We’d rather stay with comfortable lies than face unpleasant truths.
I spent my formative Christian years in Evangelicalism. This world hands out books of God’s promises: Bible verses, yanked from context, that suggest God is in the business of answering prayers and meeting my “needs” and desires.
The evangelical world swims in proof-texts and contentions that God always answer prayers. Although to get God off the hook, it is OK for God to say “Wait” or even “No,” the core idea is that whatever we pray in Jesus name must be positively answered.
God not answering? Well then, God is angry and trying to “teach” us something with a bit of punishment. Or perhaps even giving us the silent treatment. But it’s always human error that precipitates the silence. God must never be at fault.
But God is at fault.
The Silence of God
The DVD of the Martin Scorcese movie “Silence” is in current release.
Plot summary: In the 17th century, two young and idealistic Portuguese priests, Francisco Garrpe and Sebastian Rodriques, set off for Japan to find their mentor, Father Christovao Ferriera. Rumors had reached Rome that this great priest, after torture, had “apostatized,” i.e., betrayed his faith.
Despite the absolute assurance that God is on their side, Garrpe and Rodriques discover that the God on their side does not appear to also be on the side of a group of extraordinarily faithful Japanese Christians.
The persecution is real and unrelenting.
Father Rodriques chronicles the search for Ferriera. He records these thoughts on the day that three of the men from the village are being carried away for torture for not revealing the secret presence of those very priests among them.
Two of those are extremely righteous men, and are never seen again. The third is the deeply degraded, drunk, and cowardly Kichijiro, who had connected the priests with the villagers.
I do not believe that God has given us this trial to no purpose. I know that the day will come when we will clearly understand why this persecution with all its sufferings has been bestowed upon us for everything that Our Lord does is for our good. And yet even as I write these words I feel the oppressive weight in my heart of those last stammering words of Kichijiro on the morning of his departure. ‘Why has Deus Sama imposed this suffering upon us?’ And then the resentment in those eyes that he turned upon me. ‘Father,’ he had said, ‘what evil have we done?’
I suppose I should simply cast from my mind these meaningless words of the coward; yet why does his plaintive voice pierce my breast with all the pain of a sharp needle? Why has Our Lord imposed this torture and this persecution on poor Japanese peasants? No, Kichijiro was trying to express something different, something even more sickening. The silence of God. Already twenty years have passed since the persecution broke out; the black soil of Japan has been filled with the lament of so many Christians; the red blood of priests has flowed profusely; the walls of the churches have fallen down; and in the face of this terrible and merciless sacrifice offered up to Him God has remained silent. This was the problem that lay behind the plaintive question of Kichijiro.
A religious world enmeshed in lies
When I finally left Evangelicalism, I did so among other reasons because I could no longer deal with a world so enmeshed in lies.
Lies about “absolute truths” that effectively enshrined oppression of women and the sexually different.
Lies that gave powerful men leeway to escape accountability about their own immoralities as long as they kept money flowing in.
Lies about the lack of “contradictions” in the inerrant text that happens to be littered with irreconcilable statements.
But mostly lies about how God will answer all those prayers and keep all faithful Christians safe. Those lies clear God of all responsibility for human horrors but still insist He (always “he”) stays in total control of everything.
Silence, a difficult movie to see (and a difficult book to read, as I am now discovering) will lay bare all pretense, all our covering up for God. Silence stops in its tracks the lies that good humans won’t suffer. It strips away any surety that our right actions and beliefs will bring the results we want.
In the end, Silence will show you that God is God anyway. That God cares far less about our righteousness than about our real compassion for others–and for ourselves.
Yeah, it’s a tough movie. It’s also exquisitely made and totally compelling. One more thing: Silence will free you from lying about God.
The Rev. Dr. Christy Thomas, AKA The Thoughtful Pastor, describes herself as "an opinionated Jesus-follower, a retired elder in the United Methodist church, a questioner of everything, and a lover of grace." An author and newspaper columnist, she blogs at The Thoughtful Pastor on Patheos.com, from which this post is republished with the author's permission.