You pray. You pray a lot. You pray for a long time. The need is great. You pray some more. People are being tortured and dying horrible deaths. You pray more, and harder. And then you get…
That "nothing" is the heart of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, the story of two Portuguese priests in Japan in the 1600s during a time of great Christian persecution. Published in 1969, the novel is based on a true story. One of the priests, Father Sebastian Rodrigues, is imprisoned and gets to listen to the moans and cries of native Japanese Christians being tortured. The other priest, Father Christovao Ferreira, has already apostatized and abandoned his faith, convinced that Christianity does not apply to Japan.
Endo, himself a Catholic, explores this silence of God. How can God be silent, as in “do nothing,” as his people are persecuted, tortured and killed? How can God allow such awful suffering and remain silent, even as His people earnestly and sincerely seek His face and His answers?
Agnostics and atheists often ask the same question. If there is a God, then how could He allow such injustice, destruction, depravity and suffering? How could he allow an impoverished country like Haiti be destroyed, with 150,000 dead and untold misery? How?
I’d like to let agnostics and atheists in on a secret. Christians struggle with the same question. It is as hard for us to comprehend this as it is for others who reject any notion of God. The difference is, we struggle and pray through the question, and we keep struggling and praying even when the answer appears to be silence.
Pat Robertson’s statement notwithstanding, I don’t believe that earthquakes, hurricanes and other natural disasters are by definition God’s judgment being meted out. But I do know that when these events happen, God expects his people to respond.
And when they do, there is no silence.
Previous posts on Shusaku Endo’s Silence:
Shusaku Endo’s “Silence”
“Silence:” How Do You Betray Your Faith?
“Silence:” Is Christianity True or “Cultural?”
Silence is the first book to be discussed this year by the Reader’s Guild of the International Arts Movement. For the month of February, the book is The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon.