Silence by Shusaku Endo

It is relatively easy for me to be a Christian in the United States. I take for granted the privileges that I have: to worship, to congregate, to dress as I please with regard only to my own sense of propriety. This novel took everything that I understand about living for Christ and placed it under glass for reexamination.

The novel opens with a Portuguese priest, Christavao Ferreira, apostatizing. What is that? It’s putting your foot on an image of Christ and denying that you believe in Him. Ferreira had been a priest in Japan for thirty three years, with tremendous influence and importance. He had three students: Garrpe, Santa Marta and Rodriguez. It is Rodriguez’ life as a priest in Japan that we most closely follow throughout the novel.

He went willingly into a Japanese civilization where Christians are persecuted by the authorities. They fight poverty and hatred, hunger and rejection, but worst of all to me was the torture that was inflicted on those who believed. Some were hung suspended by crosses placed at the edge of the sea, so that when the tide came in they eventually died from struggling to breath above it. Others were wrapped in straw mats, rowed out into the ocean and thrown overboard to drown. Still others were suspended in pits, with incisions placed above their ears so that the blood could drain out slowly, drop by drop, making death exceedingly drawn out and painful.

Rodriguez bravely faces all of this, convinced that he will endure, certain that he would never apostatize. Until the night that he hears the moaning of three Christians who have apostatized to no avail. They will hang suspended until Rodriguez himself denies his faith.

At one point in the novel, those who believe are told that stepping on the fumie (the picture of Christ) does not signify what goes on in one’s heart:

The officials kept insisting to the Christians that to trample on the fumie was no more than a formality. All you had to do was to put your foot on it. If you did that, nobody cared what you believed. In accordance with orders from the magistrate, you were asked to put your foot lightly on the fumie; and then you would immediately be released. (p. 116)

But, don’t our actions reflect our hearts? How can we say we believe in one instance, and deny it in another? This is the terrible dilemma afflicting Rodriguez; he cannot bring himself to deny Christ, but neither can he bear the suffering of those suspended in the pit because he won’t.

Over all of this, is the concept of God’s silence. Why is He silent when His people suffer? Such a difficult question. Or, does the title also imply that His people should be silent as well? If we’re silent, we’re not voicing our denial, which has such serious implications according to the Bible:

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the Antichrist-he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:23

Tanabata is holding a read-along for this fascinating book on June 28. Won’t you join us for what’s bound to be a very thought provoking discussion?

“Christovao Ferreira was a Portuguese Jesuit priest who served as a missionary in Japan during the the Tokugawa period. Under torture, he agreed to apostasy, and continued to live in Japan. Later becoming a Zen priest, he published a pamphlet in 1636 which attacked Christianity and endorsed the official Neo-Confucian views of the Japanese elite. His pamphlet criticizes Catholicism from the inside, using as weapons biblical science, Averroist Aristotlism, Erasmianism, and Marranism.” (source)

Revisiting A Wonderful Fool

When someone is outrageously rude I am shocked into silence. I stand there, like a fool, unable to think of one single thing to say back.

It’s been like that since I was a child. I was taught to love others, or at least be kind, and I have learned that lesson so well it’s almost a fault. I need more lessons in how to stand up for myself.

Ever since I finished reading Shusaku Endo’s Wonderful Fool two nights ago, I’m unable to think of much else. It is a book which has profoundly affected me, as I ponder this dilemma: is being loving the same as being a fool?

Gaston Bonaparte, a Frenchman, has come to Tokyo with a purpose we do not understand until the conclusion of the novel. Over and over, he is embroiled in a volatile situation in which he is being beaten, or he’s cold and hungry, or he’s taken advantage of in one way or another. As the sister of his friend looks at Gaston’s departing train she thinks,

“He’s not a fool. He’s not a fool. Or, if he is, he’s a wonderful fool. For the first time in her life Tomoe came to the realization that there are fools and fools. A man who loves others with an open-hearted simplicity, who trusts others, no matter who they are, even if he is deceived or even betrayed – such a man in the present-day world is bound to be written off as a fool. And so he is. But not just an ordinary fool. He is a wonderful fool. He is a wonderful fool who will never allow the little light which he sheds along man’s way to go out. It was the first time this thought had occurred to her.” (p. 180)

What do you think? Is it possible to be a wonderful fool? Is it foolish to love, and trust, even in the face of betrayal? Is there ever a time when one should allow a little “light shedding” to cease?