After reading the article about the Scorsese’s movie based on the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo, and being stuck at home after a traffic accident, I decided to read the novel. Although probably it was not the best of ideas when trying to recover from a shock, the novel made me reflect on a fundamental question of faith. Initially, I was wondering why the author chose to entitle such a dramatic and tragic story with the single word Silence. But, gradually the reason became self-evident: the silence of God. The narrative is interspersed with moments of prayers by the main character, Padre Rodriguez, which vacillate between two poles: the meditation of Christ’s face and questions addressed to God about his silence in the face of suffering the Japanese Christians had to undergo because of their faith. Indeed, this drama of divine silence engulfs the whole of human experience. We all experience it at one point or another in our lives and for one reason or another. And I have to admit that this question has haunted me as from my early teens: how can a benevolent God, who has revealed himself as love, and at important points in our lives we have experienced him as such, remain silent in front of certain situations?
Although the question is surely legitimate—it’s in the Bible all through, even on the lips of the Crucified Christ—it may be wrong headed. It can be the result of pride and self-righteousness. Padre Rodriguez’s tone was most of the time a tone of someone who thought to know better than God. It is only in the end, when the two prayers reach a synthesis and he feels the face of Christ speak to him at the moment of his failure, that he has the humility to ask the question in a sincere manner and a reply is given immediately:
‘Lord, I resented your silence.’
‘I was not silent. I suffered beside you.’
Through the incarnation of the Son of God, God broke his centuries long silence and spoke to us (Hebrews 1:1–2). Yet we still refused to listen and we sought to silence this divine Word because we were closed in upon ourselves. And so to remove our deafness, he had to enter into our alienated condition to the extreme of asking God about his silence, and then ultimately becoming the silent Word of God as he was swallowed in death—a cry and a silence finally answered by the silence of the empty tomb and the gentle word shalom.
Apart from the certitude of faith that God’s silence is never dead or sterile, knowing that when such seemed to be the case our salvation was wrought, this question on our lips and in our hearts as a prayer has also another important dimension: being ready to be part of God’s reply. Although in a somewhat contradictory manner, the last words the apostate Padre Rodriguez says in the novel are very revealing in this regard:
“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.”
Sometimes we expect direct and grand divine interventions in our lives, or hearing clear voices in our ear. Thank God, God does not normally act in that way: he respects the freedom he gave us. But he does intervene in our lives through others, and intervenes in the lives of others through us. Truly and sincerely asking God about his silence involves us very deeply, not only because an abyss which before lay hidden is revealed to us (and this disturbs us deeply), but also incorporates us in Christ’s cry which brings redemption, not only as recipients but also as actors in the drama of salvation.
Image: Paramount (2016) Silence. Available at http://www.silencemovie.com/photos/ (Accessed: 6 February 2017).