The Mourning After

Why is North Koreans’ grief over the death of Kim Jong Il so bizarrely intense? Consider the profound lesson in it.

Spare a thought for 24 million of our fellow human beings, made in God’s image, living in North Korea, mourning the death of their Dear Leader. Their suffering has a lot to teach us.

For over six decades, the rule of Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung, is all these people have known. Before that was decades of harsh, exploitative rule by the imperialist Japanese.

Kim Il Sung institutionalized a grotesque combination of oppression and cult of personality. He enacted Communist policies that isolated his country and impoverished his people. He outlawed dissent. He condemned his enemies and political opponents and their families to prison camps, without trial, for life. Meanwhile, he erected monuments to himself by the tens of thousands and enshrined himself in the constitution as the nation’s “Eternal President.” He suppressed all religion outside the worship of himself.

The unsettling result of this propagandism was on display when Kim Il Sung died in 1994 at age 82. His son declared a 10-day grieving period, and hundreds of thousands attended his funeral, outdoing one another with their weeping and gnashing of teeth. The crowds were so intense that some mourners actually died in the crush.

What can explain it? How can a people so tyrannized grieve so much at the loss of the tyrant?

Kim’s body was preserved and embalmed in a glass coffin for viewing—where it bizarrely remains. To this day, this corpse is legally the president of North Korea.

Kim Jong Il ruthlessly perpetuated his father’s failed totalitarian policies. He funneled much of the poor country’s money into building a massive army and weapons of mass destruction. His government’s economic mismanagement has made life miserable for millions. His people suffer from chronic malnutrition; hunger and famine are rife.

Such failure is carefully preserved through crushing authoritarianism. The government controls information, stamps out freedom of speech and the right to privacy, censors all radio, tv and news organizations, blocks outside media, and strictly monitors its citizens’ correspondence. North Koreans have no right to privacy, and no freedom of assembly or religion except to worship the Dear Leader or his father, the Great Leader.

Those who break the rules pay terrifying penalties. Korea’s gulags are chambers of horrors: arbitrary imprisonment in terrible conditions, hard labor, torture, forced abortions, infanticide, deliberate starvation, public executions by hanging or firing squad, cannibalism. The percentage of his people who have starved or wasted away in his concentration camps puts Kim Jong Il among the bloodiest dictators of the 20th century.

Yet when he died in December, we became witness to the same unearthly story: uncontrollable crying and anguish on display by a nation of mourners. “Father!” they cried—speaking not of God, but of Kim—beating their chests, convulsing, losing their balance between sobs.

It is sincere sorrow; genuine agony felt by people programmed every day of their lives to worship this man. Even as he trampled and ruined them.

This is a disturbing example of how vulnerable human minds are to deception. An intelligent adult can become conditioned to accept the perverse as normal—especially when he has no accurate gauge of measurement and propaganda colors his thinking. He can actually embrace circumstances that are beneath the God-given dignity of human beings.

The noble, longsuffering North Koreans are an extreme example. But such deception is not nearly as isolated as you might think.

The Bible reveals that all nations are under a deadly deception foisted on them by a tyrant worse than Kim Jong Il (Revelation 12:9). Satan is the deceiver of this whole world.

Herbert W. Armstrong explained this remarkable truth in A World Held Captive. He wrote of Patty Hearst, who was kidnapped and brainwashed into preferring the criminal life of her captors. “But most astonishing,” he wrote, “is the actual fact of the colossal kidnapping of all time—in which the captive for 6,000 years has willed to pursue the life and evil philosophy of the archkidnapper—Satan the devil. The willing victim in this case is the world that inhabits this planet Earth! Yet this world has been so completely deceived that it cannot realize what actually has happened to it.”

The devil’s way of life causes nothing but misery. Yet from our earliest days in life, Satan bombards us with propaganda to the contrary. He is “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience,” encouraging people to satisfy their lusts (Ephesians 2:2-3). Sin is bondage. When we fall into its snare, we become captive slaves (2 Peter 2:19; 2 Timothy 2:26). Yet the vast majority are duped, blinded to their plight. In their deception they are convinced of the inherent rightness and goodness of the very things that are destroying them.

People are so deceived, in fact, that when God brings this beastly, oppressive dictator to justice, Scripture prophesies a scene uncannily similar to what happened in North Korea. As much suffering as Satan’s beast power has caused, when it falls, people will “bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning” (see Revelation 18:9-11).

The story in North Korea is one of a queer and tragic type of unrequited love: people deceived into loving the cruel dictator who did not love them back. It typifies a greater tragedy enveloping our whole world. But soon—very soon—God will permanently dethrone “the god of this world” and free North Koreans and all other peoples from their captivity. He will establish a new world, a world free of deception. Jesus Christ will rule as King of kings, and as He promised, “[Y]eshall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”