First off, I’d like to say that this book was amazing. I was hesitant to read it because of the controversial ending, but once I started I couldn’t put it down and finished it the same night.
What attracted me to the novel was the similarity to the film “The Mission”, that being Jesuits missionaries preaching the Gospel to a foreign people. The book is set in Japan circa 1630s, the Church has received word that one of their best and most devout missionaries has apostatized and is actually helping the Japanese government hunt down and persecute hidden Christian communities. Two Jesuits, Sebastian Rodriguez and Francisco Garrpe, are sent to investigate and at the same time nurture the Christian community which is being persecuted.
I won’t give details as to what happens as the novel progresses but the Passion of Christ is used as a template to explain the persecution of Christians as well as the thought process of someone who will or will not die for his faith. The controversy is not in the actual final scene of the last chapter or so, but is the underlining theme: the silence of God. The idea that God’s silence leads to two roads, one is to have blind faith and trust that God will redeem his children or to reject God. How many times have we asked for signs but then been reprimanded with the familiar saying “thou shall not tempt the Lord”? “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe”. Faith and the human condition clash, not only in the novel but in our own lives. Christ commands us to pray and ask our Heavenly Father for support, ask and you shall receive…But what happens when you ask and have faith but only silence is what you get? How many people have given up on God and become atheists or unbelievers because of the torture of that silence? Can we blame someone for walking away or apostatizing their faith when they have hit rock bottom and the merciful God (unlike a sadist, some may claim) remains silent and allows things to get worse? We all have our crosses to bear, yet at the same time God does not give a burden we cannot handle, and so it goes and so it goes.
The book indirectly asks, if God sees us at this breaking point, the point were we rather deny Him and fall from grace due to his silence than go on, why in His Infinite wisdom does he allow us to walk away? Not a popular way to keep your flock and make it grow when God is not active in people’s lives. It be said that faith in an unresponsive God leads to atheism, after all what good is a God that does not act or respond when we are desperate need than a God that does not exist? Add on to this that it is God Himself that says pray and I will hear you that I will love and comfort you and then…Silence.
This book is controversial because it asks the tough questions that people are afraid to address, because it leads the mind to the what if questions that may or may not lead to the conclusion that perhaps there is no God.
One piece of very important scripture that Endo never addressed was this: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will”. This, I feel, is the most important piece of scripture when dealing with God’s silence. His own son prays for the pain and suffering to pass (as any normal sane person would which adds to his humanity beautifully). The total abandonment to God’s will is not something all of us could do, in fact Endo has a coward character that represents the apostate vs. the martyr. The coward cries that God made me weak, it is not my fault I cannot suffer for Him, it’s his fault that I run from pain and persecution. As Christ’s crucifixion is the ultimate act of love and mercy for mankind, our acceptance to God’s silence and to suffer for Him is our human act of love towards Him. Ultimately, Endo, a Catholic himself, concludes that in our suffering Christ suffers with us, even more than us, knowing all to well the prayer he prayed to His father for the pain to pass but being only meet with Silence.
The ending is heart wrenching, the words of Christ when facing hate and persecution floor you. Endo does a beautiful job in conveying the merciful compassionate forgiving love of Jesus even in the face of total betrayal. I highly recommend this novel, it forces you to grow in your faith and when confronted with God’s silence, which we all will, how to deal and respond to it, instead of becoming like the coward who runs away and looses faith and becomes an unbeliever.