Tuesday, August 8, 2017

If You Deny Me Before Men: A Rebuttal to Martin Scorsese's Silence (2016)

Silence (2016) screenshot.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37–39).

Have you had a chance to see Martin Scorsese's "Silence" rated R?  I had a chance to view it recently, while on a flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta.  The screens in front of each seat offered free entertainment.  And I asked the Lord if there was something I ought to watch that might be instructive to me.  And so I began watching Silence, not even knowing what it was about.

Silence is the story of two Jesuit missionaries who head to Japan to look for a missing missionary; their mentor who had supposedly given up the faith.  Warning, spoilers in this post.  

Now I don't have a lot to say about this movie.  It's by Martin Scorsese who put together "The Last Temptation of Christ" which depicted a Jesus who is not God and who is only a sinful man; Which is factually inaccurate and historically false.  It's no surprise then that "Silence" turned out to be a film with some mixed messages.

The movie Silence is actually based on a novel, and the novel is actually inspired by real events that took place in Japan in the 1700s.  Japan's leaders at first embraced Catholic missionaries, with hundreds of thousands being converted, but later persecutions broke out.  Read more about the history of these events here

Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe, two young padres go in search for their old mentor Father Ferreira in Japan.  They come to Japan, led by a drunken Japanese man named Kichijiro and discover churches in hiding hungry for the word, salvation, and hope.  They serve bravely in several towns, then split up while under persecution from the dreaded Japanese inquisitor.  The inquisitor sees the natural religion of japan as Buddhism, and sees Christianity as a threat.  

Father Garupe is martyred for his faith and Rodrigues is put through a series of persecutions and eventually comes face to face with Ferreira who he discovers has in fact renounced his faith.  

My flight arrived at Atlanta at this time and I had to miss the ending of the 3 hour+ movie.  I was enthralled at this point, and amazed.  I thought what a wonderful witness this movie is to the suffering and victories of Christians during persecution.  I was very excited. I determined to purchase the movie as soon as I possibly could.

I purchased the movie used from a redbox and brought it home and watched it.  The ending was quite disturbing.  Rodrigues is forced to watch five persecuted believers hanging upside down, the blood dripping from incisions in their necks.  Rodrigues, with Ferreira next to him is told he must renounce his faith to save these believers from death.  

A portrait of Christ is put before Him, and he is told to stomp on it. Oddly enough, Christ then speaks through the portrait to Rodrigues telling him to renounce his faith.  Rodrigues renounces his faith, the people are set free and Rodrigues serves the Japanese alongside Ferreira for the rest of his life, takes a Japanese wife and children.  He continuously signs declarations of renunciation of his faith.  Again and again he steps upon the picture of Christ to please the inquisitor.  He dies and is given a Buddhist burial.  But then the camera zooms in to his dead body in the Buddhist basket, and it shows a little cross clutched between his folded hands.  

The implication is that despite Rodrigues renouncing Christ publicly, constantly, and helping the Japanese prevent other Christians from getting into the country, that somehow Rodrigues was still a Christian in his heart and thus somehow still saved.  

I found this a confusing and misleading conclusion to the story. The message is a harmful one to our present generation, in my view.  The message seems to be that under persecution it's OK to renounce Christ, and that you can just pretend and be a Christian in your heart to the end.  That is not true, according to God's word.  The word of God says quite clearly:

Matthew 10:32-33 "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. "

These are the word of Jesus Christ.  And Jesus is the last one who would whisper to us and ask us to deny our faith.  In fact, all the great martyrs across Christian history all died refusing to deny their faith, including all the disciples of Christ aside from John who died of old age.  

Just to name a few who were killed for their faith and refused to renounce Christ: The first martyr Stephen, Justin Martyr, Polycarp, St. Agnes, Perpetua, Joan of Arc, St. Thomas Becket, William Tyndale, Jim Elliot, Arthur Bell, and of course the twenty-six martyrs of Japan who died in Nagasaki. 

What did all these saints have in common?  When pressured, when threatened with death, when threatened with the death of friends and family and fellow believers, they all refused to renounce Jesus Christ because they understood an eternal perspective: that suffering today is nothing compared to the glory that awaits in the next life.  To live is Christ and to die is gain.  That is the truth about martyrdom.  And any fool who renounces Christ under persecution has lost a great deal indeed.  They've traded worldly relief, for eternal glory when it would've been much wiser to embrace the most severe suffering for the sake of upholding Christ and suffering for Him.  

Christ gives us the strength in those moments to endure. Scorsese's "Silence" portrays an earthly perspective when showing Rodrigues forsaking Christ to prevent the death of would-be martyrs for Christ.  I would hope and I do believe at that moment that any true follower of Christ would be filled with Holy Spirit strength to understand that those dying would receive a great reward in heaven and that they ought to offer up their lives.  My hope would be that the strength of the Lord in the Spirit would give me the strength to say: "I will never renounce Christ.  What you do, do quickly."  

The title of the film "Silence" seems to refer to the fact that Rodrigues wanted an audible message from God, and more so, reflects the struggle about the problem of evil in the film: Why does God allow such terrible things to happen to His children?  Rodrigues struggles with the silence of God throughout the film, but seems to come to understand that Jesus was not silent, but was with him through all of it, suffering alongside him.  That is a true message, certainly, the master is always silent during the pupil's test.  

Yet the message of renouncing Christ and working for your enemies is quite disturbing. So I'd encourage you in this: If and when you face persecution and death at the hands of evil men, remember: You must never renounce Christ.  Hold to Christ, if you confess Christ before men, Christ will confess you as His friend before the Heavenly Father.  Never forget that.  We must have the witness in us.  

The writer of Hebrews recounts the examples of powerful biblical faith in chapter 11 of that book when he concludes his descriptions of the great saints of faith saying: 

"How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and all the prophets. By faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.Women received their loved ones back again from death.

But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half,[d] and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground." -Hebrews 11:32-38. (emphasis added by me)

In conclusion, stand for your faith. Don't deny Christ, it does have consequences. Does that mean that Christ can't forgive that? No, Christ can forgive all sin.  We need only come to Him, ask His forgiveness and repent.  Recall that Peter denied Jesus three times when Jesus was being persecuted and falsely accused. But Peter repented, and he was later crucified upside-down. He professed Jesus to the end, despite denying Him earlier in his life. We can repent even of denying Christ, but that repentance must include action that shows we've become faithful once again. Like Kichijiro in the film, we can repent and ask God's forgiveness many times, but if our repentance isn't accompanied by a change of actions, it means nothing.

So finally I'd like to encourage you to pray for Japan. Japan has gone through terrible persecutions. Even today Japan is one of the most unchurched countries in the world, being 98% non-Christian. Please pray for the people of this country, that they would come to know Christ. And always confess Christ before men, because then Christ will confess us before the Father.

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