May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” (Psalm 40:16)
Great is an important word. We use it to talk about something of unusually large size: A great earthquake shook the city. Or a large number: A great crowd filled the stadium. Or unusual power or intensity: She has experienced great pain. Or something that is especially good or wonderful: He is a great player. Or something in an extreme degree: For a long time, we have been great friends.
Not only is the word great flexible — used in five different ways above, to talk about size, number, intensity, goodness, and degree — but it’s also a powerful word. Or at least it used to be. It’s become an easy word to overuse. When day after day is great, and meal after meal is great, and game after game is great, we begin to lose the punch of the word to talk about our wedding day, or an unusually lavish feast, or the championship game that went into overtime.
Reclaim the Word Great
And what about God? The Bible tells us again and again, especially in the Psalms, that our God is great. If we use the word great for the normal and everyday, what language will we have when we need to describe the day or the meal or the game that really is a cut above the typical — or most importantly, the God who really is infinite above all else?
As great as he is in power and holiness, it is the greatness of God’s mercy that truly leaves us in awe.
One wonderful thing about this song is that it helps us reclaim the word great. Using simple, but profound language, “How Great Is Our God” turns our attention to the greatness of God. It sets God before us as our standard of true greatness. Perhaps when God increasingly becomes our standard of what is great, then we’ll increasingly become more careful with how easily we dish out the word for days and meals and games.
And just as the word great is flexible and can refer to size, number, intensity, goodness, and degree, so this song gives us several glimpses into the greatness of God.
Four Glimpses into His Greatness
First is the greatness of his majesty and kingly glory. His is the splendor of a king — not just the king of a single tribe or nation, but the king of all the earth. Let all the earth rejoice. He is sovereign over all the nations, arrayed in unparalleled regal glory. He is great in royal majesty.
Second is the greatness of his holiness. As 1 John 1:5 says, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” He is not just great in his majesty, but in his holiness. He is not just in charge and exalted, but he has perfect integrity — he is the standard of truth and character and moral uprightness. When he speaks, the darkness flees. He is great in his holiness.
Third is the greatness of his eternality. He never had a beginning, and he will never have an end. He is Alpha and Omega, he is the beginning and the end — nothing came before him and nothing will come after him. But not only does he stand unmoved from age to age, but “time is in his hands.” Not only is he before and after time, but he controls time, every century and year and hour and minute and second-tick — from him and through him and for him (Romans 11:36). He is great in relation to time.
Finally is the greatness of his mercy. He is not only One, but Three. And not only Father, but Son and Spirit. And these three persons of the Godhead work ever in happy tandem, not simply with the greatness of a Lion, but the greatness of a Lamb. And in his greatness as both Lion and Lamb, we find what it is that truly makes him great.
As great as he is in his majesty and holiness and eternality, it is the greatness of his mercy that truly leaves us in awe, because it his mercy in his Son that brings us sinners into the eternal joy of relationship with him. How great is our God!