Shusako Endo’s Silence, now a major film by Martin Scorsese, is about heroes and cowards, about joy and despair, and about believing and doubting, but who is who and what is what is unendingly subtle. This film is the story of two young Portuguese Jesuit priests as they attempt to bring hope to the few remaining Christians in Japan and to bring to an end to rumours that have surfaced about a former mentor and missionary in that same land.
The young priests’ mission had the glory of God, as the Jesuits would aptly put it, written all over it. Yet, God remains somehow silent. Perhaps we humans have failed to live up to this ideal to the extent that we use God and his glory as an excuse to seek our own glory in our own respective ways. Is God mute, or are we deaf?
We tend to forget that God best reveals himself in human weakness. Yet, as both Endo and Scorsese emphasise, we are only defeated by our weaknesses. Precluded in our own Gethsemane, we might forget that others too suffer their own Gethsemane. Others too are Christ-like. As with the young priest in his prison cell, we too can easily confuse wailing with snoring, and we too can mistake a coward for a hero. Is it because we confuse God with his people? In our fixation with utility and relevance, do we believe out of love for others or out of love for God? Perhaps this is the paradox of faith.
In the midst of this, there’s the question of suffering. Suffering is brought about by love, and love renders suffering meaningful. Christ suffered because of his love for all humanity, and in his suffering he was condemned and abandoned, not least by those he loved most. Do we, however, have to condemn ourselves to free others? That is the eluding question, and with it, why is God apparently silent. In coming to terms with faith and with abandonment, with grace and with freedom, we must come to terms with our own failing humanity in need of redemption, not least from our own selves.
Image source: Paramount (2016)