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I just finished Silence by Shusaku Endo. It is highly recommended by Philip Yancey, whom I greatly respect. Years ago, I endeavored to read every book and author he introduced his book Soul Survivor; a book about the people and their writings that have made an impact in his life. Silence is one of them. I was delighted to find it sitting in a local library the other day.

Silence turns out to be an intense, disturbing and emotional historical novel. It is set in 16th century Japan and tells the story of a Portuguese missionary, Rodrigues, who travelled to Japan during the height of Christian persecution. His mission is to locate and provide encouragement to the persecuted Christians and to discover the truth about his former spiritual mentor, Father Ferreira, who is rumored to have apostatized under the tortures of the Japanese feudal lords who are determined to drive Christianity out of Japan. Their modus operandi is to strike the shepherd in order to scatter the sheep. They pay a sum of money to anyone who would betray a priest to them. Once captured, they would inflict the most heinous torture in order to get the priests to apostatize. Another example of their cruelty is seen in their torturing of the Christians, whom are mostly simple-minded peasants, in order to induce great distress and guilt upon the priests to force them to renounce their God for the sake of their sheep.

While the theology of pain and suffering is not new, a lot of what had been written take a somewhat detached view; they were either an apology for God’s permitted suffering, rants against God for permitting suffering, or pep talks for believers going through suffering. Unlike these, Endo wrote from within the grasp of suffering, giving us a heart-wrenching account of the internal and external distress and abuse these early Christians and missionaries had to endure. As a reader, I am forced to grapple with issues of doubt and faith, of God’s sovereignty, of forgiveness, of the purpose and effectiveness of prayer and to question the rationality and relevance behind the Christian fervor to fulfill the great commission. Are we doing more harm than good? The Korean church must have asked the same questions at some point in the recent hostage crisis in Afghanistan. Mid-way through the book I was almost convinced that the young priest’s faith which was strong and unshakable in the beginning would start to crumble with every unanswered prayer and needless suffering of the people and finally giving up on a God who choose to remain silent through it all. It is difficult for us who live in a time and place of peace and freedom to comprehend the extent of their anguish as they face their tormentors but the greater anguish is their sense of abandonment by God. Finally they wrestle with public apostasy and with whether or not they could ever be forgiven if they commit such an act.

There are words on many pages that will pierce your soul but none more so than when Rodrigues, agonizing over whether to trample on the bronze fumie (an act required by the feudal lords as a sign of apostasy) to end the agony of the peasant Christians, suddenly heard the Lord calling from the fumie, “trample! trample!…..I more than anyone know of the pain in your foot. It was to be trampled on by men that I came into the world. It was to share in men’s suffering that I carried my cross.” Suddenly a whole new Jesus forms in your mind. In the end, Endo uncovered to us a true theology of the cross. The young priest had learned the hard way that the power of Christ is not in displays of supernatural powers but who in sacrificial love, chose to suffer with those who suffer.

Silence is one of the best book I’ve read in a long while. Highly recommended!

rk

Shusaku Endo (1923-1996) was a renowned 20th century Japanese author who wrote from the eunique perspective of being both Japanese and Catholic. (The population of Christians in Japan is less than 1%.) Silence (1966) is Endo’s most famous work, generaly regarded as his masterpiece.

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