Is there salvation for Kim Jong-Il?

By guest blogger Kevin Considine

The North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Il, finally died at the age of 69.  It is highly debatable whether or not his death will lead to liberation and life for the long-suffering people of North Korea.  Kim was brutal towards his own people.  To give just one example, he manufactured a famine in the 1990s where it is estimated that more than 2 million people starved to death.  While this occurred, Kim was dining on ample amounts of fine food and liquor.  He seemed to have little concern for the millions who were indoctrinated to serve their “dear leader.” Between internal politics and squabbling for power and international apathy towards the suffering within the “hermit kingdom,” the people of North Korea remain in need of God’s salvation.

I am relieved that this man is no longer in the world (and by the way, how is Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe still hanging on?  He’s almost 90 years old!).  And I hope he is being punished for the horror and suffering he inflicted upon millions his own people.

Yet, I know that the God of Jesus Christ does not think as I do.  In the Old Testament, Yahweh reminds Israel, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways” (Isa 55:8).  My own way would be to give Kim’s victims the opportunity to execute revenge or enact justice upon him in whatever way they wish.  This is the “pound of flesh” mentality that is so well examined in the Korean film, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance by director Park Chan-Wook.  At the film’s climax, the parents of scores of children who have been murdered by a serial killer are given the opportunity to exact revenge upon the perpetrator in whatever way they wish.  It is a scene that is almost absurd in its grisliness.  But it shows the gruesome truth of how we (and I) often yearn for bloody vengeance against unspeakably evil actions and people.

God’s ways, however, are not our ways.  Does this mean that God holds open the possibility of salvation for a man like Kim Jong-Il?  Our Catholic faith would say “yes.”  The church professes that hell does exist.  And Kim would be a perfect candidate for damnation.  But the church does not profess certain knowledge that anyone is actually damned.  It only professes certain knowledge of those who have entered into communion with God. 

So, we are forced to live in ambiguity. We have no way of knowing. So maybe the better question to ponder is this: should we want there to be salvation for such a brutal man, even if justice is somehow achieved as a prerequisite?  And what does it say about me (and us) if I prefer a “pound of bloody flesh” to trump God’s ridiculous love for all human beings?  I’m not sure I want to answer that question.

Kevin Considine is a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Loyola University in Chicago.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.