Now to him who is able to do far more than all we ask or imagine . . .to him be glory . . .
When I was in grade school, I was taught a lie -- or if "lie" is too strong, let's at least call it a profound mistruth. We learned in history class that, when everyone else insisted the world was flat, Columbus was convinced it was round. And, instead of sailing off the edge of the flat earth, he vindicated himself by discovering America. And so we got a day off from school in October to celebrate a job well done.
But none of this is true. First off, it's hard to discover a place when there's a greeting committee of natives standing on shore to welcome you. But even if we mean he was the first European to discover the New World, Columbus, unfortunately, was almost 500 years behind Leif Ericson, and soon afterward, his brother, Thorvald.
True, Columbus believed the world was round . . . but so did everyone else! As far back as 150 B.C., the Greek mathematician, Hipparchus, came surprisingly close to calculating the earth's circumference. Columbus calculated the earth as being far smaller than it really was. Because of his erroneous assumption, he came up with the foolhardy notion he could reach the Far East by sailing west. His opponents argued, rightly, that the journey was almost 2,400 miles further than his calculations, but they failed to convince him.
No one can deny Columbus's courage, but he was a daffy geographer. Only by God's grace did he hit the West Indies before he and his crew starved to death.
The purpose of his voyage, however, wasn't to discover new land, but to bring back spices from the Far East -- and he believed he was in the Orient. He did find a spice, but it turned out to be useless tree bark. Columbus also found gold and filled his holds with it. But on his return, was informed his "gold" was worthless iron pyrite.
Bill Bryson summed it up well: "It would be hard to name any figure in history who has achieved more lasting fame with less competence."
Columbus never found what he was looking for. But, in the end, his discoveries became far more significant than returning to Spain with cheap pepper.
In the same way, I have chased after God in the hope he would give me prosperity -- only to discover he gave me something far better: contentment. I've often prayed for success, but have been given a persevering spirit instead. I have sought to find the right answer, and found he is teaching me to ask the right questions.
I don't begrudge Columbus being awarded a holiday for discovering something he really didn't. I'll cheerfully endure the claim that America was discovered by Buffalo Bill Cody as long as there's a three-day weekend in the bargain.
But I would prefer that Columbus be hailed as the patron saint of bunglers, because he reminds us that, when we don't find what we want, we may have chanced upon far more than we dreamed.
(text copyright 2013 by climbinghigher.org and by Marty Kaarre)
(Quote: Bill Bryson, At Home, [Anchor Books: 2010] p. 205)