by predators, and it is ‘celebrated’ as a good thing because ultimately the ‘fittest’ survive. Such a wrong worldview causes a disconnect that can ultimately create a loss of faith due to a lack of confidence in God and His Word.

How can a Christian have a non-Christian worldview?

As I have said many times, our views about origins (where we came from) will ultimately determine our meaning for life and what happens to us when we die (the ‘3 Big Questions’). So a faulty, evolutionary view of origins can cause one to view God as a cruel capricious and uncaring Creator. If He can show so much disdain for His creation how can one believe Him at His Word when it comes to promises about eternity etc.?

However, if we take the Bible, and particularly the book of Genesis, as real, literal historical events, we can find great peace and understanding and can indeed pronounce “How Great Thou Art.” The book of Genesis (particularly chapters 1–3) describes how a loving God provided a perfect world for mankind to inhabit, and how our rebellion from God (sin) ‘fouled the nest’. So, taking this biblical view of history, when we see bad things around us, it should be a reminder that the world we inhabit is fallen. Bad things happen, and people and animals suffer due to the creation being cursed by sin. So, ultimately it is our fault, not God’s. And as Christians, we are not immune to the effects of the curse either. Jesus reminds us that “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45–46).

As mortal beings, humans should naturally ponder: “Where do we come from? Why are we here and, what happens after death?” But evolution causes many, including Christians, to view death as normal instead of the greatest tragedy ever to befall humanity. Death is not normal and Romans 5:12 reminds us:“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

He created once before so He can do it again

But the Good News is that if God is the Creator described in Genesis, He can and will create a perfect, restored creation once again when the present one has run its course. And looking forward to that time the Apostle Paul writes: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Subsequent verses of the aforementioned hymn recite:

“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.”

He did indeed do something about all the death and suffering. The Creator Himself became our Savior. He did not leave us helpless sinners to suffer a cursed eternity without Him. Only through death now, if we believe in the One whom God sent, can we be restored to an eternity where there will be no more death and suffering.

Information to restore a biblical, Christian worldview

Our aim at CMI is to show the fallacious nature of the evolutionary worldview that masquerades as ‘real’ science. By presenting a viable and biblical scientific alternative, people will be able to trust God at His Word and perhaps sing “How Great thou art” and not be clouded by evolutionary thoughts when they do.

Readers’ comments

Grahame G.
So my love of this song is commonplace ... Oh well. It is a great song and I'm glad you highlighted the third verse. It really annoys me to hear people sing the first and last verses and completely miss that you can't have the last verse without Christ's death. And for those who are interested, I have written another verse to go between the third and fourth verses of this great hymn.

