Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son. . . Hebrews 1:12
I rarely darken the door of a movie theater unless the attraction is an historical epic film or possibly an epic high-fantasy film such as “Lord of the Rings.” Last week some close friends invited Brian and I to see the historical drama “Silence,” directed by Martin Scorsese. “Silence” is based on a 1966 novel by Japanese author Shusaku Endo, who sets the story in 17th century Japan during the time of Kakure Kirishitan (“Hidden Christians”), where Christianity was outlawed. The over-arching theme is that of a silent God who does not eliminate suffering but suffers with his followers. This is played out as two Jesuit priests travel to Japan in search of their mentor in the faith who has reportedly apostatized.
To say the film is difficult to watch would be an understatement. The unbridled pain accosts you on multiple levels with little time to process before you are transported to a new level of suffering. While many questions are raised, none are answered. I found my heart screaming repeatedly, “Where is the Gospel? Where is the Word of God?” I walked out of the theater shrouded in despair.
However, I believe God had a reason for my seeing this film. It has a haunting effect that draws me back to the unanswered questions, moving me to exploration from a variety of perspectives. I am a Christian in America. I attend Voice of the Martyr conferences with the same couple that took my husband and I to see this movie. I need to think about the realities of persecution and remember that it’s not a relic of man’s past: it is expanding rapidly across the globe. If nothing else, this movie portrayed the reality of persecution in a vivid, heart-wrenching display. As I stared at the screen, I couldn’t help but think of my brothers and sisters suffering around the world because they are faithfully following Jesus on the Calvary road.
Our friends have also been pondering this film. Silence has impacted them in a different way. The wife, Hitomi, is Japanese. She shared her unique perspective with me this morning and I found it passionate, compelling, and even a little encouraging. With her permission, I am sharing it with you. As you read it, will you join us in praying for the advance of the Gospel in Japan?
I Became a Christian in the Land of the Swamp
Written by Hitomi Blake, January 21, 2017
Why is it that only less than one percent of the population in Japan is Christian?
Syncretism – no concept about Only One God. People worship ancestors, nature, and animals.
Worshipping ancestors is very important, especially for the firstborn boys. Usually, the firstborn sons take care of their parents and ancestors’ grave yard. If they become Christians, they must give up these important responsibilities.
Unity – wa culture. Here are some funny stereotypes that compare how to motivate people.
-If you want to motivate Chinese people, you should tell them, “If you do this, you will be rich.”
-If you want to motivate Americans, you should tell them, “If you do this, you will be a hero.”
-If you want to motivate Italians, you should tell them, “If you do this, you will be popular.”
-If you want to motivate Japanese, just tell them, “everyone else is doing this.”
Group work and unity with others are very important for Japanese people. Doing the same thing with others is also important. It is a more serious matter than “keeping up with Jones”. Thus, if any Japanese people become Christians, they will be rare and in the minority; in other words, they will not fit in with the 99%. If Japanese become Christians, they will face difficult situations at funerals or weddings, or even business activities because these events are strongly influenced by Buddhism. Throughout daily life there are countless examples where Japanese people feel strong pressure to conform.
Shame – haji culture. Japanese people are afraid of haji, or shame, for their reputation. If Japanese people make mistakes, they feel haji, but not guilt. The meaning of the word haji encompasses doing noticeable and different things from others. Becoming a Christian means getting attention from others. That is haji.
Because Japanese culture values haji culture, it is very difficult for them to understand the concept of sin. When I was a child, there were only two Christian Churches in my town; one was a Protestant Church, and the other was a Catholic Church. I met two Mormon missionaries in my childhood, but there were no Protestant missionaries in my hometown back then. I never saw a Bible, never heard about Jesus, and never met real Christians until I became 22 years old.
Only less than 1% of Japan is Christian, so most Japanese will never even meet a single Christian in their entire life. If so, how can they hear the Gospel? How will they know about the One True Living God? Yet we know that God’s Hands are not too short to save Japanese people.
The movie “Silence” is controversial among evangelical Christians in America because there is no true Gospel presented in the movie. Also, the Catholic missionaries didn’t show their faith to trust in the Lord even unto death on the cross. They didn’t follow Christ’s example, and they were timid Catholics who taught the wrong theology to Japanese believers. They were not Christian heroes. Sadly, this is the history of Christianity in Japan. I wish Europeans had sent Protestant missionaries to Japan at that time and brought the Bible to the Japanese.
Interestingly, this movie became a phenomenon in Japan, even before the movie was released. Many people among the young generation are becoming very curious about kirishitan – early Japanese Catholic Christians and the history of Christianity of Japan.
Since I came to America, I have been learning deeper Reformed theology because there are so many good resources available in this country. God blessed America! This country was established by those who valued Christian heritage. However, Japanese Christians seem generally to take only milk and do not often taste the “spiritual meat”. There are so few pastors and Reformed materials translated into Japanese. When I was in Japan, I had no idea about “TULIP,” nor had I heard of Calvinism, Arminianism, or even Jonathan Edwards.
In the movie “Silence,” the Inquisitor articulately describes the soil of Japan as a swamp where nothing foreign could be planted. But I became a Christian in the country whose soil is a swamp. God can use whatever he wants to open peoples’ hearts, even mine. Even such a sinner as I became a Christian by God’s power!
For those who know biblical truth and understand biblical theology, it is easy to say that the movie “Silence” was a disappointing movie or useless because it was not a real Christian movie. But we don’t seek the truth in a Hollywood movie. We are already Christians; we know the truth, Reformed theology, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Catechism, etc. But for those who have never heard the Gospel and for those who have never met Christians, this movie appears to be intriguing and to have a deep meaning, especially for the Japanese.
I believe that God can use even the movie “Silence” to open the eyes of Japanese people to think about the real meaning of life and death. If some Japanese watch this movie, and even just one of them becomes curious about Christianity and decides to go to church to learn more, it would be great! That would be a start into the exploration of who God is. That would be a great beginning in the land of the “swamp.”