THE TRUTH ABOUT COLUMBUS
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Introduction: This verse refers to ancient Israel, but is also a truism for all nations which serve the Lord. America’s blessings have been the result of God’s favor on a nation which acknowledged Him. As reverence for God wanes, blessings do, also. America needs to take a fresh look at herself and be reminded who she really is.
This message will be an attempt to pinpoint the obvious and indisputable dealings of God in the discovery of our land. My intention is not to exonerate Columbus. Nor is my purpose to evoke pride or egotistical nationalism among us. My desire is to exalt God, to convince us He made America possible. Did God have a special plan for America? If so, we should be able to find evidence of His workings at every turn of our history, including the beginning. And for us, the beginning is Columbus.
Columbus was a sinful man. There are many dark pages on his life, most of them coming after his discovery of America. He coveted fame, power, and wealth. Nevertheless, God used this sinner because the man possessed some extraordinary talents.
That God would use such a man should not surprise us. He has used other worldly men, such as Nebuchadnezzar, Balaam, Cyrus the Persian; and He prepared the world for the coming of Christ through Alexander.
God’s purpose was not to exonerate a man, but to prepare a nation. God’s hand was on Columbus. This truth can easily be demonstrated by some key events in his life:
I. THE DETOUR
Columbus was born and reared in Genoa, a seaport in northwest Italy. Ships came to this harbor from all over the world. His father wanted Columbus to follow his footsteps and be a weaver, but the lure of the sea was too strong. The boy worked in his father’s shop, but took every opportunity he could to work as a helper or deck-hand on a ship.
Finally, his big chance arrived. In May 1476 the tall 25-year-old redhead left on his first voyage to faraway lands. He was headed for England, but God had a detour planned.
As his ship left the Mediterranean and headed north along the coast of Portugal, it was attacked on August 13, 1476, by an enemy fleet of 13 French ships. His ship was rammed, and enemy sailors jumped aboard.
Columbus drew his sword and engaged in battle a fierce-looking seaman who had a patch on one eye. The young Italian held his own for a while, but soon found himself trying to hold five enemy sailors at bay. Suddenly he felt a terrible pain in his shoulder. He had been stabbed! He continued to fight a little longer, but finally the pain overwhelmed him, and he fell to the deck.
He expected to be killed, but nothing happened. He closed his eyes, remained motionless, and prayed. As the noise of battle began to subside, he opened his eyes. The enemy sailors were gone, but they had set the ship on fire. It was beginning to sink. Men were jumping overboard.
Columbus, though injured and dazed, had enough presence of mind to know he had to abandon ship. He crawled to the railing, leaned over it, and dropped into the water. As he surfaced from the dive, a wooden oar floated near him, and he reached out to grab it. He clung to this wooden God-sent life-preserver and started kicking his legs in the water.
The shore was six miles away; pain made him dizzy at times; he often found it hard to breathe, but he kept on swimming. Once he reached the shore, he collapsed into an exhausted stupor.
Columbus barely lived. His recovery took weeks, but he fortunately was found by some benevolent fishermen who transported him to the nearest city with a doctor–Lisbon. This is where God wanted him to be, for Lisbon, Portugal, was the principal European center of overseas exploration.
Portuguese sailors were traveling farther than any others of their day. They had discovered the Azores Islands and were going farther and farther south along the west coast of Africa. They were the boldest and most daring seafarers in Europe. If a man wanted to learn the ways of travel and exploration, Lisbon was the place to be. It was to this center of seafaring activities God detoured Christopher Columbus.
II. THE DECISIONS
Columbus loved the “explorer atmosphere” of Lisbon and chose to stay. Here he learned to read and write and became a very successful map-maker, but he was restless and soon found himself on expeditions again.
He traveled to France, North Africa, and Genoa, where he saw his parents for the last time. He went to Iceland, where few people had been. He read everything he could find on exploration and faraway places. His experience and reading were combining to make him one of the most capable seamen in all the world, which is exactly what God needed.
Columbus became especially enchanted with Marco Polo’s stories about Cathay (China) and Cipangu (Japan). Two things about these eastern lands, collectively called the Indies, intrigued Columbus–wealth and paganism. Europe needed a quick route to the Indies for commerce and missions. The more he studied and pondered, the more convinced he became of two crucial decisions:
A. OCEAN SEA COULD BE CROSSED.
One day while reading Marco Polo’s Cathay, Columbus remarked to a friend, “I am distressed that no effort is being made to bring the heathen people of these lands to the true faith” (Judson, p. 47).
The friend reminded Columbus the Indies were cut off from Europe by fearful deserts and the fierce, cruel Turks. To this stock reply Columbus blurted out his heartfelt conviction, “One could sail westward!”
The friend replied, “Impossible! The world is too large. It would be impossible to carry enough food to sail across Ocean Sea and return.”
This was the common attitude of the day. The scholars of Columbus’ era had already concluded the earth was round. Many of them had also decided the Ocean Sea Polo had seen in the Indies was the same Ocean Sea which touched Europe. The problem to solve was one of logistics.
