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Imagine this: you’re captured by those hostile to Christianity and given a choice. If you step on the picture of Jesus, the authorities will release the other prisoners. If you don’t, they’ll continue torturing them to death, although you yourself will be spared. What would you do?

This is the central question in Silence by Shusaku Endo, and certainly elicits many different responses. Some of my cousins and I think that it’s better not to let the other suffer, since God knows our motives, while one of my Church School classmates reasons that this is a good opportunity for the ones being tortured to ‘test their faith’.

Silence is based on the true story of the Portuguese Father Roderigues. Set in the 1600s, Christianity is banned and all believers are persecuted and tortured beyond belief. It is within this context that Father Roderigues arrives to Japan, trying to keep the Faith alive. In a manner that is sort of parallels our Lord, he is persecuted, betrayed and finally captured and the scenario in the first paragraph is posed to him.
Father Roderigues faces two forms of ‘torture’. One is the torture from the secular authorities, and the other, is what he sees as the silence of God. It is interesting to see that Endo does not take the conventional answer to the question of the silence of God, but has a unique answer to it.

The narrative is easy to read. It jumps between diary entries, letters and a conventional narrative style, although it is the conventional narrative that takes up most of the book. As a translated text, I’m happy with the translation by William Johnston, although reading it in English omits some of the more subtle Japanese meanings.

Before I end, I should attempt to describe the author a little: Shusaku Endo is a very rare Japanese – he is a Catholic. He’s also a superb novelist whose books with obvious Christian themes, such as this one, have become famous within Japan. He tried to portray the “mother love” of God through his books, because he feels that the Japanese understand the “Father love” of God, but not His maternal aspect. That’s why, in this book, he explores the nature of sacrifice at a great personal cost. However, this does not mean that what he writes reflects the conventional thinking of the Japanese Church, in fact, his books are seen as controversial and Silence, in particular, is seen as less than fair to the Japanese martyrs.

I do, however, heartily recommend this book. It’s a rare gem of a novel that vividly brings forth the suffering of the Japanese Christians, a group of people that I think tend to be overlooked. At the same time, it gives us the chance to consider, if we were in this position, could we also say:

“But our Lord was not silent. Even if he had been silent, my life until this day would have spoken of him.”


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Published on 22 November, 2011. Last updated on

6 Comments

  1. Corey P.

    Looks like an interesting book, lots to think about. Thanks for the review! 🙂

    However, regarding the question you asked at the beginning: I really don’t think the first answer – i.e. “go ahead and step on it, since God knows your motives” – is a viable one, nice as it sounds.

    If such a way of thinking is correct, why did the early martyrs of the Church not follow it? When given the option of denying Christ or being slain, tortured, or disfigured, they chose the latter. And I think few would argue that they were wrong in doing so.

    Words mean something. That’s why if you can’t get up and take a verbal stand for something you believe in, it’s probably not worth believing in anyway.

    Just something to consider. 🙂

  2. Eustacia Tan

    True. But in this case(unlike the early martyrs), the torture is no longer about yourself. You’re actually putting other people at harm. I mean, if it was me they’re torturing, then it’s something I can take. But to torture innocent people? I’m not sure if I’m willing to have others suffer for my sake, since I’m not God. But that’s just my opinion, this question is rather controversial after all(:

  3. Corey P.

    But the early martyrs did not merely face suffering for themselves. Their wives, children, and friends were all subjected to it as well. Numerous such cases can be found in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

  4. Eustacia Tan

    True. I’m very thankful God placed me here, because I’m confused about the whole question. It’s the scenario from the book actually. The details are that you don’t know these people and if you do step, they will not hunt down the Christians anymore and leave them in peace… Hmm… Maybe you should read the book, because if I keep elaborating, there’ll be spoilers. Do you know where to find Foxe’s Book of Matytrs?

  5. Corey P.

    I believe you can find several different copies on Amazon.com. You should check it out – it’s a must-read. 🙂 I, on the other hand, may just have to hunt Endo’s book down so I can give it a look.

    Regarding whether or not you personally “know” the Christians they’re hunting down… they’re still your brothers and sisters in Christ. And to them (as well as to you), “it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29)

    Thanks for the discussion. 😀

  6. Eustacia Tan

    True, I haven’t considered that aspect before… Hmm… I believe Endo is rather widely translated in America(: I shall check my Church library I guess. Thanks for the discussion, it brought up many points I didn’t see before(:

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