I’m a bit out of my depth when it comes to international affairs, but the convergence of two deaths over the weekend bears commentary. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and former Czech president Vaclav Havel both passed the bar into eternity and their leadership could not have been more of a contrast in worldviews.
Kim’s creation of a bubble around his people has led them to poverty, starvation, and isolation. His bubble has become rather famous for its ability to insulate visitors from the reality of the nation’s conditions, or, rather, for its ability to insulate its people from visitors who can point out the reality of the conditions. The most visually stunning documentation of this is a snapshot of the Korean night sky from a satellite: bright in the South and dark in the North.
Havel, on the other hand, knew the power of the arts to demonstrate that the emperor (the Soviets) had no clothes (“power” over “the powerless,” as he called it). While Havel was not per se a believer, his philosophy was laden with the fruits of Christian thought, from the dignity of all persons to the importance of balances that check the fallen nature of leaders. His motto was, according to some sources, “Truth and love must prevail over lies and hate.” James Sire, best known for the classic study in worldviews “The Universe Next Door,” produced one of the signature studies of Havel, “Vaclav Havel: the Intellectual Conscience of International Politics” (IVP 2001), which is helpful reading for anyone who travels in Eastern Europe or wants to understand post-Christian Europe.
We live in dizzying times. The former dictators are passing at a startling clip: Gaddafi, Kim, and many others. So too, however, are some of our other leaders like Havel who turned selflessless into an artform (literally in his case). I am grateful, in such times, for passages such as Isaiah 6:1: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple.” God is not an emperor who lacks for clothes, and we are not a people who lack for a loving King.