Kim Il-Sung began his military and political career when he was a young man living on the Korean Peninsula. A decade later, he was the despot over North Korea. The “Great Leader,” as he was named, succeeded in holding power for the next fifty years. He also succeeded in creating one of the most oppressive governments in recent decades, and one of the more closed and oppressive societies in world history. It did not have to be this way, however, for Il-Sung was not raised as a God-hating, church-destroying, human-rights-violating tyrant. He was raised in a Christian family. His grandfather was a pastor and his father a church elder. But in the misery of his world, Kim Il-Sung turned not to the faith of his fathers; he turned away. Why?
The “Great Leader” answered that question with these words: “Many people believed that they would go to Heaven…and Jesus would save them from their misery on Earth; faith in Christ would give them a better life…I thought Christian doctrines were too far off the mark to suit our misery and problems.” Certainly the words of one of the darkest figures of the twentieth century his words are nuanced, and there are multiple reasons for his turning away from the Christian faith, but this fact remains: He experienced a disconnection between the actual message of the Christian gospel and the sufferings of the world. Thus, the gospel was judged as too anemic to address life’s evils. The result in that country is now evil upon evil, and suffering upon suffering; much of it unnecessarily so, as the trajectory set by Kim Il-Sung could have been much different.
The gospel that Kim Il-Sung heard, and rejected, was a gospel of escapism: “We cannot do anything about the sufferings and injustices of today. Therefore, we will press along until God delivers us by taking us to heaven. Jesus is good for my soul, but he doesn’t really concern himself with the things of this world.” Such a gospel should be rejected because it is inaccurate. But sadly, to hear the faith peddled from many pulpits and seen practiced in many churches today, one finds that Christianity has been neutered of its revolutionary power. It has become a faith that offers people a chance to forget their current pain and suffering (and the suffering of others) for a little while.
It has become in some circles, a help for believers to sleep at night and reminds them that there are just “a few more weary days before we take our heavenly flight,” but it does very little to inspire and move people to join God’s redeeming mission in the world today. It focuses all of the faithful’s attention and energy on the sweet-by-and-by, and leaves only the leftovers for those in this world who cannot afford to wait until tomorrow. This world can bear much longer a Christian faith that sleeps soundly in the confidence that the faithful will soon be evacuated, for the suffering of this world is too great. There is little time left to bask in the knowledge of our personal salvation when the urgent misery of our world calls out to us.
We cannot rest in our pews, lulled into a catatonic state, while there are nearly 50 million refugees dispersed over this planet; 145 million orphaned children who go to bed each night without a parent; 25,000 who die every day due simply to contaminated water; while 100 million of earth’s residents live without a home or permanent shelter; and a million children are trapped in prostitution and sex-slavery. The love of Christ surely compels us to address these conditions with more than promises of a better eternity; it compels us to serve others today, transforming our society. For living the “Christian life” is nothing short of participating in divine transformation.
It is connecting with the world-redeeming, evil-conquering, status-reversing, personal-transforming presence of heaven brought to earth today. It is joining a revolution of love that will change the world – right here, right now – today.