Being away from the office for the holidays, I'm further behind than normal when it comes to keeping up with the news. So it was yesterday before I discovered that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was dead.
My emotions have been both strong and diverse since that moment.
On the one hand, my faith teaches me that Kim Jong Il was a human being created in the image and likeness of God; a human being who possessed an eternal soul that is most likely, based on his own worldview affirmations and accompanying behavior, being tormented at this very moment in hell. And since the Scriptures teach that this torment will never end, there is a side of me that is sorrowful. In some sense, this reflects the heart of God, who says "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways. . ." (Ezekiel 33:11 ESV)
On the other hand, I cannot hide my satisfaction in knowing that an egotistical, dictatorial, mass-murdering maniac will no longer be able to persecute his own people. During his 14 year regime, the so-called "dear leader" of North Korea imprisoned more than 200,000 political dissidents, tortured and murdered thousands of his own people, took a "military first" approach to government infrastructure and allowed his own people to starve during one of the worst localized famines in modern history. He oversaw the massive imprisonment of Christians, as well as government endorsed policies that encouraged the kidnapping of foreign nationals, and the sexual abuse and trafficking of young North Korean girls for the pleasure of North Korean government leaders. If ever there was a tangible expression of Satan-incarnate in our generation, it was Kim Jong Il.
It was with these two warring sets of emotion that I said to my wife last night, "Kim Jong Il has died and gone to hell."
Amy's very quick response was a simple "Wow, I'm not sure what to think about how you just said that." And she was right.
After some time in prayer, I think I know what was happening inside me. In one sense, the satisfaction that someone is likely facing retribution for wrongs done is a just feeling that appeals to the justice of God Himself. The Scriptures tell us that the law of God is inscribed on the heart of men and women to the extent that even those who do not know Christ can recognize injustice when they see it, and they rightly want it rectified. (Romans 2:15) Likewise, our Creator is just, and has promised to leave no sin unpunished. Ultimately, He will right every wrong in His grand mission to reconcille the world to Himself.
I have sometimes counseled victims of violence, rape, theft, or some other injustice, and many times, they have come into my office assuming that a Christian should never get angry at such things when the truth is just the opposite. Jesus got angry enough to crack a whip and turn over tables . . .INSIDE the temple! We read in the Scriptures that God is angry with the wicked (Psalm 7:11), and that the injustice of sinners causes him to hate "all workers of iniquity" (Psalm 5:5). So when we are angry at obvious injustice, we are reflecting the heart of our God who despises when those he has created in His image are abused and taken advantage of. There is no sin in being angry at injustice, and there is no sin in desiring justice for those who deserve it. Therefore, it is not wrong to desire justice for a madman like Kim Jong Il. It is, in fact, righteous, to take satisfaction in the fact that, one way or another, God is, even now, calling the "dear leaders' atrocities to account, and issuing punishment accordingly.
But my sin last night was that in my quick and smug dismissal of a man who the whole world knew was evil, I conveniently forgot that I have the same sin nature in me that has probably sent Kim Jong Il into eternal judgement. My wife was right. What I said was Biblically correct. But I should not have said it with confidence. I should have said it with trembling.
There is obvious evil in the world. The Stalins, Hitlers, Quaddafis and Kims of our time are but a few historical examples of what happens when the worst kind of evil is allowed to influence a people or a government. When we witness the kind of unspeakable atrocities that have been committed by such men, it becomes much easier to believe in hell. But what we forget is that the same sin nature that affected the hearts of these hardened, pagan leaders also resides in the heart of this Baptist preacher.
Paul reminds us in the first three chapters of Romans that no one is exempt from the wrath of God because "all have sinned." (Romans 3:23), and the sin is, ultimately, against God. And since the offense is against an infinite being, it is only right--only just--that the punishment itself be infinite. When God examines the depth of my heart, He sees the same viral sickness that resided in the heart of the recently deceased North Korean dictator. And when sin is observed from this persepective, we come to the conclusion that at heart, there really isn't any difference between Kim Jong Il and the rest of us.
Thankfully, the Gospel doesn't end with "justice for all," but instead with the offer of grace to anyone who will accept it. But this grace isn't cheap. It isn't "sweeping under the rug" the reality of our hearts' condition and the sin and evil that results. For those who place their faith in Jesus, He has become our "propitiation." (Romans 3:25), meaning that He has borne the wrath of God in our place. Because of this, he could "pass over the sins previously committed" and become "just, and justifier of the one who has faith."
Once, there was another ruler of another kingdom. This ruler took another man's wife, impregnated her, and effectively murdered her husband to try and cover up the scandal. Imagine that you are the parent of Uriah, the faithful soldier of Israel. Imagine your discovery that the King of Israel has taken your daughter-in-law from your son, and sent your son to the front lines of battle to ensure his death so that he can cover up his adultery. Would you not want justice? Would you not cry "foul" when Nathan the prophet says to King David, "your sins are forgiven?" How can this happen? Because God's promise in the New Covenant was that he will settle all debts, render all justice, and "balance the books." In David's case, as in the case of every believer, that debt was settled at Calvary, and that is the only thing separating us from people like Kim Jong Il.
If you are tempted to think your sins are not as offensive to God as those of the "dear leader," then its been too long since you have seen and meditated on the bloody mess atop Golgotha's hill.
God is a God of justice. In the end, this means that in the absence of any final hour confession of Christ, Kim Jong Il will be paying for his crimes against God and men for the rest of eternity, and this is right. But it didn't have to be this way, and neither does it have to be this way for anyone else.
The death of Kim Jong Il should remind us of the justice of God. It should also remind us that this justice is indiscriminate, and that for every one of us, a day of reckoning is coming. On that day, either my sins will be paid in full by Jesus, or that payment will be required at my own hands.
Kim Jong Il is in hell. If you can say that, or read it without trembling, your view of justice is way too shallow.