Ask someone their opinion of Columbus and it will very likely reveal their worldview, even if they don’t know what that is.
Paul Gray, writing in Time magazine last October, identified the three contemporary interpretations of Columbus and his journey. The are significant because of the opportunity they provide to understand the different ways history is revised today.
The traditional view has largely been held by Christians holding a biblical worldview, even though Gray’s definition is much broader: the journey “was the first step in a process that produced a daring experiment in democracy, which in turn became a symbol and a haven of liberty.”
The Politically Correct view is, of course, in extreme opposition to this. The PC Columbus is a sort of voodoo doll by which all of Western civilization may be stabbed and vilified. Here’s how Gray defines it: “Indigenous peoples were doomed by European ignorance, brutality and infectious diseases. Columbus’ gift was slavery to those who greeted him; his arrival set in motion the ruthless destruction of the natural world he entered.”
The third view set forth by Gray is the one he affirms. It is an attempted compromise between the two, eliminating any notion of Providence yet watering down the Marxism and fascism of the PC version. It allows Columbus all the necessary gray areas to be basically a good person who brought to the New World a mixed bag of blessings and curses, and helped determine which peoples would be winners and which would be losers. It allows one to deny personal responsibility for being white without attempting to diminish the damage done to other cultures lying in Columbus’ wake.
That’s why the traditional view has been more or less abandoned to those upholding a biblical world view. To see Columbus as a completely positive force only makes sense if he was an agent of Providence. Columbus’ hands and mouth may have brought inhumane hardship, but the Bible says it is the feet that are beautiful if they bring the Gospel.
The skeptic may ask what good the Gospel is to a society that has suffered near extinction. In the first place, in a Providential interpretation of history, it is God, not Columbus, Who decides if a nation should rise and when it should fall. Secondly, it was simply His mercy that the Gospel arrived before the plagues hit. Thirdly, what God allows and what God initiates are two very different things.
It is a matter of historical fact that much cruelty occurred at the hands of both the Europeans and the indigenous tribes. In fact, the PC gloss over very quickly that the Native Americans held and traded slaves of their own and participated in barbaric warfare well before they ever met Europeans. My point is to divide between the cruelty of the adamic nature of man, regardless of his race, or the purposes of God in the year 1492.
The real question here is not why God would allow this, because if He allowed it, each of us will eventually have to give an account. The issue at hand, no matter which of the three views you have of Columbus, is: “How could man be so wicked?” The only thing that the barbarism of Adam proves is that man is in need of a Redeemer.
In the PC view, as well as Gray’s compromise, there exists no such thing as absolute right or wrong, so it borders on the macabre that they take God to task for crimes they correctly identify as repugnant. Was this the attitude that caused David to shake his head and write, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’”?
Columbus labored to find a passage to the Orient for the advancement of the Gospel, the glory of God, and to raise money to fight the Crusades. In so doing he helped build the New Jerusalem and the kingdom of Babylon. What he will be judged for is not how these deeds fell in line with our morality, but his conscience. What is most significant about Columbus is the mental picture of an Unlimited Power using a very limited and fallible vessel. To make a hero out of the vessel is fine. But if that’s all we see, we are severely missing the point. It was God’s Hand that was upon Columbus for a specific purpose. Normally, God sovereignly chooses to keep this Hand invisible, so when He allows us to see it, or at least its fingerprints, we must by all means look past the instrument.
Sadly, both Christians and non-Christians often approach the New World’s discovery with a determination only to confirm their own prejudices. Our relationship with the Lord should be secure enough that we embark on a childlike search for truth. God does not need our defense. And neither is history helped by those with an ax to grind. God is glorified through the study of history because He is using the dimension of time to install His King on Mt. Zion.
Cicero defined history as “the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity.” The key is one’s definition of reality. In a classroom setting using atheistic logic, it is easy to argue that reality does not exist. But once Reality is properly summed up in a Person, the definition becomes more simple. To study history from a Providential perspective is to lift the fingerprints of God from the smudges and mire of man.