Lord, now I'm saved, but not by my own merit
I've been redeemed, washed clean, my soul set free
Please use my life, filled with Your Holy Spirit
To tell the world of Christ of Calvary.
Dan M.
When in my twenties, (almost sixty now) I Used to wonder why, if the cell evolved, it couldn't it repair itself indefinitely? In other words, why death? I now know my viewpoint was clouded by my evolutionary education and an improper understanding of the fall which explains it all.
I to get tired of people blaming God for it all, (the bad things) and not giving him the glory for the good. When people point their finger at God, (the other three are pointing back at them) and question why; they are really showing their ignorance of the real problem, (themselves) and are self deceived! O man, do you really think if God came back right now to deal with sin, that he wouldn't deal with you also! I told my sister this recently when she complained, (how can a good God allow those children to be slaughtered) and she had no more comment. We have done it and do it all to ourselves! It is our sin! God is just being patient for those who will repent and then he will correct our folly in his good time. Case in point. My mother blamed my step father, (not a nice man) for all her problems up until she died. She had been freed from him for over forty years and had no contact but everything was still his fault, (reminds me of Richard Dawkins and friends). She could not see herself for who she was and I came to pity her! Evolution is a sham and it clouds our vision of the real problem and pointing out the error is NOT egotism but giving an answer for the hope that lies within, 1Pet. 3:15! God truly loves us and wishes no one would perish but if you want to go to hell, he won't stop you! Take no prisoners CMI and preach the truth!
Philip R.
Geoffrey B. wrote: "It always amuses me when the human ego demands that we need to be able to explain everything". And it always amuses me when someone claims as a dogmatic fact that something or other can't be explained or known.
Hans G.
God is the potter, the maker, the landlord, the owner, the life; without His love what and where would we be? He made you and me existing. Arguing with God, maybe for eternity? Is it so hard to say "Yes Sir"? When I have a 'little' Job experience,I read Genesis 1 and 2.
Geoffrey B.
It always amuses me when the human ego demands that we need to be able to explain everything, so we can then attach a label to whatever it is we are trying to explain which says "solved". The human ego needs to understand that "God's thoughts are not our thoughts. God's ways are not our ways" (Isaiah 55: 8,9). But that doesn't stop us insisting that we try and explain the unexplainable in human terms, such as the existence of so much suffering in the world. God says this much in the book of Job, the whole of which is devoted to the single issue of suffering. After listening to Job's pleas to God to explain why he (Job) is suffering (what have I done God, why is this happening to me, tell me in what respects I have fallen short etc etc) God finally, in the final chapter, responds by saying "Job, I cant explain it to you in human terms. Just try and understand that somehow in all your ordeal, I AM WITH YOU AND ALWAYS WILL BE". It is worth noting that God also reprimands Job's three friends in the final chapter, despite the wonderful things they said about God and His creation, and how powerful and good He is. Why? Because they were talking ABOUT God and His wonderful creation, and not TO God. In other words they did not have the same loving experience with God that Job obviously had, but only had an intellectual ego-driven relationship. Perhaps there is a lesson here for CMI???
Gary Bates
A lesson for CMI? You have not really explained where we apparently fell short somehow in our understanding, and don't have the same insight that you apparently have (but the problem is that I am not sure of what). Any reasonable investigation of our website, books and DVDs etc. will clearly show that the Bible is our authority and that the scientific interpretation is secondary to it. Our approach is always exegetical too. We have also written comprehensively on the issue of suffering. See death and suffering question and answers, for example.

You mention Job. it's interesting in that much of God's discourse, by way of reassurance, at the end of the book; God is always reminding Job that God is the Creator, "Were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth?", for example. And while CMI's focus is supporting that very history that God spoke of, and Job believed, ("I know that my redeemer lives and will stand upon the earth, and that I will see him with my own eyes" etc.), it is ultimately all about being able to support and trust the Bible so we can use it to make sense of the world. Job knew that God was Creator and capable of raising him back from the ground at a future time.

You said that God said: ""Job, I cant explain it to you in human terms. Just try and understand that somehow in all your ordeal..." Really? Chapter and verse on that please as it sounds more like an eisegetical approach rather than an exegetical one. Suffering comes because of the Fall. It wasn't that man was just cursed, but the plants, ground and animals and so on (Genesis 3). Thus, when we look at this world and question "Why me?" we should remember we live in a cursed world and why, and probably say "Why not me? If we don't take Genesis as history, then the Bible actually makes no sense, and has no explanatory power for this world.

Anyway, I've really tried to guess what lesson you thought we needed, but as I said earlier, it was not clear from your comment.

When it comes to a discourse on Job to explain suffering I recommend the DVD Why does a good God allow bad things?
Aaron H.
Thanks Gary and CMI!

Another article that helps Christians (and non if they are willing to listen) take in account of the fallen world we live in. If Darwin could have understood that we may not have had Origins written in the first place! That there is a cursed and groaning creation, and that truly our hearts yearn for the coming Day when all will be made perfect again! Yes!! One note: I do believe Matthew 5 speaking of rain and sun is actually speaking about God's love for even sinners, not curse, as Jesus speaks about we need to love (giving sun and rain) even our enemies.
Thanks again and I really appreciate the CMI ministry!! I'm waiting on parts 5-8 to come out of the mini animated clips of "Which History Fits Best?!")
Dylan D.
That hymn does remind of some the Psalms. However, it reminds more of Psalm 19:1. "For the director of music. A psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." Are [our] God is a genius. Amen
Dean R.
How Great Thou Art seems to have an element of Romanticism in a way but also reflects the insight of Psalm 8 and 23 as it mirrors the Christ & living by faith in the shadow of death. Scripture is clear though, as good as there is all things bright & beautiful what misery & despair can be our lot. The Psalms & Scripture don't shy away from that, often it confronts us with it. So much so that Christianity is criticized for the gore & brutality that is recorded for our benefit. Songs can be limited, we are limited, nature is limited, God is not. Historically, Genealogically & biologically Jesus is a son of Abraham & a son of Adam & God.

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