What I Didn’t Hear in Silence

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Silence is a masterpiece that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. I don’t know when I’ve ever seen an adaptation that so well translates the nuance of its source material. But after seeing the film, my wife made a critical observation of the story that I think is worth pointing out.

As I believe everyone knows, the story deals with persecution and suffering and the nature of apostasy. It’s gut-wrenching, and doesn’t give easy answers, doesn’t let anyone off the hook. It’s a swamp of impossible moral choices and subtleties that ought to unsettle anyone who watches (or reads) it.

But in the midst of its portrayal of suffering and persecution, what’s missing is a discussion of resurrection. The Christian perspective on suffering and death fundamentally changes in the light of bodily resurrection, and it’s notable that none of the priests in the story make any mention of it. Why?

One possible reason is that it’s difficult to discuss resurrection in the context of a story about suffering without seeming like you’re explaining away the unpleasantness or offering a trite answer to a painful reality. It’s kind of like telling a friend at a funeral to cheer up because “heaven’s got a new angel”—an unhelpful or even hurtful sentiment in a moment of grief.

Or maybe Endo, and by extension Scorsese, was primarily concerned with the subject of suffering and apostasy and limited his authorial lens in order to keep the focus on those issues, choosing not to engage the wider implications of resurrection.

None of this lessens my love for the book or the film, but the question looms large and makes me wonder about the omission. Would my feelings about Rodrigues’s choices be different if he’d demonstrated a more robust Christian theology? What differences are there between what we see of Endo’s portrayal of martyrs and apostates in Japan versus what history tells us of other martyrs, specifically those of the early church? How does a concrete belief in the resurrection of the body explain those differences? Does Silence embody a meaningful view of the resurrection? If so, how? If not, why?

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the matter, or on the film/book in general. What do you think?

 

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


25 Comments

  1. Laure Hittle

    @mrs-hittle

    My first thought is Monica. She faced martyrdom in the most first-century way, explicitly because of the hope of heaven. Not resurrection (which makes me wonder not just about this story’s priests but about what the Japanese were taught as a whole), but even so, she was able to endure joyfully to the end because her sights were set on something beyond death.

    But i think you make a good point about the authorial lens. i’m going to twist and struggle much more through a work that’s centered on and ends in ambiguity than one which reinforces my theology, orthodox or otherwise.

  2. Dan Foster

    I may not be the best to comment, since I haven’t seen the movie and it has been several years since I read the book. But I did very recently go through a significant grief (stillborn child). At this time of grief in our lives, the hope of the resurrection is not just a trite platitude, it is the truth that we cling to most strongly. I can’t imagine ignoring the resurrection right now. I am relying on it!

    Why is it not portrayed in the book/film? My guess would be to show that if you look at our circumstances here on earth, sometimes God is (seemingly) silent. And that is true. But God does not tell us to only look at our circumstances on earth. Sometimes he uses those trials to force us to have hope in the unseen. I think works like Silence force us to recognize that there are sometimes difficult questions. But we also need to remember that even though Endo and Scorsese do not give us answers, that doesn’t mean answers don’t exist. And even God may not give us a specific answer (he never told Job why he suffered), but he always gives us hope and a promise of eternal life and a confidence that he is sovereign over all. Let us not think that God really is silent.

  3. Jennifer Trafton

    @jennifert

    There are two levels of response to a work of art, and they often get confused, I think. One, a critical one – whether it is good as art. Two, a personal one – having read this, what does it do to my own understanding of the world? Putting my critic hat on, I think Silence is a masterpiece, both the book and the film.  I love its ambiguity, its refusal to give a simple answer to difficult (maybe unanswerable) questions, the fact that it leaves us thinking and struggling and debating for days after we’ve seen it. Taking my critic hat off,  I then proceed to wrestle through what the film evokes in me and for me, as I think about the questions it raises. And this is when I ponder what I think about suffering, and grace, and God’s silence, and the prospect of what I would do if I ever had to be in such a horrific situation. And there’s a piece of that puzzle not really dealt with in Silence (that’s not a criticism of Endo since I don’t expect a work of art – I don’t want a work of art – to be a statement of theology), which is the hope of resurrection and new creation. I have many thoughts about this, and am still wrestling through them (a sign of a good work of art), but I just wanted to make that clarification.

     

  4. Rebecca Reynolds

    @rebeccareynolds

    I thought the most beautiful example of redemption in the film was through the figure of Kichijiro.

     

    When I think about Japanese culture and its value on honor, I am stunned that Scorsese (Endo?) chose a character defined by shame and cowardice to be the primary vehicle for communicating resurrection.

