On Monday, we celebrate and recognize the European explorer credited with discovering America. On Oct. 11, 1492, he and his crew sighted land on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean and they landed the next day on what we now know as San Salvador Island in the Bahamas.
The timing was fortuitous, or as I believe, God ordained, for two days earlier his crew had nearly mutinied because of their failure heretofore to find a shorter route to the East. Columbus promised his crew that if land was not spotted within the next two days, they would turn around and head home. We can imagine that he spent a good bit of that night praying for the next day land was discovered and the rest, as they say, is history.
As I shared last year at this time, unlike the claims made by his detractors, Christopher Columbus was not an overbearing cruel conqueror. He heard God’s call on his life and faithfully followed it at great personal peril, expense, and risk to eventually discover the western hemisphere. We cannot and must not hold him accountable for some atrocities that followed against natives already here for his desire was to share Jesus with them all.
The truth is that many atrocities were already being committed by some natives against other natives and who can say how many of those the Italian’s arrival prevented? In addition, no one can say what might have transpired if the discovery was made later by others who could have caused greater pain and suffering. At any rate, history cannot be reversed and it behooves us to honor and emulate the best qualities of those who have gone before us even though none were perfect.
One common misunderstanding and oft stated inaccuracy is that most people in the 1400s thought the earth was flat. The myth goes that the Catholic Church opposed Columbus’ expedition as he would fall off the edge of the Earth. This falsehood was invented and spread by anti-Christians in the 1800s, especially Washington Irving in his biography of the explorer written 350 years after that explorer’s death. Needless to say, Irving did not have firsthand information.
For those willing to dig, they’ll find that no one in recorded history up to the time of Columbus’s voyage had believed the Earth was flat and all scholars and theologians who had spoken to the issue implied or stated directly that the Earth was round. Where did they get this idea? Perhaps from the Bible in Isaiah 40:22 where the prophet describes God as sitting above “the circle of the Earth.” Isaiah wrote that some 700 years before Jesus was born and 2,200 years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Various individuals in the 1400s did discourage Columbus and oppose his endeavor to establish a shortcut to India and Japan, but it wasn’t because of a flat Earth. They rightly estimated that the distance was too great for his sailors to survive such a voyage. Some had even estimated the circumference of the Earth to be close to what it later proved to be. Thankfully, the discovery of the New World rescued the crew from starvation and Columbus from ridicule. It also paved the way for the eventual establishment of the most generous, most free, and most technologically advanced nation in history.
Today, those with Biblical views of creation and the world around us are often facetiously dismissed as “flat-earthers.” Unfortunately, those who make those claims fall short on two points. They fail to get history right in believing that Christians once believed this and, more importantly, they fail to recognize the incredible hand of the all-powerful God who called all that is into being.
As we celebrate Columbus Day again this Monday, let’s set the record straight regarding history and honor the man who dared greatly. Although he failed in his attempt to establish a shorter trading route, he succeeded in something far greater. If God is calling us to do something, let’s never hesitate to do his bidding. Blessings, George