God’s Presence in Silence

Though it likely won’t make the splash made by overtly faith-based films like God’s Not DeadFireproof, and Heaven Is For Real, Martin Scorsese’s Silence (now in theaters) is an even more profound meditation on faith and what Lutherans call “the theology of the cross.”

The other movies mentioned often follow a similar story arc:

  • Person has doubts/struggles with faith
  • Something difficult/miraculous happens to said Person
  • Person emerges as a victorious, confident believer

And…roll the credits.

I’m not saying that these films are necessarily bad. I am saying that, when it comes to our actual lived experience of faith in God, they tend to ring pretty hollow.

This is where Silence resonates so clearly.

Based on the novel by the Shusaku Endo, it’s the story of two 17th century Jesuit priests who leave their native Portugal for Japan to investigate the alleged apostasy (renunciation of the faith) of their beloved mentor, a longtime missionary to the East.

At that time Japan was a nation extremely hostile to Christianity. Persecution was widespread, and those who wanted to remain Christians often needed to do so clandestinely, with little to no nurture from pastoral leaders.

The movie depicts the excruciating struggle that the two priests, Fathers Rodrigues and Garrupe (played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, respectively), have in ministering to these covert Christians amid persecution. The question that haunts them is, Why is God silent?

The story, like our lives, offers no neat and tidy answers.

It does, however, promote faithful reflection on the nature of suffering and God’s presence with us in Christ, even—no, especially—when He seems most silent.

According to our “theology of the cross,” if you and I would see God aright we must see Him through the lens of his Son’s crucifixion and resurrection. I can think of few, if any, movies that more faithfully capture this conviction.

I should say that the film is not for everybody. It pulls no punches when it comes to the violence that was perpetrated against Japanese Christians. There were scenes when I simply had to look away. And of course there are also elements of Roman Catholic theology present (they’re Jesuit priests, after all) to which we as Lutherans would object.*

And if you’re looking for another God’s Not Dead, you will be disappointed. It is simply not in that vein. Nor can I necessarily say that you’ll leave the theater feeling “uplifted.” It isn’t an easy watch.

Silence does, however, possess an even greater virtue than being uplifting: it provides an honest depiction of the struggle of faith in this life that rings deeply true.

So if you are open to seeing a beautiful and inspiring—though, no question, challenging—story of God’s presence in suffering, I can hardly think of a better film than Silence.


* In comparison with the book, though, these distinctly Roman theological elements (e.g. devotion to Mary, practice of penance) were mostly toned down.

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