Our theme for the month of March is “Ask the post calvin.” We’re taking on questions submitted by readers and offering our best advice.

Dear the post calvin,

I know that every trial is just a blessing in disguise, but I’m feeling really down about how North Korea treats its citizens. How can I see the good that God is doing through this situation?

Sincerely,
Bummed-out Bob

Dear Bob,

First off, you should be commended for your empathy. Assuming you are not a defected citizen of North Korea, it would be easy, or could be easy, to ignore the DPRK apart from the headlines. There isn’t much information about the day-to-day lives of North Korean citizens floating around, so you’ve had to do some extensive research, I’m sure. I’m encouraged by you—by your willingness to stare at injustice and cruelty and name it wrong. By the courage it takes to not dismiss the plight of North Koreans as too far away, and to be deeply saddened by the dark effects of a despot’s reign that you have no first hand experience of. Keep on, my friend.

Maybe it’s too blunt to say that you shouldn’t try and see the good God is doing through the current situation in North Korea. But you shouldn’t. God doesn’t ask us to look at everything through rose-tinted glasses. There is nothing good about famine, food shortages, disregard for certain demographics, false imprisonment, and state brutality. Your role, and mine, is to lament these things, to cry out to God on behalf of the people of the DPRK. And we should do this not to placate some misplaced sense of responsibility, but to keep God true to God’s character.

If you’ve heard this answer before, and it seems like I’m slipping the question, try and take my angle seriously. “This is not the way things are supposed to be!” is a very faithful response. Cry out.

I’m struck, too, by the way the psalms of lament in the Bible implore God to rise up in action after periods of silence or inaction on God’s part. I don’t know if these psalmists thought God was actually stagnant, but that was their experience, and they continually begged God to do something. We should do the same, with the same conviction, even if we’re exhausted with “thoughts and prayers” sentiment. Cry out.

I remember visiting the killing fields at Choeung Ek in Cambodia, where the remains of almost 9,000 bodies were found following the atrocities of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. There’s a Buddhist stupa there filled to the brim with skulls found at the site. Human bones still litter areas around the footpaths. After the visit, our group traveled to our next destination in stunned silence, for at least an hour. We couldn’t verbally process what we had just witnessed. We couldn’t process it at all. Questions queued in our throats, unable to escape, because asking them out loud would do nothing. There was no good there.

All we could do then was listen to the stories of brave men and women who survived the Khmer Rouge regime. There was good in their stories, and there was hope. And perhaps you’ve already done a bit of this, but in the case of North Korea we’d do best to listen to stories of defectors, or of South Koreans with family members embroiled in the harshness of the DPRK. Because so little of what happens in North Korea is verifiable, we should ignore the puerile machinations and propaganda of the DPRK state and pay attention to the stories of those who have lived it. Also, read the fiction of Adam Johnson, specifically The Orphan Master’s Son and the short story “Fortune Smiles.” Since North Koreans cannot tell their own stories (unless they’ve defected), it seems to me that Johnson best amplifies their voices in an honorable way, even if he writes fiction.

Bob, the audacity of Christian hope claims that this will not be forever. So in everything I’m about to say, be assured that I’m talking to myself as much as I’m talking to you: Don’t lose hope. Get on board with organizations like Amnesty International or the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Dive into advocacy for the people of North Korea, listen to their stories where possible, and find God, and God’s goodness, there. Cry out.

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