Several had already tried to cross Ocean Sea, but all had failed. Storms scared them, or head-winds opposed them, or they ran out of food. People had decided Ocean Sea was too wide to be crossed. Columbus, however, felt otherwise and concluded his decision was a direct revelation from God. He wrote in his Book of Prophecies:
It was the Lord who put into my mind (I could feel his hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail
from here to the Indies. . . . There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because He comforted me with rays of marvelous inspiration from the Holy Scriptures. (Light and Glory, p. 17)
His inner revelation was being encouraged by outward pieces of evidence. Things were washing ashore in Europe which indicated people might not live terribly far to the west of Europe. Thick pieces of bamboo, specimens of unknown woods, and pieces of cleverly carved wood had washed ashore. More than once, bodies had floated ashore or been found drifting in boats. The faces on these bodies were not like the Europeans’. Rather, they were wider and flatter. Columbus concluded they were people from the Indies.
Columbus decided the Indies were 3,000 miles west. They are actually 10,000, but his error in judgment made the trip possible. What he did not know was, 3,000 miles would be exactly how far God needed him to go.
B. HE FELT CALLED OF GOD TO BE A FOREIGN MISSIONARY.
Two verses of Scripture became his inspiration. The first was Isaiah 49:1, “Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from afar; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath He made mention of my name.” Columbus began to think his first name, Christopher, which means Christ-bearer, was a confirmation of his call. He felt God had intended for him to bear, or carry, the name of Jesus to faraway places. Isaiah 49:6b convinced him even more: “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.”
The determining factor which sustained Columbus through years and years of frustrating disappointment was his deep-seated conviction that God had called him to bear the message of Christ to distant lands in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. One major obstacle had to be overcome . . . .
III. THE DOLLARS
The venture would cost, in our currency, about a third of a million dollars. This meant a king had to be persuaded to finance it. At age 33, in 1484, Columbus presented his plan to King John II of Portugal. After months of considering the proposal, the King turned it down.
This devastating blow to Columbus had soon followed the loss of his wife. These back-to-back traumas made him lose his desire for Portugal. He decided to move to Spain, where his wife’s sister could help him raise his 5-year-old son, Diego. But on the way, God arranged another detour.
While docked at a Spanish port, Columbus noticed some buildings high on a hill above the harbor. He asked what they were and discovered it was La Rabida, a monastery. Columbus was tired and felt his little son needed a rest. Being a devout Catholic, he had learned that monks welcomed and cared for weary travelers.
The monks did graciously receive the two wayfarers. One of the monks, Father Antonio de Marcheno, was famous for his studies in astronomy. There was no man in Western Europe who would have been more sympathetic to Columbus’ plan. He arranged for the monastery to house Columbus and Diego on a permanent basis. The offer was accepted. Columbus’ plan to find his wife’s sister was discarded.
Within a few days Columbus left to present his plans to Ferdinand and Isabella, the rulers of Spain. At least five years passed before he saw his son again.
In May 1486 Columbus presented his plan to the King and Queen of Spain. Unfortunately, the sovereigns were at war with the Moors, Muslems from northwest Africa who had invaded Spain in the 700s and had occupied portions of the nation ever since. For over seven centuries the Spaniards had tried to dislodge the Moors in vain, but now Ferdinand and Isabella were determined to do what no one else had done.
The sovereigns kept putting off Columbus, but he refused to give in. Finally, however, his offer was flatly refused in 1491. The dejected 40-year old man returned to La Rabida to get his son. There was no reason to stay in Spain. He was going to leave.
However, one of the monks, Juan Perez, had grown to love Diego and also had adopted the views of Columbus. He pleaded for the explorer to wait a while longer so another appeal could be made. Columbus agreed.
Perez had once served as Isabella’s confessor, an honor which can understandably give one extensive leverage. He dispatched a messenger to the Queen stating he was convinced God’s hand rested upon Christopher Columbus. The friar urged the Queen to reconsider the explorer’s proposal.
Isabella consented. Columbus found her at Santa Fe, at the very end of 1491. She was on the verge of defeating the last Moorish stronghold, Granada. The seven-century dream of Spain was about to come true.
Finally, on January 2, 1492, it happened. Granada surrendered. The last foothold of Islam in Europe had fallen, and Spain was totally Catholic again. Seven hundred years of frustration broke loose in frenzied joy. The people of Spain were ecstatic. Pandemonium ruled the streets, and no one was happier than Ferdinand and Isabella.
They decided to perform a huge act of devotion as an expression of appreciation for God’s deliverance. There were many things they could do–build a cathedral, make a pilgrimage, send an offering to the Pope, contribute to the poor–but guess who happened to be in town with a concrete proposal? In the midst of this euphoria Columbus made his proposal to discover new lands for the glory of God and the church. What better way to thank the Father than to spread the Gospel of His blessed Son to the ends of the earth? The timing was perfect, God-ordained. The King and Queen granted the needed funds.
God! He is the only explanation. America as we know it would not exist without the voyage of Columbus, and there would have been no voyage without God. God blessed America! And we still need Him!
Whenever a ship begins to drift, the search is on for its moorings, those things to which it was attached. The same is true of our own ship of state. As America drifts aimlessly, the search is on for moorings, something to give us stability, but people are seeking in the wrong places for them. Our moorings are not political, economic, sociological or even educational; rather, they are spiritual. A return to Jehovah God and His principles is our hope. “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (PS 33:12).