Throughout the time span of the world’s existence, the survival of Christianity has proven over and over again that God is sovereign and worthy of our worship. The story told in the novel, Silence, is one prime example of how Christianity has withstood the tests of time and tribulation, despite Japan’s attempt to reject the Gospel. During the era in which the events of Silence took place, Japan resisted the spread of Western influence, including the infiltration of the Christian religion into their culture (Hicks, November 4, 2019). Meanwhile, the Christians in the West were determined that it was their duty to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Though many people groups have attempted to terminate the worship of Christ throughout time, Christianity still exists today. God is sovereign and always in control, even when it appears to man that He is silent. The novel, Silence, gives evidence to the successful spread of Christianity despite Japan’s opposition and persecution of Western missionaries who were determined to share the Gospel even when God appeared to be silent.
The novel, Silence, is based on a culmination of letters written by Sebastian Rodrigues that were assembled into a fictional narrative by Skūsaku Endō in 1969. Skūsaku Endō was born in Tokyo and spent his childhood in Japanese-occupied Manchuria and Japan. His aunt was very influential in his religious conversion to Catholicism at the age of eleven (Silence, About the Author). As an adult, he spent many hours researching the true meaning of Christianity. He spent his college years at Keio University where he earned a BA in French literature and later attended the University of Lyon for three years studying Catholic fiction. (New World Encyclopedia, Endo Shusaku). His childhood experiences, formal education, and extensive study of Christianity allowed him to write Silence in a manner which gives it credibility. The characters and their experiences seem authentic in their realistic setting that he portrays. Endō is an award-winning author and writes his most famous work, Silence, from the Christian perspective of a Japanese Catholic (New World Encyclopedia, Endo Shusaku).
The setting of Silence occurs in Japan during a time when this country is making great efforts to protect their newly unified country. After Japan’s civil strife, Oda Nobunaga began the desperately needed unification of Japan. Following his leadership was Toyotomi Hideyoshi who continued this unification process and ruled in what is commonly referred to as the Momoyama period (New World Encyclopedia, Toyotomi Hideyoshi). Content with the reformed country, Hideyoshi did not want anything to disrupt what they had just worked so hard to rebuild. Hideyoshi was opposed to any trade with the Western world due to the negative influence it might have on their purified country (Hicks, November 4, 2019). Concerned that the growth of Christianity would hinder his power, Hideyoshi did not allow missionaries to remain in Japan and outlawed Christianity (PBS). Because of concern that Japan’s own citizens would be influenced by traveling to Western countries, Tokugawa Shogunate later established similar edicts restricting Japanese ships from departing the country (Document 3). However, this did not stop missionaries from ministering to the Japanese as shown in Hideyoshi’s edict that the Japanese “were receiving false teachings from the Christian countries” (Document 2). The Christians that were successful in infiltrating the country, spread the Gospel throughout. The Japanese leaders recognized this and continually made laws regarding Christianity. An example of this is found in an edict of Hideyoshi saying that one can only become a follower of a priest by his own will, and not be illegally forced to follow the padre (Document 1). This intolerance of Christianity is evident throughout the novel, Silence. The government halted the trade relationships with the Portuguese, and Inoue persecuted the Christians (Silence, Preface). According to Silence, throughout Japan’s history there was an effort to stop the spread of Christianity in order to protect the recent unification (Hicks, November 4, 2019). However, God had a different plan, and His Word survived these times of rejection.
