Do you remember from history class how people used to believe that the earth was flat?
During the medieval/renaissance period, it was commonly accepted by everyone that our world was completely flat. Scientists, astronomers, and cartographers from that time did not fully understand the true shape of our beautiful planet. This was due to a universal ignorance of facts, but they simply didn’t realize it at the time. Whenever maps were made for sailors who went to explore the New World, the artists would depict the ocean with its usual horizontal surface, but also portrayed the very edge of it as falling straight down as if it were a waterfall. Many times, these same mapmakers would draw pictures of giant sea monsters waiting at the bottom, ready to devour approaching ships in the jaws of death as soon as they sailed over the edge.
Other medieval maps were designed similarly, showing the waters surrounding the New World infested with all sorts of aquatic monstrosities. From giant krakens to sea serpents, cartographers from the Middle Ages let their imaginations run wild when it came to portraying uncharted territory. While it’s logical to say that the ocean has its fair share of dangers, it’s most likely that half the creatures the mapmakers came up with were nothing more than purely mythological. However, we DO know that tales of dragons and other colossal beasts were commonplace back then, so seeing them included in the artwork of maps from that time period is not surprising.
You may ask, “What was the purpose of all this? Were the sea monsters just included merely for the sake of decoration on the maps?”
That might indeed be the case, given that medieval artwork in all its forms tended to be highly elaborate. However, such a hypothesis is only derived from simple speculation. I believe the reason sea monsters were included on medieval maps was much more meaningful. When you think about all the many tales and legends about dragons and other monsters from back then, they were usually describing fearsome beasts that had to be reckoned with, representing the age-old struggle between good and evil. Note: the key word here is “fearsome.” When cartographers from the medieval and renaissance period drew their maps of the New World, they were trying to illustrate the great unknown that they had never seen before. Since they didn’t have any idea what sort of things lay ahead of them in the lands across the waves, in their minds it made perfect sense to associate that dangerous uncertainty with dragons and other types of sea monsters. As you can see in the picture below, they would write on their maps the ominous warning, “Here be dragons.”
With all of these frightening images, you can imagine how terrified the New World explorers probably were.
Just think of how they might have been extremely excited to go out and discover the New World, only to grow increasingly full of dread at the possibility of being eaten alive by a vicious sea monster! They truly feared that the moment they sailed out into the great unknown and passed over the edge of the earth, the head of a gigantic beast would pop up out of the abyss and swallow them whole! Any voyage at sea back then was already full of great peril as it was; certainly the people’s ignorant yet imaginative mindset didn’t do anything to help calm the sailors’ nerves! There are two famous phrases that say “We have met the enemy, and he is us,” and “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” When your most formidable fear is created by your own mind, then you’re really in for some trouble!
However, what would our world be like today had they not found the courage to venture out into the Great Unknown?
For starters, there would be no advanced western hemisphere. Many different countries that are part of our modern society simply would not exist if the New World explorers had chosen to stay home because of their fear and anxiety. Yes, there were many different cultures of people living in those lands for thousands of years before the explorers arrived, but our world history would be very different if the explorers let their fears get the best of them. All of the European settlers would have remained in the Old World, where they would continue to be oppressed by their countries’ respective monarchies. They would not only be oppressed by the government of absolute monarchy, but also by the rule of the Church which claimed to hold total power and control over the kings themselves. Any religious system that believes man should be worshiped and honored on the same level of God Himself is critically fallible in its thinking. Without religious freedom or a fair system of government, it is highly unlikely that European civilization would have survived much longer than the Renaissance.
In other words, our world would have remained stuck in the Dark Ages.
With religious and political freedom at stake, it’s a blessing that God enabled the New World explorers to embark upon their dangerous quests. Each sea voyage required the sailors to face the treacherous waves, violent thunderstorms, and of course, whatever mysterious perils awaited them in the new lands ahead. Even though the original explorers were not Christians, as far as we know, it was still the divine providence of God that they were brave enough to risk their lives on the high seas. A whole new world of adventure was ready and waiting to be explored, a gateway to golden opportunities for freedom of all kinds.
In some regards, we Christians can strongly relate to the olden explorers. Whether or not we learn from their achievements all depends on how much we are willing to trust God. Even though the New World explorers lived centuries before us, they still have much in common with us since they were humans just like we are.
There are three ways that we as Christians are like the New World explorers before they left the Old World:
- Just like the medieval mindset believed that the Earth was flat, we Christians have a very limited perspective of God’s divine, ultimate plan.
In our everyday lives, we are only able to see the present circumstances that God allows us to see. At first, this might seem rather unfair from our point of view, however, we must also remember that God is omniscient, and knows exactly what He’s doing in our lives. With our finite minds, we would be simply incapable of handling the sheer weight and amount of information that God is aware of constantly. From our perspective here on Earth, we can only see the physical flat horizon of our planet, and also the flat horizon of our circumstances. The only way we can discover what lies ahead of us is by stepping forward in faith, trusting in God’s inherent goodness. The terrain that lies immediately before us may be rough, but God knows that smooth meadows and valleys are just up ahead in the distance. We may be asked to climb high mountains, yet they are not insurmountable with the help of our omnipotent Creator.
Even though we cannot see what’s in the distance, we can choose to trust God as He guides us every step of the way. He is our Lord, we are His servants. He is our Leader, we are his followers. He is our King, we are His subjects. He made this world and our lives with His very own hands, so we can safely rest as He navigates our charted course.
