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Steven Keillor, a Christian and a historian, writes:

A student of biblical prophecy, Columbus believed that by reaching new lands he was hastening the end of the world. The prophet Isaiah and Jesus the Messiah had stated that the end could not come until the gospel had been preached to all nations. Pauline Watts notes that “Columbus’s apocalyptic vision of the world and of the special role that he was destined to play in the unfolding of events that would presage the end of time was a major stimulus for his voyages.” Without justifying his actions, or those of other explorers and conquerors, we can say that Columbus was correct here. By starting the process whereby this dynamic  European culture became globally dominant, Columbus made global history an irretrievably linear history.

His advancing of God’s purpose in history was somewhat inadvertent, however, for he thought God’s purpose was inextricably linked to his and to Spain’s. It was not, for they were engaged in an argument with him. He used them to accomplish his purposes anyway but did not excuse their actions. Columbus’s view of biblical prophecy does not justify his actions toward the Taino, but neither do his actions make biblical prophecies erroneous. One can have a right idea and still do wrong. One can have truth and still rebel against it. Europeans were doing just that. God’s ends did not justify their means, even if they had been pursuing his ends, which they were not.

So, paradoxically, both Columbus and the revisionist writers who condemn him are correct. His voyages advanced God’s long-range goals and yet were profoundly ungodly. That is so because of a deeper paradox: the Christianity carried by Europeans to the New World was divinely revealed truth, yet those who carried it were in serious rebellion against it. As divine revelation, it provoked human rebellion. Exploration brought rebellion to a world that had not known rebellion as destructively dynamic as was Europe’s.

—Steven J. Keillor, This Rebellious House: American History and the Truth of Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002), 37-38.

You can read the whole first chapter online: “1492: The Seven Deadly Sins Tumble out of Europe.”

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3 thoughts on “The Paradox of Christopher Columbus and the Purposes of God”

  1. Wesley says:

    Excellent. Reminds of ‘the Son of Man going as it was written of Him, but woe to the one by whom He is betrayed.’

  2. NateW says:

    I would probably be inclined to say that these men absolutely did not bring Truth to the “new” world. Their imperial violence and genocidal actions betray the fact that the truth was not in them. Speaking “truth” without love is among the worst of evils because it turns Christ himself into a weapon of oppression and violence.

    Of course God’s gracious plan of reconciliation is being worked out faithfully despite horrifying atrocities every day, but I just don’t know that we can say that any truth was shared by those men. Just hatred.

  3. Alex Johnson says:

    “One can have a right idea and still do wrong.”
    I feel this truth is often forgotten into our culture and world today.
    We can be too proud to realize this sometimes.

    I’m full of self-justification (and spewing it out) even when I see my error. A better approach would be to simply ask for forgiveness without adding excuses.

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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