Monday, January 21, 2008

Silence, Part 2: Grounds for Apostasy?

Almost a month ago I finished the book Silence by Shusako Endo (I’ll keep the link on the margin for another week or so). Here’s the link to the first post ( It was a fascinating and powerful book about the challenges of Catholicism taking root in Japan. The title comes from the bewilderment of where God is in suffering – why is He silent? I’ll get to that one on the next post. But for now I want to touch on the persecution.

Persecution helped strengthen the church in Japan until a priest recanted his faith. In fact, the priests at home couldn’t believe that he had recanted and the story is about the sending of a pair of priests to investigate to see if Priest A had, in fact, given up the faith. It turns out, after some searching, Priest A had forsaken the faith. What made him give it up, apostasize?

The persecutors tortured the people while the priest had to listen. The priest goes so far as to say that because Jesus loves these people He would do the merciful thing and Himself recant to spare them suffering. The right thing to do is to turn your back on God so people won’t suffer.

That sounds so compassionate, so loving. But is it true? Certainly it would end their temporal suffering and any guilt you might have for their suffering. But it seems to fall into the trap of many contemporary movies. I think of Bruce Almighty and Bedazzled where redemption comes from altruism, from loving someone else more than yourself. It gets you out of your deal with the devil or is the real lesson God would have us learn. But is it? Don’t get me wrong; it is vitally important. I believe such humility and love for others is essential fruit of the gospel. But it isn’t the main goal.

There’s an unsettling verse in John that I preached on a while back and that I reviewed when dealing with humanity and sin in my ordination paper. “He” is the Holy Spirit that Jesus is promising to send to the disciples.

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me – John 16.8-9
I like to think of sin as bad things – and it is – but there’s more. It is missing the mark. It is missing who God has called us to be. Namely, a follower of Jesus. We honor Him and believe in Him first and foremost. As much as we might want to please people and ease their suffering, it cannot come at the expense of honoring Jesus the King.

This leads to the question, “Why is God silent in our suffering?” I’ll give the Silence answer to that one next, which may not answer the whole issue, but it is still powerful.

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