What to do when God is Silent.

GQ is right, you’re excused for having not seen Martin Scorsese’s sweeping Silenceepic Silence.  I was vaguely familiar with the film, but had relegated it to the “I know I need to watch but I have to be in the right mood” list.

If I’d have known it’s impact, I would’ve watched it far sooner. You should too.

Scorsese, a cinematic icon with decades of experience, set out to make this film over twenty five years ago.  It’s a labor of love, a relentless pursuit of a story that, once consumed won’t let you go.

This is what cinema with Christian messaging should look like. It’s real and raw, simultaniously punishing and rewarding, and if you enter into it’s story with no pretense, it will pierce the very existential questions you’ve conisdered about your own faith. As one reviewer wrote: “This is not the sort of film you “like” or “don’t like.” It’s a film that you experience and then live with.”

Silence is an important film, and a serious one.  The story is simple.  Set in the 1600s, Jesuit priests set out in search of a lost missionary in the closed country of Japan, where Christianity has grown but is actively being stamped out by persecutors.  Yet, what the two priests discover on their journey will forever change their lives.

Silence is important for leaders not just because of just because it’s a harrowing and haunting spiritual journey, but because it addresses seriously the question: What to do when God is silent in the midst of suffering?  There are many cringe-worthy scenes in the movie that echo into the soul, but one consistent theme is silence and suffering, or rather silence in suffering.   As the two priests wrestle with the persecution of the believers  around them, and then manipulated to participate in their own persecution, they continue to ask: God where are you in this? Father, will you deliver? Will you give me strength to endure? How long, O Lord, will this continue? 

Walk with Christ long enough, and you’ve asked the same questions.  The film feels like it was ripped straight out of the pages of Job or Psalms, when David writes: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day?  How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? – Ps. 13:1-2  

We know in this life there is always a way out of temptiation (I Cor. 10:13), we know that He is our strong tower that we run to, we know that this world’s trials are “light momentary affliction”.  We know these verses to be true, but in the midst of deep, dark trials, do you feel your faith quiver? Do you question the validity of what you cling to? Do you wonder…where is God?

Have you developed a theology of silence? When the Father doesn’t respond in the time or way or place you expected, what do you do? Where do you run? If our theology of an omnipotent yet intimate God is only as strong as our ability to hear from Him at any given moment, we supercede our own circumstances and suffering above a biblical expectation of reality in this fallen world. Even the greatest biblical heroes were tested in ways that didn’t involve a feltness of God’s presence at all times.  But what we feel, and what is real is often quite amiss.  He is there, always, whether we feel him or not.  He has suffered for us, and he suffers with us in our circumstances.

The film is layered and Scorsese intentionally doesn’t bring the viewer to a specific conclusion. I like films like that. They mull over in my mind for days.  One conclusion I took from the film is this: Silence and suffering often create a chasm in my soul, where the only bridge is faith. 

The writer of Hebrews fortunately gives us a clear, concise definition of faith, that I’ve clung to in recent times of suffering.  Heb 11:1 says that faith is the conviction of things hoped for, the assurance of things not seen.  What do we do when suffering hits, God is silent and we can’t see our way out?  We wait. In faith. With hope.  Faith is the key because faith isn’t contingent on current circumstances for it’s existence.  Faith looks to back, at the redemptive work of Christ (Heb 10) for strength and it looks forward to the coming restoration of our bodies and this world for it’s hope (Rom. 8).  What faith doesn’t look at are current circumstances.

But I do.  The present is all too often an indicator of the vitality of my faith, and if my present is dark, where does that leave me?  I find that given the right set of circumstances, I’m very quick to doubt God’s goodness, love, presence. And I wonder, as I look back on many of my seasons of darkness, I wonder if that’s exactly what they’re intended to do. Overwhelming circumstances that spiral me out of my own control, to stretch my faith beyond what it would’ve been stretched any other way.  To force me to realize, regardless of what I feel, He’s there.

I’m still processing Silence.  I’m wrecked with the persecution believers have faced throughout the ages, the fearless persistence of men and women who risk it all to carry the Gospel to the edges of the world, and particularly, I’m disturbed by how fragile faith can be, even among the strongest of us.

“He knows are frame…we are dust.” – Ps. 103:14

“When we are faithless, he is faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” – II Tim 2:13

Thank you, Father.

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