Updated: Apr 23, 2021
Swedish: O Store Gud
Text: Gustav Carl Boberg (1859-1940) Tune: Swedish folk
(for copyright reasons I refer you to this page for the text)
The Song that went round the world. That was the name of a TV documentary two Swedish filmographers were working on when they bounded into my third floor
office at Luther Seminary some years ago. They had gotten a grant from Swedish television to film people singing the hymn in all parts of the world. They were
spending a fun year traveling the world in search of the song.
They had just interviewed the very elderly George Beverly Shea of the Billy Graham Association and wanted to talk with me about the influence of the song in Upper Midwest Lutheranism. After dinner they showed me the results of their tour, not yet finished, but remarkable in its sweep. A deep red sunset on the Indian Ocean as people sang it while plying the scarlet waters in small boats; the rich baritone of Shea who introduced the song into the English speaking world through the Billy Graham Association; and other groups they were filming on their trek around the world.
It was written by a Swedish evangelical, Carl Gustav Boberg, a lay man.
He was a poet, an editor of a religious journal and, later, a member of the Swedish
Parliament. He had experienced a brief rainstorm and then saw the evening sun
come out and shine on the Mönsterås church as the vesper bell rang. A glorious summer
evening in Småland, Sweden. He exclaimed, O Store Gud, Oh Great God! And the rest
Boberg wrote the text that night and had it published a bit later. It did not receive a
tune until some time after when the Swedish folk tune became associated with it. It
had a circuitous route to get to the English speaking world, with several versions,
from the Stuart Hine translation to the more Swedish one in the Swedish Covenant
tradition. The copyright issues make me reluctant to put the text in this blog but you
can find it in your hymnals or on line usually underneath the video.
Billy Graham loved the hymn. It became a signature hymn of the revivals. It was
used at most of his appearances; he said, it was “such a God honoring song.”
At first it was not universally admired, but it is now unquestionably one of the top
hymns among Christians today. Singing it in a large group can be thrilling, hearing
versions of it, gospel, jazz, or classical gives one a sense for its universality. And
listening to a small congregation in China or a children’s choir from Tanzania move
me. One can see the joy it produces in the singers. One does not need fantastic
performances or productions for a hymn to move our spirits onto another level.
Singing the glories of God, as creator and redeemer, all he has done for us in his Son
Jesus Christ, can move us into a new place. Something we may be needing just now!
The various renditions of the tune shows how each culture adapts the tune. John Ylvisaker once said that tunes are universal; harmony is chronological; and rhythm geographical. That can easily be heard comparing the Swedish folk tune to the country western gospel lilt George Beverly Shea uses. Travel through time and around the world with these versions. They all move us out of ourselves, toward the praise of God.
Sissel Kyrkjebø, one of Norway’s greatest pop singers here with the Mormon
George Beverly Shea in one of the first performances in 1957
Mahalia Jackson—the black gospel tradition
Brazil—this is different