Study Guide

Silence Suffering

By Shusaku Endo


The reason our religion has penetrated this territory like water flowing into dry earth is that it has given to this group of people a human warmth they never previously knew. (3.4)

This makes sense: it's not like we meet any wealthy or powerful Japanese Christians in the novel. These poor villagers live a life defined by suffering, with the inhospitable natural world on one side and an overbearing authoritarian government on the other. That's a tight squeeze by any measure, so it's no wonder that these folk are so eager for some spiritual relief.

They cannot register on their faces any sorrow—not even joy. The long history of secrecy have made the faces of these Christians like masks. (3.13)

We're willing to bet that this is due to more than just secrecy. After enduring such hardships day in and day out—with little or no hope of relief—these poor villagers seem to struggle to comprehend their own emotions. After witnessing what they go through, we can't blame them.

It was embarrassing to think of our weakness in comparison with the courage of these Japanese peasants who [...] lacerated their feet in order to come to us. (3.71)

Now that's commitment. In many ways, Rodrigues is envious of the Japanese Christians—they handle suffering in a way he never could. But the truth is that these folks don't have a choice: they're born into suffering and will likely die in it. We're sure they'd rather grow up as wealthy young priests in Portugal, but it's all just a roll of the dice.

The landowner has absolute power over the samurai, and he can kill at kill anyone he does not like and confiscate all his property. (4.10)

Yikes. As you can see, Japan's power structure isn't exactly fair, with lower-class villagers refused even basic human rights. Forgot to pay your taxes? You're executed. Got into a bar fight? Executed. Stepped on a samurai's shoelaces? Believe it or not, you're probably going to get executed.

The black soil of Japan has been filled with the lament of so many Christians [...] and in the face of this terrible and merciless sacrifice offered up to Him, God has remained silent. (4.47)

Japanese Christians have been persecuted physically, psychologically, and emotionally for decades, yet nothing has changed. Despite this, the people haven't lost faith: they still believe that they will be saved from their suffering one day. Rodrigues, on the other hand, is shaken to the core by what he witnesses. How can God turn a blind eye to so much pain and suffering?

They would not die at once, but after two or even three days of utter physical and mental exhaustion they would cease to breathe. (4.71)

This is the pit: the torture chamber that supposedly caused Father Ferreira to renounce his faith. Inoue, the magistrate of Nagasaki, actually invented it himself as a way to make Japanese Christians—and, more importantly, priests—renounce Christianity.

Life in this world is too painful for the Japanese peasants. Only by relying on 'the temple of Paradise" have they been able to go on living. (4.95)

This is why so many lower-class Japanese villagers are drawn to Christianity. Christianity offers them relief from this mortal coil: an opportunity to live a life of "paradise." Though this might be a slightly oversimplified version of Christianity, it provides immense relief to the villagers.

He was distanced by the tormenting pain of the rope [...] but what grieved him most was his inability to love these people as Christ had loved them. (8.20)

Often, emotional suffering is harder to bear than physical suffering. After all, Rodrigues doesn't renounce Christianity because he's tortured—he does it because others are tortured. Rodrigues knows that Jesus would have done anything to help those who suffer, and he feels ashamed to have hesitated this long.

And then it seemed to speak to him: "When you suffer, I suffer with you. To the end I am close to you." (8.38)

Even in his darkest moments, Rodrigues never fully loses his faith. The idea of suffering is one that's central to Christianity as a whole, which allows Rodrigues to make sense of his struggles without becoming bitter. The basic idea is that suffering is supposed to make you stronger and bring you closer to God.

"There are neither the strong nor the weak. Can anyone say that the weak do not suffer more than the strong?" (10.83)

Preach. In the end, the only difference between weak and strong people is that weakpeople endure more suffering. Who'da thunk that getting (metaphorically) punched in the face every single day might make you feel weak, huh?