- Just as the explorers possessed a fear of the “Great Unknown,” we also fear the “Great Unknown” of our future.
When we go through periods of trial and testing, sometimes it’s easy to forget that God is in complete control. Whatever situation befalls us, whether it’s the death of a loved one, financial difficulty, losing a job, moving to a new place, or experiencing frequent disappointment in relationships or friendships, we must remember that God is always GOOD, no matter what. Even when life proves itself to be “unfair” in our eyes, we should assess exactly WHY we were put on this Earth in the first place – for the purpose of bringing God pleasure and His rightful glory. We might have a hard time understanding why bad or disappointing things happen to us, but as Christians it is our responsibility to keep trusting God’s hand. Our immediate future may be uncertain or “unknown,” but we DO have assurance of our eternal future. If we are willing to trust God with the keeping of our souls at salvation, why are we so unwilling to trust Him with the minor details of our daily lives? There is absolutely NOTHING in this entire universe that can separate us from His unconditional love; God expresses that fact explicitly several times throughout His Word.
When we face “fearsome beasts” of uncertain circumstances in our lives, we should ask God to give us the courage to confront them, because He doesn’t ask or expect us to do it alone. Rather, God desires the opposite: He wants us to fully rely on Him for everything in our lives, acknowledging His strength instead of our weakness, since without Him, we can do nothing.
- Just like the historic explorers, we are capable of great discoveries in our own lives.When we decide to completely trust God with our future, He will fully reveal His plan for us one day at a time. It is our duty, however, to make sure that we stay close to Him through prayer and reading His Word. Consulting with our Creator daily reinforces the fact that our will is subject to His. If we are obedient and faithful, we will find that God’s goodness is far greater than we could ever imagine. His divine design is carefully unfolded each day with the utmost care, and we are but small players that are part of His grand Masterpiece. Through this process, we will discover the true nature of God, and become more acquainted with His character. At the same time, we’ll also discover for ourselves just exactly what our true nature is, and hopefully prove to become what God desires us to be – the image of His Only Son, Jesus Christ.
Just as the discovery of the New World was essential for the growth of modern civilization, the discoveries we make about God and ourselves during trials and testing are essential for our growth as Christians. If we do not venture outside the “Old World” of our personal comfort zones, then we forfeit the chance to receive the “New World” promises that God has given us.
Here are several passages from God’s Holy Word to comfort us whenever we must go over the edge:
Genesis 13:15 ~ “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.“
Exodus 6:8 ~ “And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord.“
Leviticus 20:24 ~ “But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the Lord your God, which have separated you from other people.“
Deuteronomy 9:1 ~ “Hear, O Israel: Thou art to pass over Jordan this day, to go in to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself, cities great and fenced up to heaven,“
Joshua 5:6 ~ “For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people that were men of war, which came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they obeyed not the voice of the Lord: unto whom the Lord sware that he would not shew them the land, which the Lord sware unto their fathers that he would give us, a land that floweth with milk and honey.”
Joshua 23:14 ~ “And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.”
Judges 2:1 ~ “And an angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you.”
Psalm 34:4 ~ “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.“
Psalm 91:4-6 ~ “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.”
Isaiah 26:3 ~ “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.“
Isaiah 27:1 ~ “In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.”
Isaiah 41:10 ~ “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.“
Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.“
Micah 7:19 ~ “He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”
John 14:27 ~ “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.“
Romans 8:32 ~ “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”
Romans 8:37-39 ~ “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:20 ~ “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.”
1 Corinthians 10:13 ~ “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
2 Corinthians 12:9 ~ “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Phillippians 3:13 ~ “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,”
Phillippians 4:19 ~ “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
2 Peter 1:4 ~ “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.“
1 John 2:25 ~ “And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.“
1 John 4:4 ~ “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”
Revelation 4:11 ~ “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
So, are you ready to go over the edge into uncharted territory?
Perhaps God has sent you on a personal voyage of exploration in your life. If so, what fears are holding you back from it? Christopher Columbus and other explorers like him either requested permission from or received direct orders from kings to go forth into the New World, hoping to bring back news of lands filled with material wealth. The explorers mainly sought a “Northwest Passage”, which they thought would lead them straight from Europe to Asia. Little did they know at the time that an entire continent lay between them and the Orient! The “Northwest Passage” they desired to find did not exist after all, but they still reached a new land full of opportunities. Because of this unexpected surprise, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella rewarded Columbus and his men with great riches.
If we are obedient to God’s call in our lives, God will reward us for being faithful to Him, in both eternal riches and sometimes earthly riches also. However, we will forfeit these rewards if we lack faith in Him. Had Columbus listened to his crew men when they wanted to turn back, he never would have discovered America, thus failing the quest appointed to him by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. We do not want to fail our Heavenly King when He has already invested so much in us and our future! We might not always get exactly what we want out of life or what we were looking for, but it will always turn out for the best if we keep God on His throne in our hearts.
There are plenty of biblical examples where God asked one of His servants to leave behind something familiar in order to gain something better in return, such as Abraham, for instance. In fact, the entire meaning of Christianity itself is all about forsaking sin in favor of receiving eternal life from God. We can only receive new blessings from God if we are obedient to Him and trust His goodness. Don’t let Satan, the dragon in the sea, cause you to forfeit your future just because he strikes fear into your heart! Remember that God is far more powerful than he is, and He has already won the victory against him!
– Gloria D. Hopkins