Due to Japan’s hard work investing in rebuilding their country, they did not want the Western influence of Christianity to negatively impact their unity and homogeneity. Toyotomi Hideyoshi led Japan through the end of this reconstruction period. Therefore, he personally feared that the Western culture would “come like a plague” into his country. Because of this concern, cruel actions were placed on the Christians by the Japanese (Hicks, November 4, 2019). Their laws were backed by severe punishment. The first example of these occurrences was the San Felipe incident in 1596. This act of persecution resulted in the death of twenty-six Christian men to prove that the government was serious (Tofugu). We see further evidence of similar events in the novel, Silence. Rodrigues was put into prison for several days because Kichijirō told authorities that Rodrigues was a Christian (Silence, 126-128). Mokichi and Ichizo refused to renounce their faith and became martyrs as they died from the torture of water punishment. This was a technique where the Japanese would tie Christians to a post on the shore of the sea and let the waves rush over them for days until they died of dehydration and starvation (Silence, 59-63). If it was believed that Christianity was being practiced, Japan expected a thorough investigation held by the governors. Those who circulated the teachings of Christianity were to be sent to prison (Document 3). To escape the government’s torture, Christians went into hiding and became “kakure kirishitan” (“hidden Christians”). They also hid their religious items, such as pictures of Jesus, and disguised their prayers to sound like those of the Buddhist religion (npr). The reasoning behind the desire to terminate the spread of the Gospel is explained clearly in the analogy that Inoue speaks of in the book, Silence. The analogy states that a man should marry a woman of his own country who thinks similarly to him, and should not choose a foreign woman who will not share the same sympathy of thinking. The foreign woman represents the church and the native woman represents the religion of Japan. He is making the point that the Christian religion would not help the Japanese in any way because it is not native to their culture and their thoughts (Silence, 131). Through all of these examples of torture and punishment, it is clear to see that the Japanese government did not want Christianity to spread, but Japan’s leadership was unsuccessful in stopping the spread of the Gospel.
The Portuguese from the West, however, had an opposite way of thinking. These Roman Catholic missionaries desired to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth following the instructions of Jesus in Acts 1:8 which states, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” During the sixteenth century, Roman Catholic Christianity was the main religion of the Western world. They took instruction to spread the Gospel very seriously (New World Encyclopedia, Christianity in Japan). In Silence, the author describes these missionaries properly preparing and awaiting their opportunity to travel to a lost people group. They did much spiritual preparation because they knew that it would be their greatest resource of survival in foreign lands (Silence, 21). During this time of waiting and preparation, they gained hope that their journey would be successful, and that they would be a light to all those who need it (Silence, 12). In Portugal, there were resources, such as the Society of Portugal, for teaching and sending missionaries to other countries (Silence, Preface). These missionaries were strongly determined to share the Gospel, despite the dangers of persecution. Christians were undergoing imprisonment, water punishments, starvation, beatings and more as seen in the book, Silence. Yet, they did not cease their mission. They continued to survive by hiding themselves and any evidence of their faith (npr). Through their missionary journeys, they fulfilled Jesus’ instruction to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Because Christianity is the one true religion, it could not be stopped. Despite its many obstacles, it continued to spread throughout Japan because God is always at work (New World Encyclopedia, Christianity in Japan). Towards the end of the book, Silence, one can see a flaw in Rodrigues’ thinking that the Christian God was silent like other gods of false religions. Rodrigues accused God of not answering his prayers when he said, “You should not be silent for ever.” (Silence, 111). As Rodrigues apostatizes, he does so in the mindset that God was silent because there were obstacles in the way of spreading the Gospel (Silence, 180). However, Rodrigues did not realize that God is always at work, even though his prayers were not answered like he expected. Christianity did survive this trying time in Japan, and the number of Christians tripled from 1579 to 1638. God clearly protected His Word and His people, even though there were trials and tribulations. Today there are over a million Christians in Japan (New World Encyclopedia, Christianity in Japan). God promises in Matthew 28:20 that, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” “He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). God never left the “kakure kirishitan,” and He will not leave Christians today as they spread the Gospel throughout this sinful world (npr).
Christianity continues to spread the Gospel around the world, even today. The Japanese leaders made laws to prohibit the spread of Christianity and persecuted those who believed and shared the Gospel. Despite the efforts to remove missionaries from Japan, Christianity still influenced the Japanese people and could not be completely terminated. The Portuguese missionaries were determined to spread the Gospel knowing that they were subject to persecution. God appeared to be silent, but He was working out His plan. Christianity has survived the obstacles Japan presented and exists today due to an all-powerful, living God who is never silent.