History of Hymns: 'Lord of All Creation'
By C. Michael Hawn
“Lord of All Creation” (“God of Wonders”)
Marc Byrd and Steve Hindelong
Worship and Song, 3034
God of wonders beyond our galaxy,
you are holy, holy.
The universe declares your majesty,
you are holy, holy.
© 2000 New Spring Publishing, Inc./Never Say Never Songs (ASCAP)
For complete lyrics, see https://genius.com/Third-day-god-of-wonders-lyrics.
“God of wonders” (2000) was composed by two songwriters—Californian Steve J. Hindalong (b. 1959) and Eldorado, Arkansas, native Marc Byrd (b. 1970). Hindalong was primarily responsible for the lyrics and Byrd, the music. Mac Powell (b. 1972), lead singer for the Christian rock band, Third Day, first recorded the song with Cliff Young and Danielle Young, lead singers in the band Caedmon’s Call, for the album City on a Hill: Songs of Worship and Praise (2000). The song has been recorded nearly one hundred times by contemporary Christian artists, including Rebecca St. James (b. 1977), Steve Green (b. 1956), and Chris Tomlin (b. 1972), as well as by Passion (2002), in a re-release by Caedmon’s Call (2006), and a revised version on the album Offerings II: All I Have to Give (2003) by Third Day. The song was nominated for best worship song of the year at the 2004 GMA Dove Awards and the number one song simultaneously on three Christian radio charts.
Hindalong, an American percussionist, producer, and recipient of Dove Awards, is a prolific composer and collaborator, producing hit songs on the CCLI SongSelect ratings. Marc Byrd, an American musician, composer, and producer, is a member of the post-rock/ambient duo Hammock with several albums to his credit. Hindalong was tasked with developing a project to express the sense of community in the church. He describes the song’s origins: “When Marc played the chord progression and melody, it felt really big. I kind of got a chill—I got goosebumps on my arms. I just thought, ‘This song needs to be big, with really vast language.’ So ‘God of wonders beyond our galaxy’ was as big as I could think.” (Hambrick, 2003) The duo must have succeeded because NASA used the song as a wake-up alarm for Rick Husband, an astronaut aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia a few days before its tragic reentry into earth’s atmosphere (2003), and again for astronaut Michael Fossum when he was aboard Discovery in 2006.
Perhaps unexpectedly, this contemporary Christian song is reminiscent of St. Francis of Assisi’s hymn of praise composed 800 years earlier, “All Creatures of Our God and King.” St. Francis addresses the elements of nature known to the medieval scientific world—fire, water, earth, and air. In Francis’s hymn, they appear as part of a familial relationship: “brother fire,” “sister wind,” “mother earth,” “sister water.” “God of Wonders” begins by naming elements of the natural created order. The authors praise the “Lord of all creation / of water, earth, and sky.” Francis alludes to the sky more poetically as “brother sun” and “sister moon.”
The final line of the first stanza of “God of wonders”—”Glory to the Lord on high” (Luke 2:14)— parallels the “most high” (“Altissimu”) Lord of Francis’ Italian paean. Furthermore, the rhapsodic repetition of “Hallelujah to the Lord of earth and heaven” that concludes “God of Wonders” echoes the ubiquitous “Alleluias” in the musical setting (LASST UNS ERFREUEN) of Francis’s Italian poem.
At first glance, “God of Wonders” appears to be a twenty-first-century version of St. Francis’s hymn. However, the points of view of the two composers differ considerably. Francis, a mendicant monk with only the clothes on his back, lived in the midst of the natural created order. In the original Italian, Francis identifies the elements of nature as members of his family. In contrast to this intimate relationship, Byrd and Hindalong refer to the Creator as the “God of wonders beyond our galaxy.” Unlike Francis, twenty-first-century earth-dwellers have likely seen images of the earthrise from the perspective of the moon. The YouTube video produced by Third Day displays images from the Hubble telescope that probe the known depths of the universe. Our understanding of the heavenly realm has moved beyond the sun, moon, and stars of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century hymns to a universe of incomprehensible expansiveness. Scientific exploration of the universe has increased our awareness of the vast scope of the cosmos exponentially, bringing into stark contrast our human limitations and minuscule presence on the “third rock from the sun.” The infinite and holy God reigns.
