Reclaiming ‘How great Thou art’

When Carl Boberg wrote the hymn that we know as How great Thou art’ it was, I believe, written in Swedish. Some of the wonder and beauty of that hymn has survived in the English translation which is most widely used. Sadly, for me, some of that English version has unaccountably veered into a penal substitutionary mode. Having lost a son aged 22 I cannot sing verses which speak of a God as ‘great’ who has sacrificed his son. If this is how a ‘Father God’ behaves I want none of it. In addition it rides light to the incarnation, to God dying, Jurgen Moltmann’s crucified God.

I am aware of the theological gymnastics that people employ to get round this, but why when Atonement theories, are just that. Why not simply return to a translation that more clearly reflects Boberg’s original? Thanks to for offering E. Gustav Johnson’s translation

When I behold His Son to earth descending,
to help and heal and teach distressed mankind;
When evil flees and death in fear is bending
before the glory of the Lord divine,

With rapture filled, my soul Thy name would laud,
O mighty God! O mighty God!
With rapture filled, my soul Thy name would laud,
O mighty God! O mighty God!

When, crushed by guilt of sin, before Him kneeling
I plead for mercy and for grace and peace,
I feel His balm and, all my bruises healing,
He saves my soul and sets my heart at ease.

Author: Carl Boberg; Translator: E. Gustav Johnson

Translation by E. Gustav Johnson (1893–1974) From accessed 9/6/2014.

Published by

Andrew Pratt

Andrew Pratt was born in Paignton, Devon, England in 1948.

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