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Kim Jong Un was right.

Web posted on August 20, 2017

Hey Jude!

In his own perverse way, Kim Jong Un was right. More right, even, than he likely understands.

Good people everywhere rejoice that The Reverend Hyeon Soo Lim, Pastor of Light Presbyterian Church, Mississauga, has been released from North Korea. Originally sentenced to death, Pastor Lim, 62, served more than two years of a commuted life sentence at hard labor.

The accusation for which Pastor Lim was arrested was using religion to overthrow the government of North Korea. I'm sure Pastor Lim had no such plan - he was doing charitable and religious works and, no doubt, scrupulously observed St Paul's charge to be subject to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1).

Nevertheless, there's something in Jesus and the gospel - and, in fact, in any religion that's not under the thumb of the state - that makes political leaders antsy. You see it in China's suppression of Falun Gong, and in the persecution of Baha'is in Iran.

The Athenian dramatist Sophocles understood this when he wrote "Antigone" (441 BC). When the tyrant of Thebes denies burial rites for Antigone's brother, she buries him anyway, defiantly proclaiming, "That order did not come from God."

Writing in the Fifth Century BC, the golden age of Athenian democracy, Sophocles speaks of "that Law which leaps the sky, made of no mortal mould, undimmed, unsleeping, whose living godhead does not age or die" (Oedipus Rex, 429 BC). Sophocles understood that a state cannot survive as a democracy unless its lawmakers believe themselves subject to a Higher Law. By that standard, in the so-called "Democratic" Republic of North Korea, democracy does not exist.

How liberating it must have been for those early Christians to realize that even the Roman Emperor would one day be answerable to the God whom they intimately addressed as Father. So liberating that, were it not at the same time also morally compelling, it could have turned those Christians into revolutionaries.

The Romans, it is said, dared not put their slaves into some sort of distinctive dress, lest the slaves realize how many there were of them, and attempt a revolt. But the early Christians know how many they were. Tertullian (200 AD) writes to the Roman Senate: "We are but of yesterday, and yet we have filled all the places that belong to you - cities, islands, forts, towns, exchanges, the military camps themselves, tribes, town councils, the palace, the senate, the market-place; we have left you only the temples of your gods."

That's what North Korea's "supreme great leader" fears - citizens whose first loyalty is to a Jesus whom they proclaim "King of kings and Lord of lords" (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14 and 19:16) - a Jesus whom they believe to be Lord even over Kim Jong Un himself.

Mr Kim is right in thinking that Christianity would change his country, but he need have no fear of it. Christians are taught to pray for their leaders, obey all just laws, and pay their taxes (1 Timothy 2:1f, Romans 13:1ff). In my church we pray every Sunday for the Queen, and "for all who are set in authority under her", and we ask "that she, knowing whose minister she is, may above all things seek [God's] honour and glory."

That Christian view of the state is the alternative to a regime of silent fear and mistrust of dissent, where a leader like Kim Jong Un does not feel secure unless he executes even his own uncle and brother. Mr Kim's problem is that he doesn't know, or want to know, whose minister he is.

In 1943, the French playwright Jean Anouilh presented a French adaptation of Sophocles' "Antigone". Many understood it as a parable of the French Resistance's contempt for the Nazi-controlled Vichy government. The time is now ripe for someone to make a translation into Korean.


Rev Robert Lyon is the assistant at St Jude, Guelph, a congregation of the Anglican Network in Canada, that meets at 10 o'clock on Sundays at the Evergreen Centre, near Riverside Park. Robert welcomes your questions and comments, and will be pleased to discuss topics on request. Contact him at nm@albedo.net.
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