Unlike classic creation hymns such as “I sing the almighty power of God” by Isaac Watts (1674–1748) or “All things bright and beautiful” by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818–1895), “God of Wonders” does not outline the creation process in Genesis 1 and 2. In contrast to “Touch the earth lightly” by Shirley Erena Murray (1931–2020), Byrd and Hindalong do not mention humanity’s abuse of the earth or our obligation to sustain earth’s resources for future generations. Perhaps, “God of Wonders” borrows the awe of nature expressed in “Morning has broken” by Eleanor Farjeon (1881–1965), writ large upon the countless galaxies.
Effective musical interpretations and visual displays enhance the meaning of the words. Of the many recordings available, the rendition by Third Day captures the awe and amazement of the song in both its musical scoring and video images (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CBNE25rtnE). Sustained strings underlay a visual display of Genesis 2:4, “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” (KJV). Echoing female voices sing freely over a view of the curvature of the earth: Solo 1: “Lord of heaven and earth”—Solo 2: “Lord of all creation.” Following this brief introduction, rhythm guitars enter, and Mac Powell’s distinctive solo voice sings as earth-bound images of “water, earth, and sky” support the first stanza. On the phrase, “The heavens are your tabernacle,” we lift our eyes upward. As we hear the refrain, “God of wonders,” the fuller orchestra enters, and the male solo voice breaks into harmony. The visual images transport us beyond earth’s atmosphere, and once again, we see earth’s curvature. A brief instrumental interlude provides a glimpse of the Milky Way.
We return to earth at the beginning of stanza 2: “Early in the morning / I will celebrate the light”—perhaps a reference to several “morning” psalms (Psalms 5:3, 57:7–10, 90:14, 119:147, 143:8) and an allusion to Genesis 1:3, “Let there be light.” The stanza concludes, “I will call your name by night (Pss 19:2, 77:6). Following the refrain, a riff on “Lord of heaven and earth” continues under an array of expansive earth scenes. When the refrain returns a third time, we are transported beyond our solar system to further reaches of our galaxy and other galaxies and exploding stars. A variation to the refrain is a prayer for an intimate relationship with the infinite Creator: “Precious Lord, reveal Your heart to me / Father hold me, hold me.” The rendition concludes with “Hallelujah to the Lord of heaven and earth.”
“God of Wonders” echoes the psalmist’s admiration for God’s creation (Ps 19:1–6). The song recasts Psalm 19 for the twenty-first century, responding in rapturous awe: “The universe declares your majesty. You are holy, holy.”
As this article appears, a countermelody to “God of Wonders” is playing in the news—the howls of epic wildfires, cracks of dissolving polar ice caps, moans of dying species, blowing winds of devastating droughts, and the roar of floods of biblical proportions—all pointing to humanity’s failure to honor the gift given by the “Lord of all creation.” Is it disingenuous to sing “God of Wonders” and not also sing its countermelody? How does the church harmonize “Alleluia” with “Kyrie eleison”?
Melissa Hambrick, “Song Story: God of Wonders,” Crosswalk.com (August 20, 2003), https://www.crosswalk.com/church/worship/song-story-god-of-wonders-1215414.html (accessed September 4, 2021).
“God of Wonders by Third Day,” Songfacts, https://www.songfacts.com/facts/third-day/god-of-wonders (accessed September 4, 2021).
Lindsay Terry, I Could Sing of Your Love Forever: The Stories Behind 100 of the World’s Most Popular Worship Songs (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008).
C. Michael Hawn, D.M.A., F.H.S., is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor, and Director, Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.