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Martin Scorsese's Silence shook my faith, in a good way

Think of the person you love most – what would it take for you to say you don’t love them, repeatedly, until you’re dead?

I’m nearly 31 and a few days before my 16th birthday, I decided to give my life completely to Jesus Christ in celibacy. One of the main reasons I did that was so that I could closely accompany other Christians through life, in particular young Christians.

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So, no wife, no kids for me. Only Christ and His work. But don’t think that I think I’m better than anyone else. I don’t. I’m also a sinner, just like everyone else is.

By profession, I’m a freelance video journalist. Outside of that work, instead of dedicating my life to a natural family, I dedicate that time to our supernatural family.

My love for Jesus Christ is the most important part of my life. To give up my love for Him would be the end of me. So when I saw the new film Silence, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Andrew Garfield as main character Rodrigues, I was shaken. It made me faced the tough question: “how much am I willing to sacrifice for the love of Jesus Christ?”

What would you do if someone you love is being tortured and slowly put to death, and the only way you could end their suffering is by giving up your love for Jesus Christ?

How did a film – made by one of Hollywood’s greatest directors – cause me to question my very foundation, my greatest love?

Well, in a nutshell, the film is based on the following dilemma: what would you do if someone you love is being tortured and slowly put to death, and the only way you could end their suffering is by giving up your love for Jesus Christ? To add difficulty, you would also be asked to spit or trample on an image of Christ every year until you died.

Before we dismiss this as a “religious problem,” people who don’t believe in Jesus could face a similar scenario. Think of the person you love most – what would it take for you to say you don’t love them, repeatedly, until you’re dead and buried? Would preserving the life of a young Japanese girl push you to deny that you love your own mother and compel you to spit on a photo of her every year until your death?

Christian persecution in Japan in the 16th and 17th century is considered some of the most brutal for Christians anywhere, ever.

This is not a fanciful moral dilemma brought up in a fictional film or novel; this is the real deal. It has happened to real people in various places, including Japan.

Based upon the famous Japanese novel of the same name, Silence is situated amid the Christian persecution in Japan during the 16th and 17th century. This period involved some of the most brutal persecution against Christians anywhere, ever. The characters and scenes in the film are fictional but based on real people and real events.

Silence Andrew Garfield

Andrew Garfield (right) plays Jesuit priest Rodrigues in Silence. Kerry Brown/Paramount

Japanese inquisitors went to great lengths to bring about the end of Christianity in their country, and they did a very good job (although, as I write this, Christianity is slowly growing in Japan). It’s estimated that the number of Christians was probably more than halved during this period. Christianity went underground for a few centuries as a result of the religion being outlawed.

One technique the inquisitors found effective in reducing the number of believers was getting the missionary priests to renounce their faith. If they could break the leaders of the infant church, then many of the flock would more than likely stop believing.

But getting Christians to give up their faith is not an easy task. Millions have willingly died out of love for Jesus Christ.

This film made me wonder just how much I love Jesus…

The key to crushing Christianity in Japan wasn’t simply martyrdom, but centred on forcing Christians to make the most painful choice between preserving the earthly life and health of those they loved, or denying that they loved Jesus Christ.

This film made me wonder just how much I love Jesus, and what, if anything, would stop me from loving him?

It also pushed me to pray for the Lord to increase my weak faith, and also to pray that fewer Christians are put to the test (which is something all Christians already pray for in the Lord’s prayer.

If you’re not into a slow, reflective film with challenging themes, beautiful cinematography and great performances, Silence is definitely not for you.

But if you wish to be challenged, to reflect on your faith in Christ and to learn a little bit about what Christians had to endure in Japan to keep the faith, then this is your cup of tea – a bittersweet tea, mind you.

So what would I do in this situation?

I have no idea. I really don’t. But I can hope and pray that, like the apostle Paul, I could say with my last breath of life, “I’ve fought the good fight… I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

What would I *want* to do if I was put in this extreme situation?

I would want to walk in the footsteps of my sister in Christ, Felicitas, a Roman martyr from the 2nd Century. She had to choose between giving up her faith in Christ or the life of her seven sons. She chose Christ and before her children were brutally murdered, she said to them: “My sons, look up to heaven where Jesus Christ with his saints expects you. Be faithful in his love, and fight courageously for your souls.” A few months after their death, she was also executed.

Someone suggested to me her response was too fanatical. But then I quickly realised this is love, like God’s love for us. God let his only son die a torturous death, as a criminal and hated by the very people he was redeeming. The true fanatics are those who deride, torture and kill the innocent, especially children, because they love and believe in someone or something else.

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Some prayer points to help

Pray for Christians across the world for whom persecution is a daily reality. Ask for God to strengthen them to stay faithful to Jesus, no matter the cost.

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