I visited the movie theater the other night to see Martin Scorsese’s new film, Silence.
I was not disappointed in the slightest.
The movie is said to be Scorsese’s passion film, and surely, within my reason to believe, the film is perhaps the greatest religious film to come out of Hollywood since Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. The movie is based on Shusaku Endo’s masterpiece about the lives of Jesuit priests who had come to a hostile Japan in order to preach the gospel and retrieve a missing priest, and yet the movie showed itself to be a unique depiction of certain themes recorded in the book.
Throughout the film I noticed several immensely philosophic and theologic themes: the nature of apostasy, the nature of religious symbolic imagery, and the nature of Christ’s love based upon scriptural teachings–that love being the manner in which God is married to the betrayer through his election. What was beautifully striking about these themes was in the way they stirred up the imagination to believe in the living nature of the gospel; Scorsese arranged the story to display how the gospel lives, breathes, and displays properties that are not only supernatural, but, dare I say, magical.
I’d like to take some of my time to write about these philosophical and theological themes, because I believe the Church has lost a severe interest into the nature of understanding. We have lost the wonder and enchantment that God provides, and without such wonder and enchantment we will find, in those difficult and testing times, that our faith falters beneath the weight of trial.
Apostasy, a major focus in the film, is what I define to be the dimensional relation of rejecting the faith. Apostasy is dimensional because it traverses many subtleties. Apostasy is not merely the vocalization of denying Christ, thereby denying the Christian faith, but rather transcends mere vocalization by means of action, thought, and character. Surely Peter denied Christ in words (Luke 22:54) whereas Judas apostatized in action, thought, and character (Matt. 26:14-16). Titus 1:16 discusses the deeds of men in apostatizing, and Luke 13: 26-27 hammers down the nature of apostasy as that by which one refuses to be in fellowship with Christ.
In the film, Christian converts are called to step on an image depicting Christ, blaspheme the truth of the virgin birth, and other acts. While watching the film, a further question was aroused: is the desecration of religious symbolic imagery an act of apostasy, or something not to be taken too seriously?
Christian symbolic imagery, from here on out to be understood as religious symbolic imagery, has had a longstanding reputation in the Roman Catholic Church. Many such relics have been presupposed as venerable, and as being worthy of veneration. My sincere inquiry became a thirst for righteousness and truth, and likely enough my attention was directed to the scriptures for inspiration. Religious symbolic imagery as it associates itself with the work of God is certainly not forbidden in the scriptures. God not only commanded the Israelites to fashion the Ark of the Covenant (and when desecrated by Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:7, God struck him down for his “act of irreverence”) but furthermore, He commanded Moses to fashion religious symbolic imagery (a bronze serpent and staff) to act as an item of healing for His people (Exodus 10; Numbers 21:9). But, does this carry into New Testament times? Well perhaps it does within a scriptural understanding; John 3:14 mentions that, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.” Why is there a parallel here between the religious symbolic imagery of Moses’ icon, and the iconic symbolic imagery of the Cross of Christ?
In philosophical schools, we would likely resort to the study of metaphysics (the study of ultimate reality) to discern between the literal undertakings and other effectual capabilities of scripture. We would be wise to ask ourselves the question of: what IS the meaning of such relation between the symbolic and iconic images of Moses and of Christ? But not simply from a literal example, but instead a metaphysical example of the supernatural nature the scriptures exude in a spiritual manner.
Now, many will immediately remember the prophetic utterances of the seed of Woman’s womb “crushing the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15) so therefore undoubtedly the Cross of Christ can be understood as a depiction of the serpent and staff–but is that the only the manner in which we should understand it? Is this not a call to venerate symbolic religious imagery as it pertains to the work of God? After all, veneration (that act by which Moses crumpled before his wife’s Father) is different than the worship of something. We would be wise to ponder the nature of religious symbolic imagery, but not from the position of presuppositions about religion and superstition–instead let it be from the inspiration of the scriptures, and the breath of God into man for the edification of his understanding.
Lastly, the film so beautifully depicts the love God has for His people; although man is prone to rebel, apostatize, and deny the Lord who bought them, God loves them still. This relationship is shown through two characters in the film (one a Roman Catholic priest and the other a recent convert) where the recent convert continually (and I mean like five different occasions) betrays the priest and his fellow Christians by either apostatizing, or in ratting his fellow Christians out. Each time the man betrays his brothers and sisters, he falls at the feet of the priest to ask for absolution in his confession. The priest, grudgingly, listens to him and absolves him over and over.
What moved my heart to the point of break was in the final scene where the love of Christ was so preciously shown: the priest, having apostatized and being nearly forced to live the rest of his life in Japan, sits before the man who betrayed him over and over. He dearly listens to the man, and forgives him for the betrayal of so many Christians to their death. Immediately, I encountered precisely how much Christ loves us. The man betraying the priest was a depiction of myself; I was that natural representation of a man who denied His Lord over and over, but came back time and time again. However, the difference was that my Lord does not grudgingly accept me–instead He welcomes me back with arms of love and grace. He understands my pain, because He suffered for me.
Just as Peter denied His Lord three times, so too did that same Lord accept Him again. Just as the scriptures say, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). Even elsewhere the message is so clear, “And to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:4-5). The adoption of man unto Christ is perhaps one of the most beautiful theological truths. Surely we can rest in the abiding love Christ has for us–so let us call it to remembrance.
So what do we as Christians gather from a movie such as this?
I think a few points need to be emphasized:
(1) Silence displays not only the supernatural and magical properties of the gospel, but indeed the living gospel.
(2) Interdenominational necessity: the reliance upon hearing and knowing the truth first, and denominational affiliation second.
(3) A call to wisdom for Christians to realize the urgency in “shedding blood” for the cause of Christ (Heb. 12:4).
(4) A return to Christian community
(5) And the need for spoken-word argumentation–the need for the Reason of Christ.
All my love,