A few weeks ago I studied the Psalms along-side our Underground University missionaries in training. We studied the different kinds of psalms including the psalms of praise, lament and cursing. Much of our study that day was standard, but I didn’t know quite what to expect when I asked them to write their own psalms.
They wrote their psalms in the model of Psalm 69, where David tells the Lord of his miseries and yet still sees the opportunity to praise God. Each North Korean student took this exercise very seriously, and one cried so deeply that she couldn’t even read her psalm to the rest of the class.
Here are a few of their psalms . . .
I cannot tell every tear and my sorrows. For the last 16 years I have been torn apart from my children. In recent days, I have suffered from contempt and disdain for my weaknesses. Whenever I was treated contemptuously, I had no place to go and had no one to appeal to about my sorrow, but I took courage from the Psalms. I read the Psalms over and over again more than ten times and when I praised God, I was consoled by Him.
God, there is no way to completely wipe out my sorrow, pains and regret to think about my wasted days without knowing You. However, as I am getting to know You, I can appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus. I cannot waste my time anymore without You. I only praise You, Lord, who has brought me as far as here.
God, my Lord! There is a great sadness of our nation, being divided into two Koreas. Please, finish our tearful tragic history soon. God, my Lord! I will not stop praising you with the heart of Sarah who was waiting for her son, Isaac, to come back.
The songs and poems of praise for Kim Il Sung in North Korea are surprisingly not unlike the psalms found in the Bible. One difference I’ve noticed was that King David was extremely raw and honest about his own difficulties and how at times he felt like God was at fault. Consider what David said in Psalm 10:1:
Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In North Korea, even the slightest bit of discontent towards Kim Il Sung could mean imprisonment or death . . . especially if you are from one of the lower classes. Consider the story of Chang-bo, as told by Barbara Demick, who commented on a news story about a shoe factory that makes rubber boots. She says,
The camera panned over crisply efficient workers of an assembly line where the boots were being produced by the thousands. The narrator raved about the superb quality of the boots and reeled off the impressive production statistics. “Hah. If there are so many boots, how come my children never got any?” Chang-bo laughed aloud. The words tumbled out of his mouth before he considered the consequences.
Chang-bo was arrested and interrogated for three days before being released . . . probably because of his good family background. Demick noted that Chang-bo and his wife
realized how lucky they were. If not for Chang-bo’s excellent class baackground and his party membership, he would not have been let off so lightly.
To express any doubt, fear or anger towards Kim Il Sung is an act of disloyalty for a North Korean. For David, it was a process of his growth in God. It was a way for David to tell God (and God already knew, of course) what was in his heart, and to ask God to change his heart. At times, David’s sentiments were sinful. The Psalms were a way for David to confess those sins and ask for God’s forgiveness.
For Kim Il Sung and the North Korean state, any disagreement, doubt or expressed ill feelings are a threat to the Kim regime. The Underground University students now understand that it is different with God, because He is so secure in his reign that He allows us the freedom to grow, and in that growth we can express to God our true feelings . . . anger, discontent, doubt and fears. If we are willing to give those emotions to God, he can transform us into people who don’t only give God “lip-service,” but who truly follow him with our whole hearts.