Why would a good God allow evil to exist in the world? The silence we encounter while reading the book is the silence we go through after we have tried in vain to avoid suffering and persecution.
Endo’s novel, written in 1966, is based on real events and people. The story occurs in 1638 and revolves around a Jesuit priest, Sebastian Rodrigues, who discovers that his former mentor, Father Ferreira, now a missionary in Japan, has apostatized (he renounced his faith under torture). Rodrigues doubts this and wants to go to Japan to find for himself but also encourage the hidden and persecuted Christians there.While hiding, running from the Japanese authorities and finally being imprisoned, Rodrigues battles with his faith and questions why God is silent in all this suffering.
I, too, stood on the sacred image. For a moment this foot was on his face. It was on the face of the man who has been ever in my thoughts, on the face that was before me on the mountains, in my wanderings, in prison, on the best and most beautiful face that any man can ever know, on the face of him whom I have always longed to love. Even now that face is looking at me with eyes of pity from the plaque rubbed flat by many feet. 'Trample !' said those compassionate eyes. 'Trample ! Your foot suffers in pain ; it must suffer like all the feet that have stepped on this plaque. But that pain alone is enough. I understand your pain and your suffering. It is for that reason that I am here.' ‚
'Lord, I resented your silence.'
'I was not silent. I suffered beside you.'
'But you told Judas to go away : What thou dost do quickly. What happened to Judas?'
'I did not say that. Just as I told you to step on the plaque, so I told Judas to do what he was going to do. For Judas was in anguish as you are now.' (307)
Endo, a Christian himself, suffered religious discrimination and this novel is his response to the near impossibility of the Eastern and Western cultures existing harmoniously.
Reading this beautiful novel I asked myself whether we, as human beings meant to err, do not emulate, at times, one by one, Father Ferreira, Father Rodrigues or Kichijiro, a Judas-like figure. Aren’t we the ones who do not give up hope no matter what, who question God’s existence and ask to be forgiven no matter how intolerable our sins may be? Or, as Father Ferreira, we change our views and give up our own beliefs because the circumstances demand we do so… Don’t we sacrifice ourselves for the ones we love thus changing forever our dreams and hopes?
Rodrigues apostatizes but this is not the end. It is in his heart that the love for Christ still lingers and the place where God will answer his prayers and questions.
“He who has heard the word of God, can bear his Silence.” Saint Ignatius
Read for my own pleasure and for Bellezza's Japanese Reading Challenge.
P.S. Scorsese's movie, which appeared at the end of last year, is a wonderful rendition of the novel.