Silence by Shusaku Endo

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“Silence” by Shusaku Endo – The Hidden God, the Crucified Lord

silence-endoShusaku Endo’s Silence is one of the most moving, deeply theological novels I have ever read. Here, I will discuss but a few worldview-level issues found in the book. There will be SPOILERS below.

The Hidden God

The most pervasive theme throughout the book is that of silence. The hiddenness of God is pressed home poignantly in scene after scene. Early in the book, the main character, a Jesuit priest from Portugal named Sebastião Rodrigues has confidence that no matter what, we will find out a purpose for any and all suffering in the world. His thought is that because God is good, there must be a reason behind each and every possible evil.

Yet as the book continues, the persecution of Christians intensifies and is made extremely clear to Rodrigues. Time and again he witnesses Christians being tortured to death and prays. Each time, a refrain is found in the book: he is answered by silence.

Again and again, the please of Christians and of the priest, Rodrigues, are answered by silence. He looks out to sea surrounding Japan and sees only blackness.

Silence confronts us with the problem of evil front-and-center, and offers some of the most frequently used answers in response. Yet many of these answers seem inadequate when set alongside the continued suffering of Christians being tortured.

The Absurdity of Life Without God

Life without God is absurd. Yet even this point, as found in Silence, points to the silence of God. Rodrigues reflects on his life, and finds that it is completely absurd if there is no God. But rather than focusing on big picture points on this topic, he points it to his own life and laments the absurdity of how he’s lived it if there is no God.

Christ, the Crucified Lord

Rodrigues is captured, and he is forced to endure the screams of tortured victims as time and again they ask him to apostasize. What is required of him is that he trample on an image of Christ. If he does not do so, the suffering of others will continue. He begins to wonder about the mercy of God and whether it would, indeed, be better to trample on this image of Christ and be seen as an apostate. Finally, he decides he will do it, if only to prevent further torture of others:

How his foot aches! And then the Christ in bronze speaks to the priest: ‘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.’
The priest placed his foot on the fumie [image of Christ]. Dawn broke. And far in the distance the cock crew. (171)

Christ came to suffer, and our sin is part of that suffering. Yet, Christ calls to us, letting us know his mercy is boundless, and that it was for our sake he “was born into this world.”

Ultimately, the silence of God is not silence at all. As the priest says it in the closing lines of the novel: “Even now I am the last priest in this land. But Our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of him” (191). Christ works in us and through us.

The dialogue Rodrigues has with Christ in the end is just as poignant:
“Lord, I resented your silence.”
“I was not silent. I suffered beside you.” (190)

Conclusion

Silence is one of those rare books that is sure to be remembered from the time you read it onward. I don’t know that I will ever forget the vivid scenes in which priests are forced to choose between allowing continued torture or being labeled as apostates. It is a stirring, heart-rending book of faith in the face of apparent silence. But the ultimate message is more hopeful: Christ is in us.

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Source

Shusaku Endo, Silence (New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1980). Edition linked is a newer edition.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Silence and Beauty” by Makoto Fujimura

sb-fujimuraMakoto Fujimura’s Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering is a difficult book to categorize. It is, in part, an answer to the problem of evil, part an examination of Shusaku Endo’s book Silence, part cross-cultural dialogue between Western Christianity and Japan, and part a work of art criticism. It is, in my opinion, itself a work of beauty that inspires much reflection.

Fujimura’s major reflections center around Shusaku Endo’s classic, Silence. An appendix at the end of the book provides a summary of Silence that is pretty deep, so readers who haven’t read the novel can read and appreciate this book regardless. Of course Fujimura strongly urges readers to carefully read Silence, and I’d echo that sentiment, as Endo’s work is one of the most profound explorations of faith I have ever read. The basics are that a missionary arrives in Japan, where major persecution of Christians is currently occurring. One of the central images–figuratively and literally–in the book is that of the fumi-e, which is an image of Christ that the Japanese believers are required to trample upon in order to renounce their faith and demonstrate allegiance with Japan rather than foreign faith.

Fujimura continually returns to this image–the fumi-e–as an image of betrayal, hiddenness of God, and beauty. The novel Silence constantly asks the question: Why is God silent through this suffering? This leads Fujimura to reflection upon what it means to say God is silent, as well as the meaning of apostasy and faith. His reflections are often poetic–not literally, but the way he writes is beautiful and lyrical. He leads readers to deeper thought rather than providing immediate answers.

Another major aspect of Silence and Beauty is the unity of arts and faith. Fujimura is a renowned artist who utilizes ancient Japanese techniques to create modern art. Several of his–and other–works are featured in color in a set of plates towards the middle of the book. I found his reflection upon these and other artworks to be fascinating, and to demonstrate how the visual arts are extremely important in a life of faith. Even more intriguingly, however, he also points to how art and the image of the fumi-e may not be easily understood in a Western context.

At last, this leads us to the third major aspect of the book, which is that Japanese culture and Western culture are different. Yes, this seems a no-brainer, but Fujimura, who has straddled the line between these cultures for his entire life, approaches it from an insider’s perspective on both sides, demonstrating how blithe dismissal of certain symbolic aspects in the West does not do justice to the importance of those same ideas in Japan. This, he argues, is part of the way that Christians have been talking past the Japanese in a culture that, at some times in history, was considered prime territory for seeds of faith to grow. Fujimura issues a call for better evangelistic efforts to Japan, as well as a cry for those in the West to try to come to a fuller understanding of Japanese culture and history.

Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering is an amazing book that fuses multiple disciplines and ideas together into a wonderfully readable, thought-provoking whole. I recommend it highly.

The Good

+Integrates arts seamlessly into narratives
+Full of anecdotes with direct application
+Careful and thought-provoking examination of the problem of evil
+Cross-cultural insights are fair and substantive
+Exposes readers to many new ideas

The Bad

-More subdued in some conclusions than necessary

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not required to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.

Source

Makoto Fujimura Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016).

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SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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