“And like the sea God was silent.” (pg.72)
Before I go into my thoughts on Silence, some history.
I went to a private Christian University, and have a degree in Theology with a minor in Missions. This was eight years ago, and my thoughts about religion have changed greatly since then.
If I was honest with myself, the whole ‘spread the gospel’ thing was never my bag. In my naivety I thought this was the best way to help others, not realizing that I didn’t have to go across the seas to help the hungry (a very expensive lesson to learn).
This book might be set 1640s Japan, but the ideas and internal conflicts still persist today. Even the ‘glorious martyrdom’ concept has persisted, and if you don’t believe me, the Jesus Freaks series is exhibit A.
‘Glorious martyrdom’ is the idea that there is nothing better than to die for the cause of the Gospel. There is no purer expression of faith than to suffer like your savior, and it is probably the closest we can get to being like Jesus. The idea you would would be blessed in Heaven afterwards was incentive as well.
Our protagonist, Father Sebastian Rodrigues, cannot fathom that a missionary, when faced with death, would not embrace this path. So much so, that when there is word that his old teacher Father Ferreira, a Japanese missionary, denounced Christianity in the face of torment, Rodrigues goes to Japan to find him (and the truth).
With all of the pro-martyrdom talk and shuffling around to different locations, the first fifty pages were a bit dry, but then a certain event happens, and the book broke open for me.
For the first fifty pages, Father Rodrigues’ faith is untouchable and hard to relate to, but once he witnesses a particularly cruel scene the reader realizes that he is a man full of questions. Rodrigues is terrified of having even a ounce of doubt within him, but what he experiences in Japan shakes him to the core.
There’s a lot to explore with Endō’s Silence, but the heart of the book is Rodrigues’ transformation. Rodrigues tries desperately throughout the novel to answer the question that most of humanity has: If there is a God, why is he silent?
Because all of us have to answer this question, no matter if we are religious or not. The atheist answers by saying there is no God, while a variety of different answers come from the religious communities.
Due to my background, this book really hit home for me. While I’ve never faced the circumstances that Rodrigues did, his questions are ones that I have asked. As historical fiction, I thought that Endō did a fantastic job capturing that moment in history for Japan.
I would highly recommend Silence, but I understand that this might not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially if you have zero interest in theological questions. The history surrounding the book is interesting, but the soul of the book is one man’s questions about God.
“Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind.” (pg 92)