     

    At the beginning of the film, we know that Kichijiro has already betrayed Christ once. We feel empathy for him as he repents before Rodrigues, and we eagerly await proof that he has “finally got it” during his second opportunity to take a stand for Jesus.

     

    But this doesn’t happen. Again, he betrays Christ. Rodrigues and Garrpe cringe watching, and so do we as the viewers. His confession must not have been authentic we conclude, or else he would have remained faithful to Jesus.

     

    As the story progresses, and as Kichijiro becomes increasingly abhorrent, we are repulsed by this filthy, stinking, spineless, Judas creature. Like Gollum, he haunts Rodrigues, and there is always an ominous sense that his lurking presence will bring trouble for the “real Christians.”

     

    Rodrigues’s posture (his physical posture) changes in his interactions with Kichijiro. He is at first paternal in hearing the broken man’s confession. Then he grows impatient, struggling to get close enough to the wild man’s stench to offer the necessary words. However, Rodrigues focuses by remembering his theology, so (without empathy) he holds his breath to follow through in what is necessary.

     

    After Rodrigues apostatizes, however, Kichijiro proves a steadfast friend. He understands weakness and shame, so when he looks at Rodrigues, it is with respect, not judgment. Rodrigues thanks Kichijiro for his companionship, and then something stunning happens. Kichijiro calls Rodrigues “Padre.”

     

    Rodrigues resists, but Kichijiro is persistent. He refuses to allow Rodrigues to be limited to his past failures. By naming his own brokenness (his need for confession), Hichijiro also names Rodrigues and waits for him to operate out of his true identity.

     

    At this moment in the film, I was reminded of those verses in II Timothy which have always seemed like a bit of a paradox to me. If we deny Him, He will deny us… if we are faithless, He will be faithful.

     

    As it ends up, Kichijiro is Peter– the rock– who having denied Christ three times, is given the calling of tending the sheep who thought he was a shepherd.

     

    As Sally Lloyd-Jones has said, the Bible is not a book of heroes, but a book of one hero. We are all ragamuffins who can offer one another little but the language and vision of our Redeemer.

     

    In terms of cinematography, Rodrigues’s physical posture in this last confession scene is so powerful. I would very much like to find some way to clip the film, just to watch a progression of the confession scenes. In the fallen preist’s body language, we see the journey so many of us have taken in the faith.  First, we are the assured follower. Then we are the repulsed follower. At last we are the broken follower who ends up needing to be a part of the forgiveness ritual as much as the penitent.

     

    And so, when the crucifix is placed in Rodrigues’s hands at his burial, I was encouraged to finally have watched a film that showed what the relentless love of God for unfaithful people actually looks like. The redemption doesn’t hit with a bang, but with a whisper. This is a film that elevates God’s sufficiency instead of a superhero’ faith.

     

    We are given no human Captain America blasting his martyrdom for the cause. Instead, we are shown how small we are. How vulnerable. How often we will betray and need healing. And we are shown that even as we pass into death, the love of Christ will find a way to go with us through the fire.

  5. Rebecca Reynolds

    @rebeccareynolds

    “Priest” sorry. Typing in a closet and hurrying. Haven’t had the chance to read everybody else’s thoughts yet, but I will soon. And I might be wrong, this is just how the film struck me.

  6. Michelle

    This is an excellent question, and for me the answer has everything to do with the title: Silence.

    If you’d allow me to speak as a musician, silence is an essential part of the music. Given that our hope in resurrection is part of the “not yet” of our lives of faith, at least in a material sense, there is a sense in which resurrection is one of the things that fills the sometimes painful silences in the masterpieces of our lives of grace. I know as an educator, we make mistakes in reading music most often because we ignore the silences. We are so focused on the sounds that we fail to acknowledge the silences which define the sounds in a meaningful way. I hope the analogy is helpful to others.

  7. RonH

    It must be kept in mind that Endo is not merely writing as a Christian, but as a Japanese Christian.  Resurrection is a pretty foreign concept to Japanese culture.  In fact, given traditional Japanese Buddhist views on the afterlife, I’m not sure the idea of a physical resurrection is even desirable from a Japanese perspective.  In Silence, I think Endo is trying to paint a picture of Christ that will be more vivid and meaningful to a Japanese reader.

