Back in the 1800s British historian, Lord Acton, said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
That observation helps us understand why, throughout history, rulers have often claimed to be gods. It helps us understand the story of the Exodus and the Ten Plagues. That was not just a battle between Moses and a very stubborn ruler. It was a battle between the God of the Bible and a ruler who regarded himself as a direct descendent of the gods and who after this life would become divine – he was a god in the making. It helps us understand that story in the book of Daniel, where king Darius readily agreed that for thirty days no one was to pray to any deity except to the king.
That kind of attitude is still alive and well today – especially in the nation of North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is revered and worshipped as a divine being. In their nation it is called “Juche”. It is often promoted as a socio-political ideology (originally to ensure loyalty to the state) but it is really much more… in reality a religion where the leader of the nation is honoured as having supreme authority. The religious nature of “Juche” is seen in the teaching that upon death, Koreans will be reunited with Kim Il-sung – North Korea’s first dictator and the founder of “Juche”, who died in 1994.
I mention this because Kim Jong-Un, the grandson of Kim Il-sung, last week ordered the execution of 33 North Korean Christians who are charged with undermining the regime by planning to plant hundreds of churches in the land. The leadership dynasty in North Korea feels very threatened by Christianity because those who embrace the Biblical faith know that the nation’s dictator is not the supreme authority – the Lord God alone is supreme.
In many ways it’s not surprising that these 33 people have been sentenced to be executed. Last year Kim Jong-Un had his uncle and mentor, Jang Song-Thaek, executed. Jang’s children, brothers and grandchildren were killed shortly thereafter.
In the light of this it is rather surprising that recently Australian missionary, John Short, was released after being imprisoned for distributing Christian tracts. Perhaps that’s not so surprising when we realise that many Christians in Australia and elsewhere were praying John’s release. But that kind of release is far less likely for native North Koreans who fall foul of the State religion of “Juche”.
It’s sobering to realise that while we here in Australia can, for example, freely read a Christian paper such as the Challenge newspaper and pass it on to friends and neighbours, we have brothers and sisters in North Korea who will face a firing squad in the coming days for doing exactly the same thing.
It’s particularly sad that all this is happening in a nation that once had a flourishing Christian church indeed, the capital, Pyonyang, was often called “the Jerusalem of the East” because of the many churches that dotted that city.
Let’s remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in North Korea who will have their lives taken from them in these coming days. Let’s also remember to be ever vigilant against the kind of absolute power that corrupts absolutely.