The average American cannot understand the terror of famine. God has blessed America with an abundance of food. Other natural disasters wreck havoc in the United States, but famines are rare in North America. The occasional draught can threaten the breadbasket of the world, but a draught on the Great Plains doesn’t mean the end of the American food supply – we still have the fertile soil of the Midwest, the farming valleys of the West coast, and a thriving fishing industry along our coasts.
The United States has become the breadbasket of the world. Our foodstuffs are transported across the country and to the distant corners of the world. Even the poorest Americans have access to basic food. Yes, I know there is always the exception. Someone doesn't have access to a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. He or she may be suffering from an addiction or mental disorder and simply cannot get to help. These are the exception to the rule.
Take food stamps for instance. Designed to help the poorest Americans purchase basic food and supplies, food stamps have also been used to purchase cigarettes, alcohol, and lottery tickets. The food stamp program is flawed, but on the bright side, it looks like most people have enough food if even welfare recipients are buying these excess items -- at least in this country.
Hurricanes, tornadoes, power outages, and boy-band revivals are far more visceral threats in the American psyche than famine. Although famine is a largely alien calamity for Americans, it is a very real threat to many in the world.
North Korea is currently experiencing one of recent history’s worst famines to date. Children are being eaten. That’s right. Children. Eaten. According to news sources, over 10,000 people have perished of starvation amidst a combination of famine and government confiscation of food in the northern farming provinces of Hwanghae.
The North Korean government has enough money to pursue a nuclear program, test missiles and rockets, and hide their concentration camps from satellites, but they don’t have enough money to feed their people. They’re also lacking in funds to give their leader, Kim Jong Un, a desperately needed makeover, but that is beside the point.
Alarming reports from the northern provinces claim that one man dug up his grandchild to eat, while another man was arrested for murdering and eating his two young children. Apparently the wife of the accused cannibal came home to the smell of cooked meat for the first time in many months. Her husband looked at her and said, “we have meat.” She evidently grew suspect after looking for her missing children and went to authorities.
The details are gritty, but credible according to journalists. A calamity that would cause families to eat their children is rare, but not unheard of. The Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD was so horrific it reduced Jewish families to eating their dead children.
In addition to North Korean famines, the 20th century has seen millions die of famine across Africa and Asia. From the harsh jungle climes of Myanmar and Bangladesh to the desert wastelands of North Africa, famine is very much a reality in the world.
Africa bears the brunt of starvation as Kenya, Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Niger, and Mali have seen deadly famines over the past two decades. Political chaos combined with difficult farming terrain spells famine more often than not. Hundreds of thousands have died in these famines over the centuries, but the numbers pale in comparison to the government induced famines of communist and socialist regimes.
Over 3 million died of starvation and disease during the Second Congo War from 1998-2004 in Central Africa.
From 1994-1998, at least 200,000 died of starvation in Communist North Korea.
From 1959-1961 the Communist China’s Great Leap Forward plan to collectivize farms and increase factory production led to the starvation of millions.1 Evidently confiscating farmland and giving it to inexperienced peasants isn’t the smartest idea.
In the wake of WWII, as many as 1.5 million Russians died of starvation between 1945-1947.2 Much of this could have been avoided, but the combined ineptitude of soviet bureaucrats, Stalin’s brutal rule, and the redistribution of land added to the havoc.
Famine and the End-Times
Jesus warned that famine would be one of the signs of the end of the age. Matthew 24:6-8 states,
You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains (Matt. 24:6-8).
War shares much of the headlines with devastating earthquakes and tsunamis, but famine fails to capture the headlines as often. But is there an increase in famine? The evidence for increased famine is inconclusive. As much as end-times enthusiasts claim to see a rise in famine, it’s simply too difficult to prove. Millions have died in past centuries, and millions more will continue to die in the future. But students of scripture need not look for an increase of famine. Jesus never says there will be an increase in earthquakes and famines, but rather, these will be precursors to the Tribulation.
Famines may strike as often as they have in past centuries, but the severity of the famines has increased with the rising world population. With a planet approaching 7 billion souls, it's not hard to see how famine could devastate poorer regions.
Additionally, regional despots will often seize food supplies from international aid groups sent by the UN. This habit has become commonplace in nations such as Somalia, Sudan, and North Korea, as thousands continue to starve at the hands of their own governments.
Government Depravity and the End-Times
Paul warned in II Timothy that mankind would sink to new levels of depravity toward the end.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people (II Timothy 3:1-5).
We need not look far to see how corrupt society has become. Individuals commit crimes and travesties every day. Mass shootings, cannibals high on “bath salts,” children killing parents, parents killing children, the list goes on. What should also be of concern is the rise of government corruption.
The United States government is arguably the best governmental system in the world today. I’m biased of course, but compare the United States’ system to European socialism, Russian cronyism, Latin American "drug"ocracies, Middle Eastern dictatorships and theocracies, and Chinese communism. Tell me I’m wrong.
Yes, we have plenty of government corruption. Benghazi, Fast and Furious, and the shifty career of Charlie Rangel are but a few scandals. Just this week another Senator’s life, New Jersey Democratic US senator Robert Menendez, was sent ablaze with rumors of a sex scandal involving underage Dominican prostitutes.
Also in recent news, an Ohio poll worker admitted that he was so excited to vote for President Obama in the 2012 election that he voted for him twice! Disturbing news, especially because Obama only won the swing state of Ohio by 3 percent of the vote. Not only our some of our pollsters corrupt individuals, but they also have the ability to rig elections, thereby putting the American experiment with democracy in grave jeopardy. Thanks pollsters. Despite the despicable nature of election campaigns, voter fraud, and the presence of life-long politicians, the alternatives are much worse.
Back to North Korea -- look at their regime. Apply Paul’s message in II Timothy to North Korea’s leadership, does it not apply in every way? A nation’s leaders are supposed to protect its people (includes from famine), promote a fair system of laws, and provide a general sense of stability.
North Korea purposely does the opposite. They are killing thousands of their own people in dissident concentration camps. Rather than seek outside help for their famine, they have reduced their citizenry to eating their children. Instead of promoting a general sense of stability, the leaders of North Korea proudly spend billions on weapons programs.
Selfish, brutal, proud, unholy, all of these can be used to describe the regime in North Korea. Did I mention they’re communists which means they promote atheism?
Famine and the End
Famines, although predicted by Jesus to be a sign of the end of the age, alone are not indicators that we are living in the end times. But combined with geopolitical events in the Middle East, natural disasters, and the low level of depravity in government and society, the argument that the end is nigh doesn’t sound all that crazy does it?
1 Peng Xizhe (彭希哲), "Demographic Consequences of the Great Leap Forward in China's Provinces," Population and Development Review 13, no. 4 (1987), 639-70.
2 Nicholas Ganson, The Soviet Famine of 1946-47 in Global and Historical Perspective . New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.