God’s Providence, Columbus’s Mistake

Perspective matters in all of education, but it’s particularly clear that perspective impacts teaching about the past. The scene of an accident illustrates on a miniature scale how perspective influences the retelling of an event. Where a witness was standing and what he was doing at the time of the accident will dramatically affect his view of the event. Most historians aren’t eyewitnesses of the events they record, but they do have perspectives that color their narratives.

illustration of Columbus standing before the kind and queen

Christopher Columbus provides an excellent example since historians have many different perspectives about this world figure. My friend Wes wrote a blog post that questioned the morality of Columbus’s actions. But I’d like to discuss two different perspectives taught about Columbus’s scientific knowledge.

Columbus—Heroic Individualist

One educational television show teaches children about Columbus by having an “interview” with him. The man playing the part of the explorer explains that most people in his day thought that the world was flat and that anyone who sailed far enough west would fall off the edge. Columbus, however, believed the world was round and therefore thought he could reach the East Indies by sailing west.

In this widely held perspective, Columbus is seen as a heroic individualist, bucking the religious, intellectual, and political establishments of his time by boldly charting a path based on scientific fact. Secularists like this story because it pits the rationality of science against irrational notions of religion. But those details aren’t accurate. This common perspective on Columbus is one that professional historians are trying to dissuade popular culture from believing.

Columbus—Mistaken Merchant

Actually, the scientific controversy in Columbus’s day wasn’t about the shape of the earth but its size. Most people during that time knew the earth was round but thought it was a little smaller than it really is. Since Columbus was convinced that the earth was much smaller than it is, he believed Asia could be reached faster by sailing west.

The religious/intellectual establishment actually had a more accurate estimate of Earth’s size than Columbus did, but nobody at that time knew there was a large landmass in between Europe and Asia.

I appreciate how BJU Press concludes this historical account in Heritage Studies 1 (page 121):

Columbus did not reach Asia by sailing west. Though Columbus did not know where he landed, God did. Columbus did not know he had found new lands to explore. God used the voyage to change the world.

In this telling, Columbus is a mistaken merchant, but God changes the course of human events in a striking way.

Perspective really matters. Some historians want to make people the heroes and ignore what God says and does. As a Christian father, I want my daughters to develop a biblical perspective on the past. This statement from the same textbook (page 123) sums up the perspective I want them to have this holiday.

Columbus Day is celebrated on the second Monday of October. It is a day to remember Christopher Columbus and the land he found. It is a day to remember what God did long ago.


cover image of Wonderful Words

“As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15). “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: when I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches” (Psalm 63:5–6). “O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). “He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation” (Psalm 91:15–16). “For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 107:9). “Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:16).

Golden thought: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Your likeness.

[Excerpt adapted from Wonderful Words by Stewart Custer (October 7 reading).]

Learning the Value of Grammar Lessons

photograph of a bored female student sitting at a table with piles of homework

Many high schoolers question the usefulness of studying grammar. I know I did. My parents started homeschooling when I was in seventh grade. I was a good student and had stayed on the honor roll throughout elementary school. I loved learning and … [Continue reading]

Encouraging the Weary Homeschool Mom

tea cup with tea bag and dustpan in the background

On a faraway mission field in a land of hardened hearts, my mother labored day after day to teach my siblings and me all the things we would need to know for a successful, Christ-focused life. Through bitterly cold autumns and long, frozen winters, … [Continue reading]


book cover for Wonderful Words by Stewart Custer

“The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all” (Psalm 103:19). Wisdom says, “By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth” (Proverbs 8:16). “He that ruleth his spirit [is better] than he that … [Continue reading]

Remember These Dates in October

illustration of model T and early airplane

Historically, big advances have taken place in transportation during the month of October. There were cars, and ships, and rockets—oh my! October 1 The Model T was introduced by Henry Ford in 1908. It could go as fast as forty-five mph! For … [Continue reading]