Saturday, May 02, 2015

How Great (and how Fearsome?) Thou Art

We sang this song in chapel after having prayed all week for the people of Nepal. I thought to myself: How do we sing this song after an earthquake?

After the earthquake in Nepal - Joe Sieder/AP Photo
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder 
Consider all the worlds* thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling* thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed:

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: 
How great thou art! How great thou art! 

I suppose it is not necessarily out of line: A reminder and a song of faith amidst the rubble. Perhaps the first verse could even be sung in a more somber mood (see * below). But the general tenor of this (and of other songs of its nature) is pretty much all in the direction of birds singing sweetly rather than taking flight for survival. This can give the ascription of 'greatness' a kind of self-serving tone.

We do this with nature all the time (and not just in church): For our purposes nature can mean whatever we want it to mean. Fresh off some recent reading (namely Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing and Ronald Osborne's Death Before the Fall), I found myself wondering:

What if, instead of being about the pleasures of nature, one of these first two verses sung about its horrors? How would that change the complexion of the chorus? Of the verses that follow? The hymn continues:

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. 

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation 
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! 
Then shall I bow in humble adoration, 
And there proclaim, My God, how great thou art!

I'm no song-writer, but I'd love to see a verse (not to mention a theology) which gave a more well-rounded reflection on nature. (If you're so inclined to give it a try, drop me a line). All in all I suspect it might be less comfortable, but more profound.

* The original words are actually 'works' and 'mighty'

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