    I’ve been meaning to read Endo’s A Life of Jesus.  Back in the 90s, Philip Yancey wrote an article on Endo called “Japan’s Faithful Judas”.  In it he wrote:

    Traditional Christians will find Endo’s portrayal of Jesus woefully incomplete. He says nothing of Jesus’ miracles, and, frankly, they seem almost irrelevant to his aims. He leaves out scenes that show Jesus’ authority and power. Similarly, Endo gives a limp rendering of the Resurrection as a dawning awareness within the disciples of Jesus’ true nature. Again, one senses that Endo himself has little personal interest in the Resurrection and sees it as a barrier to Japanese belief.

    To critics who judge Endo’s theology harshly, he replies, “My way of depicting Jesus is rooted in my being a Japanese novelist. I wrote this book for the benefit of Japanese readers who have no Christian tradition of their own and who know almost nothing about Jesus. What is more, I was determined to highlight the particular aspect of love in his personality precisely in order to make Jesus understandable in terms of the religious psychology of my non-Christian countrymen and thus to demonstrate that Jesus is not alien to their religious sensibilities.”

    I’ve noticed a number of critics who have in fact responded harshly to Silence.  However, I don’t see them making any attempt to respond to Inoue’s challenge that Japan is a “swamp” that will successfully swallow any attempt to establish Christianity.  If Christianity is ever to take root in Japan, it will need Storytellers like Endo who can bridge the vast cultural gap.  I don’t know that Endo is right to give Resurrection as little prominence as he does; but I do know that when the Christ of the fumie spoke to Rodrigues, I was overwhelmed with the depth of Christ’s sacrifice in a way that few works of fiction have ever accomplished.

  8. Jason Custer

    I just finished commenting on the Friday Movie discussion when I saw this post, so I hope you’ll forgive my double-comment. Like I said there, I actually appreciated that the resurrection wasn’t mentioned because of the ambiguity it leaves at the end of the movie as we wrestle with Rodrigues. Because of the ambiguity and silence of the book/film on the resurrection, we have to put ourselves in that spot and wrestle with the pain and suffering and silence – we don’t get an easy answer, as others mentioned. I think we as Christians don’t really like tension or ambiguity, so we jump too fast to the ending too often – to the resurrection. We hate the darkness, so we turn on a light immediately. We hate the silence so we grab our phones to distract us instead of just sitting there. In Christian terms, we want to jump straight from Good Friday to Easter Sunday without waiting for 3 days. We never stop and sit in the darkness of Holy Saturday. Mako pointed this out to me in Silence and Beauty: “The book is about the movement of our souls into Holy Saturday, waiting for Easter Sunday. Endo, in many respects, is a Holy Saturday author describing the darkness of waiting for Easter light to break into our world” (p. 28). I think we need more authors in Christianity that are willing to sit in the darkness, in the silence of God, without jumping to a resolution too fast.

    Jennifer, to your comment, I find that the personal side of my reaction to Silence amplified the artistic appreciation of the ambiguity. For me personally, 2016 was a year of hell (or “hell of a year” – however you want to say it), where my sister fought with and died from a sudden diagnosis of colon cancer at the same time that I was in and out of the ER/hospital with major surgeries and intensive chemo, even while my brother began the fight against the same genetic disease that I’m fighting and took my sister and dad 15 years before her. 2016 was like Good Friday when the sky became dark, and now 2017 leaves me in the wake of that darkness sitting on Holy Saturday. In both grief groups and at church, lots of people have mentioned the “hope of the resurrection” to me very quickly – too quickly in my opinion. Like Pete mentioned, it just feels hurtful and unhelpful right now, and at times has made me angry. 
     
    I feel like the disciples on Saturday, perplexed at what God has allowed to happen to my family when we’ve spent our whole lives serving and following him. I know he’s promised that Sunday is coming, but I can’t see that through the darkness and silence of God right now. I can’t see that through the grief and the tears in my eyes. I can’t honestly understand how the sad is going to come untrue right now. It’s like I’m in the middle of winter when everything is dead and buried in snow, including, it seems, God. You can tell me about the Spring and how new life is going to spring up from the ground, and I believe you, but that seems so far away right now and so hard to imagine. Sometimes, I just want to sit in the darkness and silence of Holy Saturday – and it feels like many of my friends are trying to pull me into Sunday too fast instead of joining me on Saturday and sitting with me. But Endo sat with me in the novel, Silence
     
    I’m not saying that there’s never a time for bringing up the resurrection and Easter Sunday for people sitting in Holy Saturday – but God seems a lot more patient than most of us in the church, more willing to sit in the dark. We live in a world where we don’t ever have to sit in the darkness because of technology.  Perhaps if I sit long enough in the darkness of Holy Saturday then I will appreciate all the more the light that dawns on Easter Sunday. To be honest, AP’s song “Rejoice” on his latest album would feel trite and unreal if it didn’t follow the darkness of “The Rain Keeps Falling.”  Without the context of the album, I wouldn’t have ears to hear or eyes to see that “when the winter is over, the flowers [will] climb through the snow.” 

