Japan and the Silence of God

As we continue to hear about rising death       tolls, pending nuclear meltdowns and entire communities reduced to nomads, it comes as no surprise that religious communities are starting to ask (and rightly so) ‘Where is God in all of this?’

Shusaku Endo was a prominent (and underrated) Japanese author in the mid-20th century. But his most widely-read work that he wrote (Silence) deals primarily with the silence of God in life’s most abhorrent tragedies. There is one particular passage that I’ve been drawn back to in the wake of the unspeakable tragedies that continue to happen across the Pacific.

In Silence, Endo portrays the visit of a Portugese Jesuit priest to Japan in the 17th century. In one scene, the priest looks out over a ruined and prays: “The village had been burnt to the ground; and its inhabitants had been completely dispersed. The sea and the land were silent as death; only the dull sound of the waves lapping against the boat broke the silence of the night. Why have you abandoned us so completely? he prayed in a weak voice. Even the village was constructed for you; and have you abandoned it in its ashes? … Have you just remained silent like the darkness that surrounds me? Why? At least tell me why. We are not strong men like Job who was afflicted with leprosy as a trial. There is a limit to our endurance. Give us no more suffering. So he prayed. But the sea remained cold, and the darkness maintained its stubborn silence.”

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be sitting outside of your house surveying damage from the earthquake when the ocean comes barreling down your street. I have to imagine that at some point we’ll find the limit to our endurance. I have to imagine that the prayers of the world can only take us so far. But the thing that we hope with all of our beings is that there’s something other than the stubborn silence of cold darkness that meets us on the other side.


P.S. I watched this video right before I wrote this. Check it out. It’s pretty intense.


  1. I have nothing to add, other than that:

    1. Silence is a terrific book.
    2. You should check out Mary Doria Russell’s “The Sparrow”.

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