German: Weit wie das Meer ist Gottes grosse Liebe
Norwegian: Guds kjærleik er som stranda og som graset
Swedish: Guds kärlek är som stranden och som gräset
Text: Anders Frostenson (1906-2006) Tune: Lar Åke Lundberg ( 1935-2020)
(For reasons of copyright, I cannot print the translation or Swedish text here, but if you click the link here you can see an English translation of it)
What is God’s love like? We can see it of course in flesh, in Jesus who as God’s only begotten son was sent to us because God loved the world. To see Jesus, the theologians say, is to see God deep in the flesh.
While Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love, preachers still struggle to give people images that can enhance their understanding. This hymn, written in the middle of 1968 during the student uprisings, was an attempt by Anders Frostenson to give the youth a picture of God’s love that would surprise them and connect with them. God’s love being like a beach, an endless beach of sand, communicated that sense of endlessness, but theologians worried about God’s love being like shifting sand. They disliked even more the notion of God’s love being like grass. All they could think of was Psalm 90 and the grass of the field which will fade and be thrown into the oven.
No matter the critics. The hymn became instantly popular around the world and continues to be Frostenson’s most well known hymn. It is in the United Methodist Hymnal, translated by Fred Kaan. Frostenson was on to something with the images.
The singers see, not the temporal, but the endless beauty of these images of nature and how they speak of an eternal home. Frostenson painted it so they would be attracted to it and say yes to it. As the hymn makes clear, the singer has the God given freedom to say yes or no. That theme appealed to the times, also.The freedom he speaks of had to be a place where there was “room for dreams.” And where trees and flowers could find place to send down roots.
Furthermore, in stanza three, the need to break down walls as part of the gospel’s freedom appealed especially to the Germans when, in 1989, the Berlin Wall was being torn down. This hymn was sung many times then. It spoke directly to what people were doing as they sang.
Frostenson was what the theologians call an apologetic theologian—one who communicates the Gospel to those who haven't heard it. Doing that, the apologist always have to be asking why or why not he or she is getting through to those around them. Is it that their message is too bound up in another time and can't get through? Or is it that they are offering nothing different from what the culture is preaching?
Our Bible study group is studying the Book of Daniel just now. It offers us an example of how to keep faith in a foreign land. Beloved of the kings he serves for his wisdom and integrity, Daniel continues to worship the God of Israel despite the dangers to his own life. When Nebachudnezzar and Darius foolishly made laws that imperiled Daniel and his friends, they regretted their folly, and then were amazed to discover that the God of Israel could save his people from the fire and the lions. Daniel, at 80 plus, standing in his window looking toward Jerusalem, kneeling down and praying three times a day against the explicit decree of Darius, seems like an example for us today when the witness of the church seems strangely silent.
Whether you like Frostenson’s hymn or not, it does bear consideration. The contemporary tune is quite irresistible. No matter what you think, it has made a difference, giving people a fresh way to think of God's love.
Frostenson's work with the 1937 Swedish hymnal got him thinking about how to write hymns that a secular, unchurched people could hear and understand. He was in many ways the spark for what became the Scandinavian hymn explosion. He worked with the Swedish church music committee from the 60s until its latest book came out in 1986. Many
began writing new hymns in his style or at least with his understanding that they needed to speak more concretely and less theologically to their people. While this hymn could be sung to Finlandia, Lars Åke Lundberg, a jazz folk musician at the time, set the text to what he called a bossa nova tune that has endured. Lundberg set many of Frostenson’s and Hallqvist's texts and became a force in Swedish worship and hymnody as editor at Verbum, the church publishing company during the 80s. For me he represented the youth movement in Scandinavia and I always thought of him as a young man. He died this May at the age of 85!
LINKS/there are hundreds of versions on Youtube!
The Stockholm Cathedral Choir
Björn Johansson jazz version with Gustaf Sjökvists Kammerkör with Arne Domnerus,with Georg Riedel,
Swedish wedding service for Prince Carl Philip and Sofia
Kärlekens Sång Lennart Jernestrand Jazz piano
Swedish Congregation singing hymn