    All that to say: I’m glad Endo or Scorsese didn’t say anything about resurrection in Silence. Just because something is silent on the resurrection doesn’t mean it doesn’t believe in the resurrection. Having not read anything else by Endo, I wonder if doing so would fill out his theology of the resurrection.

  9. RonH

    As an aside, here’s something I only realized recently.  When Christ speaks to Rodrigues, in Johnston’s translation he says “Trample!”  This is a clear imperative in English, as if Jesus were commanding Rodrigues.  The original Japanese is actually quite a bit more passive, and would be more accurately translated “It’s okay to trample” or “You may trample”.  There is an imperative form in Japanese, and that’s not what gets used here.  Instead, Rodrigues is more being given permission, as if Christ were meeting him in his weakness.  I’m not sure why Johnston made the translation choice he did…

  10. Laure Hittle

    @mrs-hittle

    There is an imperative form in Japanese, and that’s not what gets used here.  Instead, Rodrigues is more being given permission, as if Christ were meeting him in his weakness.  I’m not sure why Johnston made the translation choice he did…

    Early on in the story, Rodrigues and Garrpe disagree sharply when Rodrigues passionately urges the believers to step on the fumie if Inoue demands it of them. “Trample! Trample!” he says. i wonder which form—the imperative or the precative/permissive—is used there. i don’t recall how that comes across in the book, and i don’t have it handy (and don’t know Japanese in any case), but i wonder if perhaps in Scorsese’s version Christ is repeating Rodrigues’ own words back to him—being a pastor to him as he attempted to pastor the Japanese Christians.

  11. Laure Hittle

    @mrs-hittle

    (i mean, Christ being a pastor to Rodrigues as Rodrigues had attempted to pastor the Japanese Christians. My meaning might’ve been obvious, but pronouns can be shifty.)

  12. RonH

    Laure…

    Great question!  The earlier conversation you’re talking about happens in Chapter 4.  Unfortunately, I don’t own a Japanese edition of Silence, so can’t look up what the original says at that point.  I only saw the Japanese version of Christ’s words to Rodrigues quoted elsewhere.  You’ve got my curiosity piqued, though…

  13. Matt Crutchmer

    This is a great discussion. Haven’t seen the movie yet, so these comments are book-centric.

    I heartily agree w/ @RonH above: The particularities of Endo as Christian, Japanese, Roman Catholic, writing after the events of his difficult life and the events of WWII definitely make a difference to how we go about answering this question about the Resurrection in Silence. I’ll add one thing now, and look up one other for tomorrow.

    I’d argue that the Resurrection *is* present and speaking, in a sense, in the book, but in a way understood differently than we usually think it should. I’m leaning on an article by Matsuoka here (which is a bit against Yancey’s reading that RonH cited), but it seems that just as Christ is not actually silent thru the book, neither is he absent: apart from his resurrection, Jesus could not be Rodrigues’s “eternal companion,” one who walks beside one in one’s own suffering, having already walked that path before. It is this sort of presence that many Japanese writers say is much more “maternal” than “paternal” and thus more appreciated by the Japanese. It seems best to view all this as adding something to our understanding of the Christian life in this age, rather than a wholesale replacement of traditional views of the Resurrection’s impact. (This is encapsulated in the way that Endo never once denigrates the sacrifices of the martyrs while still portraying Rodrigues and the hidden Christians positively – kinda)

    The thing I’ll have to look up (my copy is at the office) is verification of a vague memory: I think I remember an image of Christ the Victor, vividly colored and radiant, one foot on the tomb, either as a painting or mosaic or vision early on in the book when the priests are still in Portugal. If so, then the one place we see a stereotypical view of the Resurrection is in the West, portraying a Christ that fades from Rodrigues’s memory over his journey and is replaced with the emaciated, suffering Christ of Japan. Regardless, the difference in color palette used in Portugal vs. Japan tells part of that story. It’s an almost Lutheran critique of Western Roman theology: don’t be theologians of glory! Be theologians of the Cross.

  14. Dawn Waters Baker

    @dwbaker

    I’m not sure this answers it either but I think it may have something to do with the fact that there aren’t many works of art from a Christian that remain (or linger) at the cross. I was just reading this morning in Job 16 (The Message) “…Your anger tears at me, your teeth rip me to shreds, your eyes burn holes in me – God my enemy!” How many of us could say that there is an emotional truth at the cross that gets gathered up and put in the dark tomb but doesn’t seem to come out on resurrection Sunday? A bleakness that is met in Jesus. He is what we celebrate at Christmas with the Emmanuel – God with us. Never alone. Not really. In the film, Rodriguez says, “But our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of Him.”

