North vs. South Korea, Opposite Responses to the Gospel
Pyongyang was once known as the “Jerusalem of the East”, because it was the center of evangelization of the Asian world. My impression is that Korea illustrates the principle that when the gospel comes to a people they are inevitably changed, either for the better or for the worse. If the nation receives the teachings of Christianity over and over again the story is the same – that acceptance becomes the inflection point in that nation’s rise in technological, economic and social progress. Over and over again, Christianization is the precursor to modernization. But sometimes the message is rejected so as to be inverted. For example, Kim Jong-Un’s grandfather, the founder of the communist regime, heard the stories of the Gospels and saw them as an opportunity, not to follow Christ, but to become a Christ figure. He saw the power of the stories, but rewrote them in his own image, creating his own nativity mythology with images borrowed (badly) from the Gospels. For example, in the gospel of Kim Il-sung, a star shines above the birthplace of the future ruler of North Korea at his birth. He created a messianic personality cult which held that he was the creator of the universe who was incarnated in 1912 as a human being. South Korea read the story of the Gospel and embraced Jesus way of humility and love. It came to worship a God who as man had defied the state and been executed by it, and in so doing shifted the locus of moral authority away from the collective towards the individual. North Korea, on the other hand, had forced upon it a cult which divinized the dictator. This, above all things, is what led one half of the nation to what is probably the fastest sustained improvement in standard of living of any nation in the history of the world, and the other nation to become the lowest hell on earth. Yes, market economics is critical, but market economics do not occur in a vacuum. No society which divinizes the ruler can truly become and remain free. No people who truly recognize that there is a Power above the powers that be, can truly become and remain permanently enslaved.