Today’s posts are going to be largely about faith, perhaps because The Season is upon us and the Internet full of religion.
From the Aussie ABC we hear of a new movie by Martin Scorsese, a reliably good director. The critically acclaimed film, called “Silence,” is about the absence of God, but of course that doesn’t mean there isn’t a god. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation gives a bit of the plot:
Set in 17th century Japan, Silence portrays a Portuguese Jesuit Priest ministering in secret to a hounded and persecuted minority Christian population in villages around Nagasaki.
Father Sebastião Rodrigues is forced to watch helplessly as various members of his flock in the hand of the Japanese “Inquisition” are set on fire, slowly tortured with boiling water, drowned, hanged or beheaded in front of him. Rodrigues screams out to his God for mercy, intervention or even just a word. In return he hears nothing.
It is the weight of that silence that Scorsese explores in his adaptation of the novel by Shusaku Endo. He took almost three decades to make the film after first reading the novel in 1989 and it is clearly a profoundly personal exploration of a pressing dilemma for someone of Scorsese’s faith: Where is God in the darkness?
Indeed, one might well ask that question. If Nessie hasn’t shown up in Scotland, and there was plenty of opportunity for that reptile to have done so, including deliberate submersible attempts to find it, then one can reasonably conclude that there is no Nessie. But, according to the ABC—and Christians—God is different. When He doesn’t show up, well, it’s not because he isn’t there. He’s just wily and enigmatic!
By the end of Silence, Scorsese’s priest Rodrigues looks in more than one sense utterly defeated. His dreams are in tatters. Death is all around him. His whole identity has been wrenched from his grasp and his formidable resolve cruelly beaten out of him.
And yet, the silence of God does not mean the absence of God. It is in the silence that Rodrigues senses the presence of God suffering beside him. This is the God he believes feels deeply the injustices large and small that humans inflict on one another; who enters the human drama as a child and fully engages with the human experience.
It’s only in religion—in faith—that the absence of evidence is taking for evidence of presence. And really—God engages with the human experience as a passive spectator, as His children are tortured and he won’t help them? He only feels those injustices in his “engagement”? Only in religion can you get the tortured logic of theodicy.
Now one can say that that is Scorsese’s take on the movie, but I’m pretty sure it’s also the opinion of the piece’s writer, Simon Smart. After all, this isn’t a movie review, but an “opinion” piece, and the ABC describes Simon Smart like this:
Simon Smart is a Director of the Centre for Public Christianity and the co-author with Jane Caro, Antony Loewenstein and Rachel Woodlock of For God’s Sake – An Atheist, a Jew, a Christian and a Muslim Debate Religion. A former history and English teacher, he studied theology at Regent College, Vancouver. He is the author of a number of books including Bright Lights Dark Nights – the Enduring Faith of 13 Remarkable Australians.
So we can take the analysis above as Smart’s theology as well. He ends like this:
The Christmas story claims to be, out of the void, a moment of profound communication — a break in the silence between a creator and his creatures — God drawing near to us. Our literature and art has for centuries reflected the mysterious wonder of the incarnation and the sense that it represents the best hope that, despite appearances to the contrary, we are not alone in the universe.
That’s a remarkable statement (and an obscure one), for what gives “the best hope. . . that we are not alone in the universe” is not evidence, but a “story” in an ancient book. That story isn’t made more credible by centuries of “wonder.” Nor does Scorsese’s film appear to add any credibility. But such is faith, defined by Hebrews 1:11 as “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Here’s the film’s official trailer: