The Real New World Awaiting Discovery
“A NAME is an uncertain thing, you can’t count on it!” This sober observation has proved to be true in the case of Columbus.
In harmony with the meaning of his first name, Christopher, Columbus did make an attempt to be a “Christbearer” of a kind. After all, the Spanish sovereigns had sent him forth in “the service of God and the expansion of the Catholic faith.” But after teaching some uncomprehending natives to make the sign of the cross and to sing the Ave Maria, he concentrated on more tangible rewards: finding gold and the elusive route to India.
Some Catholics have argued that Columbus should, nevertheless, be made a “saint” because of his pivotal role in extending the boundaries of Christendom. But the mass “conversions” that came in the wake of his discoveries did little to take the authentic Jesus Christ to the people of the New World. Genuine Christianity has always been extended by peaceful means, not by the sword. The use of force to spread the gospel is a gross contradiction of what Jesus taught.—Compare Matthew 10:14; 26:52.
Columbus (Spanish, Colón) had somewhat more success in emulating his surname, which means “colonizer.” It was he who founded the first two European colonies in the New World. Although these came to naught, others were soon established. The colonization of the Americas pressed ahead, but it was by no means a happy one, especially for the colonized.
Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas, who witnessed the initial colonization of the West Indies, protested to Philip II, king of Spain, about ‘the travesty of justice to which these innocent peoples are subjected, destroying them and shattering them without just cause or reason other than the greed and ambition that move those who commit such evil works.’
Although the worst abuses were later corrected, selfish motives and ruthless methods continued to dictate policy. Not surprisingly, such rule became odious. By the 20th century, most countries of the Americas had discarded the colonial yoke.
Converting continents to Christendom and administering a just rule over myriad tribes and tongues is admittedly a formidable task. And it would be unjust to blame Columbus for all the failures of the immense enterprise he unwittingly launched when he crossed the ocean and initiated what some call the “Encounter of Two Worlds.”
As Kirkpatrick Sale points out in his book The Conquest of Paradise, “an opportunity there certainly was once, a chance for the people of Europe to find a new anchorage in a new country, in what they dimly realized was the land of Paradise.” But discovering a new world is one thing; creating a new world is another. It was not the first time attempts to build a new world had failed.
Another Epic Journey
Two thousand years before Columbus set sail, about two hundred thousand people embarked on another epic journey. Rather than crossing an ocean, they possibly traveled across a desert. They were also heading west, toward their homeland, Israel, which the majority had never seen. Their aim was to establish a new world, for themselves and for their children.
Their trek from Babylonian captivity fulfilled prophecy. Two hundred years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had foretold their repatriation: “Here I [the Sovereign Lord Jehovah] am creating new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart.”—Isaiah 65:13, 17.
The ‘new heavens and new earth’ were graphic symbolic terms referring to a new administration and a new society of people. Such were needed because a real new world requires much more than new territory to colonize; it calls for a new, unselfish spirit among those who govern and those who are governed.
Few of the Jews who returned from Babylon had such a spirit. Despite some initial success, about a hundred years after their return, the Hebrew prophet Malachi sadly described how selfishness and greed had become the dominant forces in the land. (Malachi 2:14, 17; 3:5) A unique opportunity to build a new world for the Jews had been squandered.
A New World Still Awaits Us
Nevertheless, failures to build a new world in the past do not mean that the quest is hopeless. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John, echoing the words of Isaiah, describes the following dramatic scene: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away . . . And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:1, 4.
These words assure us that God himself is determined to have a new government over all the earth and a new society of people who will respond to his rule. The benefits will be incalculable. It will be an authentic new world.
A new world of God’s making may seem farfetched. But Columbus’ conviction that continents lay to the West likewise seemed incredible to many of his contemporaries. The description of God’s promised new world may also sound most improbable, yet how many 15th-century scholars could have imagined that a third of the earth’s landmass was unknown to science?
The scientific ignorance of Columbus’ day made the discovery of the New World seem most unlikely. Ignorance of God’s purposes and of his power can likewise demolish confidence in his promised new heaven and new earth. But Almighty God follows up his description thereof by saying: “Look! I am making all things new. . . . Write, because these words are faithful and true.”—Revelation 21:5.
Doubtless, all mankind yearns for a new world of some sort. Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes once observed: “Utopia is something of the past and of the future. On the one hand, it is the memory of a better world that once was and is no longer. On the other hand, it is the hope that this better world, more righteous and more peaceful, will come one day.” Bible students are confident that a better world—not a fanciful Utopia—will indeed come because God has promised it and because God can accomplish it.—Matthew 19:26.
A New World on the Horizon
When Columbus was trying to convince his crew that they were approaching land, more than faith was needed. He needed some tangible proof. Fresh vegetation floating in the sea, increasing numbers of land birds, and finally a flowering branch drifting on the water restored the sailors’ confidence in their admiral.
Today there is also visible evidence that we are approaching a new world. The fact that for the first time in history mankind’s survival is endangered reminds us that God’s patience with human rule must be rapidly nearing its end. He promised long ago to “bring to ruin those ruining the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) Greed and selfishness have spawned a host of insoluble global problems, problems that the Bible vividly described in advance as developments that point to God’s imminent intervention.a
When Columbus first set foot on the island of Cuba five hundred years ago, he is said to have exclaimed: “I would like to live here forever!” Those who step into God’s new world will feel exactly the same. And this time such a wish will be granted.
a For an analysis of the Scriptural evidence that God’s new world is fast approaching, consult the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, chapter 18, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Discovering a new world is one thing; creating a new world is another