This past Monday, I went with a couple of friends to catch the movie “Silence”. It is directed by Martin Scorcese and based upon a novel by Shusaku Endo.
In short, it tells the story of two Jesuits (Catholic missionaries) who make the perilous journey to Japan in order to look for their master. There had been rumors that their master had indeed apostatized, but the two young Jesuits did not believe this.
Upon reaching Japan, they learn of the terrible persecution of the Kirishitans (Christians) by the Imperial Government. To prove that one was not Christian, you had to step on the fumie, which was the image of Jesus. The samurais invented horrific forms of torture and methods of slow death for the Christians who refused to step on the fumie. Christians were drowned, burned, crucified, hung in the pit, beheaded, etc.
In the climax of the show, the young Jesuit is faced with a most agonizing choice – would he step on the fumie or not? His disgraced master tells him to do it, that that was the only way for him to save those who were hanging in the pit. Otherwise, the Japanese would keep on killing more and more Christians until he officially recanted.
The young Jesuit then looks at the fumie and he notices that the image of Jesus is not the one he recalls so often in his dreams and thoughts. This image was crushed, marred, blackened and covered with the filth of the hundreds before him who had stepped on that image of Jesus. And he hears Jesus tell him,
“Trample! Trample! I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. Trample! It was to be trampled on by men that I was born into this world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross.”
And the priest steps on that image of Jesus. The other Japanese Christians are set free, and the Jesuit lives the rest of his days as a Buddhist, living as a “prisoner” of the land.
Many themes run through Silence.
Foreigness and Perversion
Inoue-Sama himself says that Christianity is like a foreign tree that cannot grow in the swamp of Japan. It is the wrong soil. It is like a foreign woman. The Japanese should choose to marry a local woman, rather than give heed to the persistent lover who is an ugly, barren woman.
Is that true? Not exactly, there were 300,000 Kirishitans in a population of 20 million.
But then the apostate master of the Jesuits, argued that the Japanese did not really worship the Christian God, but a perversion. Not the Son of God but the Sun God. Japanese cannot look past nature and human existence to a supernatural being, he asserted.
Our main character, Rodriguez disagrees. It is real Christianity, he argues.
The Silence of God
Another theme is that of God’s silence.
Where is God in the midst of all the suffering? Why is He saying nothing? Why is He doing nothing? Why does He not answer any of their prayers and cries for help.
The only time God says anything is at the climax of the show where he asks the young priest to trample on His image.
But is God really silent?
Sharing in Suffering
C.S. Lewis writes,
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Today, I read the book of Philippians in a new light.
I believe Paul was in prison, and facing impending martyrdom/death.
Can you see the parallels between Paul and the young Jesuit in the movie? I think I do.
Here are Paul’s thoughts on suffering and death.
“Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Paul then struggles with the choice of whether which is better: to live, or to die.
He views death as far better – to be with Christ.
Then comes a verse (1:30) that absolutely STRUCK me:
“For it has been granted you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”
Wait a minute, we are to suffer for Christ?
Since when did we ask God for the chance to suffer for Christ ?
We always pray for good health, ease, comfort, a way out, wealth, etc.
We never, ever ask to suffer for Christ’s sake.
Paul goes on later in 3:10 (my paraphrase)…
[I want to] know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and that I may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death …
Oh God. Now I see. Now I understand!
To truly know Christ is to share in His sufferings. It is to follow him unto death.
Jesus set the example, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death on a cross.
He suffered…. oh how he suffered … for us …. he knows …. our pain …. our tears ….
To know Christ is to share in his sufferings. To suffer for Him.
He is not silent for he suffers with us.