I had much material to potentially write a quick review on (The Hunger Games (movie), The Yearling) but the grand winner is "Silence" by Shusaki Endo.
This book is stirring. Imagine seeing an 8-month old tiger and an 8-month old bear tossed in a pen and fighting to the death. That's how this book feels. Things that you know get dangerous as they matured but seem manageable when they are small. There are ugly questions and ugly answers. But they are important questions that can't be ignored.
The tough questions -
Torture - How much could you take for a cause? How much should you allow others to take for your cause?
Judas - Was Judas happy with what he was doing in betraying Jesus or did he have an internal turmoil? Did he suffer?
Is God silent in the suffering of the world? In our personal suffering?
This book is not a ray of sunshine, but it isn't all clouds either.
Written in the 1960s, it starts as a collection of letters and then a narrative picks up from there. In the 1600s two priests are sent to Japan to explore the sudden decline of what was a successful mission field. They are also seeking any information about the reported apostasy of a renowned Father who had been working in the country for 20 years.
There are spoilers that follow. I will say that I knew the ending before reading and it was still riveting to read. 3 days which isn't my usual pace.
I knew of this book from a sermon by Thomas MacKenzie (found here). That too is worth investing some time (20 minutes) as it's a good sermon. So I heard that sermon and was interested, then the Rabbitroom covered this book. I took the plunge and I'm still soaking it up. Knowing the ending didn't ruin it.
Somehow this book has left me with a sense of comfort. The main character, Rodrigues, is secretly serving the peasants when he gets caught by the Government. He is betrayed by a peasant who helped him get into the country and then sells him out. The peasant is a repeat offender and repeat repenter.
The goal of the overlord is not to provide a martyr's death to the missionaries, but to break them. He wants to make an example to the local people, to other missionaries, and to other nations. He makes them renounce their faith. The apostatizing ceremony is to step on an image of Mary and Jesus known as a fumie.
Rodrigues gets setup in a tiny cell where he thinks he is about to be tortured. He is waiting. He has been examined previously by the government seems to have built his resolve for whatever may happen next. He finds himself comfortable physically and spiritual as he waits, but he is oddly annoyed by the snoring of the guards. He finds it isn't snoring that he hears but some of the peasants moaning as they are being tortured in the pit. If he apostatizes they can go free.
This is where things churned internally with that frustration at the whole struggle. Is there any hope in this hopeless situation? Where is the eucatastrophe? (a Tolkien term for a sudden break to the good). Why is God silent?
He is taken before a fumie and:
The face of the man who then lay at his feet [in the fumie] was sunken and utterly exhausted…The sorrow it had gazed up at him [Rodrigues] as the eyes spoke appealingly: 'Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here.'"
Rodrigues steps on the fumie.
Oddly for me, shortly after this is where things turned to a sense of comfort. The author, Endo, intentionally focuses on a Jesus who suffers with us and allows for our weakness. I am a worm and I fully get that, and need that.
"I more than anyone know of your pain. It was to be trampled on by men than I came into the world. It was to share men’s pain that I carried my cross."