Silence is beautiful yet haunting. It left me with more questions than answers. What would I have done if I were in the same situation as the Jesuits? Would I have stepped on the fumie (image of Jesus) to save myself and the other suffering Christians? Or would I have refused and become a martyr?
Like Rodriguez, it is too easy to be overconfident that we would never budge. How would we react when we listen to blood-curdling screams by Christians as they are tortured because of us? I’m not sure. Will our external bravery crumble to internal weakness?
There is an insightful article
by Philip Yancey on Shusaku Endo’s novel. Endo was drawn
to the Christians who apostasized, not those who died gloriously
. He wanted to explore how it felt for those who forsook the faith.
It reminded me of Simon Peter who denied Jesus thrice to avoid death (Luke 22:54-62). Peter was confident that he would not fall, much like Rodriguez: But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33). Jesus predicted otherwise. Despite Peter’s failure, Jesus tells him, “When you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
For those who apostasized, Jesus offers hope and reconciliation. In the movie there was a shifty Japanese man named Kichijiro. He betrays the Christians. He steps on the fumie each time and goes free. But, he is guilt-stricken and seeks absolution. Rodriguez, though reluctant, chooses to forgive him. He realises how hard it is to love someone like Kichijiro. It’s so hard to be like Jesus.
Rodriguez felt the silence of God while he and other Christians suffered. Was it futile to pray? Was anyone listening? How could a good God let these people suffer so horribly? These questions are still asked today. Is it right that we ask God to remove all our sufferings?
Near the end of the movie, Rodriguez realises that Jesus was not silent. Jesus was there with them in the midst of their suffering. Jesus understands their pain as he experienced pain and rejection too.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Jesus was despised and rejected. He experienced great suffering. He knows what those persecuted Christians were going through. He grieved as they were drowned, burnt, hung upside down in cesspits and beheaded. Jesus suffers alongside us in more ways than we can ever imagine.
I’m ambivalent if the voice that Rodriguez heard was indeed Jesus. Would Jesus had asked Rodriguez to step on him? Didn’t Jesus say this?
Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
How are we to explain these verses in light of Peter’s denial, Judas’s denial and Japanese Christians who apostasized? Clearly, it does not mean that once a person denies Jesus, he is eternally condemned. There is a chance for restitution as seen in Peter’s case. Maybe that is why Kichijiro keeps on seeking Rodriguez for confession. He knows he is too weak to resist temptation and needs strength. Rodriguez ends his life as a Buddhist scholar. We can only conclude that salvation belongs to our God and only He knows what is in a person’s heart.
In summary, Silence leaves us with a picture of what Jesus did for us. He suffered more than any of the Christians suffered. If there was ever a moment God was truly silent, it was when Jesus cried out on the cross:
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)
For us, God was never silent. We just weren’t listening.