    This film doesn’t give us triumph, although, I believe in triumph over evil. I cherish it and look forward to the long view of redemption. This film isn’t about the hero. To me, the cross moments of our lives teach us true compassion. What it means to love another person. To sit with them in their suffering. No words, no sermons or books can fill such a place. This is where Rodriguez gives up even his pride, his religion in order to BE with the people. The cross shows us how to love in hunger, thirst, anguish. The resurrection is our triumph, all of us who love Jesus. But the cross is our shame. We put Him there. Let’s not pass the suffering quickly even though all of us want to turn our faces. Let’s look at it with full eyes.

    Makoto Fujimura writes that Endo, when asked about the title Silence said, “I did not write a book about the Silence of God; I wrote a book about the Voice of God speaking through suffering and silence.”

    If the resurrection is the victory cry of every Christian heart then let the cross be our chance to listen.

  15. David Mitchel

    @dmitchel

    Lots of great comments here. I enjoyed reading all of them.

    ” . . . was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into Hades . . .”

    For a long time it struck me as odd that the Apostles’ Creed would linger even for those few words over Christ’s burial and descent into Hades. But without the burial and descent — without Christ’s day of sabbath-rest in the tomb — the Resurrection would be scarcely distinguishable from a resuscitation. It’s easy to confuse the two, and indeed we are often eager to do so: shirking the significance of death by skipping lightly over it to Resurrection.

    Yet the price of eating the fruit of the tree was that we “must surely die.” Christ did not abrogate that word, he fulfilled it. If we would live in Christ we must die like him. That means sometimes lingering over the force of death. The only path to Resurrection is also the “last enemy to be abolished” — which means that, in a context as narrow as any individual work of art, sometimes the price of telling the truth about death in this age is that Resurrection vanishes over the horizon.

  16. Tom Murphy

    @tommurphy28

    Thought this video from Fuller Seminary with Mako Fujimura and Martin Scorsese might had to the conversation here.  Thoughts?

    //fullerstudio.fuller.edu/conversation-martin-scorsese/?utm_campaign=scorsese-conversation-full&utm_medium=email&utm_source=fuller-studio-email&utm_content=mako-scorsese-kutter-img

  17. Amy L

    I had to give my book back to the library, so I can’t cite chapters, but I think the hymn that they sing brings a picture of resurrection.

    Also, I love everything Rebecca said about Kichijiro.  What I was struck by in his character is that even though he consistently apostasizes every time that he is even given a threat of torture, he also never is able to leave his faith.  Ferreira may have fully left his faith when he trampled on the fumie.  But Kichijiro can never actually abandon his faith, even when he wishes he could.  He makes public denials, but he always desires to return and confess.  And it’s clear when we first meet him — he refuses to say that he’s a Christian, but yet they hear him praying on the boat during the storm.

    (Maybe in two years I’ll borrow this DVD from the library, too, and be able to make comments about the movie.)

  18. Carrie Givens

    @carrieg

    @Jason Custer – What you wrote really resonates with me. I first attended Hutchmoot in 2012, and it was at the tail end of my own “year of hell.” I walked away from that weekend incredibly encouraged–in part because of things like reading Nate Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl and seeing lines like, “The coffin is a tragedy, but not for long…There will be butterflies.” And in part because of a session Pete Peterson and Jennifer Trafton and Thomas Mackenzie did on the hope of the new heavens and the new earth.

    But one of the primary things I took away from that weekend was a comment Andy Gullahorn made as he was introducing his song “Grand Canyon.” He said that in our lives we have Good Fridays of tragedy and Easter Sundays of rejoicing, but that most of our lives are “Saturdays of waiting.” I was in that Saturday right then, and while I needed the hope of resurrection, without the recognition of the Saturday, I don’t know if that Hutchmoot would have had so much of an impact.

  19. Mark Proctor

    @markdproctor

    Thank you all for your thoughts. They are helpful in wrestling with this story.

    I have some Burmese friends who are church planters in Burma. Once they had a church here in the states stop supporting them because they lied to smuggle Bibles into the country. I struggle with Rodrigues in this similar, but multiplied, decision.

    Do I do this thing that has always been evil to me? Is this what love is in this situation?

    I appreciate the depiction of Rodrigues the rest of his life, the agony of soul. Did I do what was the best way to love? Am I loving those with me in the best way now?

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