“Lord, why are you silent?”
If you have watched Silence (directed by Martin Scorsese and released in 2017 in Singapore), you know of this question asked by Fr Rodriguez in his despair during his time in Japan. And I daresay this question has often been asked, though often not with these exact words.
“Why do you not answer my prayers, Lord?”
“Why can’t I hear you?”
“Why didn’t you save me from this suffering?”
Even in the Bible, we see many accounts of people asking Jesus for signs, the most well-known incident being Doubting Thomas. It seems at times that God has forgotten all about us. It feels like sometimes, we’re left up to suffer on our own and even when we ask for deliverance or signs, it never appears. Many a times, it just seems that the God we believe in is a silent God. During the crucifixion, one of the thieves exclaimed, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). Oh how many times that has gone through my mind during moments when I feel like the Lord is distant from me and from my worries! And yet, what comes after this Biblical scene, is amazing. After chiding his friend, the other thief says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) And the reply he gets from Jesus is a reply that is full of promise: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Now, it always seemed to me that this scene was always one of redemption. The redeeming of a sinner, similar to our own redemption through Christ. However, it also struck me, as I was reading up on this scene, that it wasn’t just a one-way redemption. The repentant thief had to accept, at that moment, Jesus as his God and Lord before he could be promised Paradise. And it wasn’t just his words; his actions too showed this acceptance. When everyone else seemed to be asking for signs of him being the Messiah (“the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Luke 23:35-37), he made the bold and radical action to have faith and trust that the Lord will remember him, a sinner and a condemned man. It is only at that moment of faith could he be with Jesus in Paradise.
While it is always a powerful passage that reminds us time and time again that we too are promised life everlasting in Paradise with God and all His angels and His saints, it is also a sobering call to realize that what Jesus doesn’t offer us is an easy way out. He didn’t relent to the taunt of the other thief to save both Himself and the thief from the suffering. Neither did he deign to save Himself from His own suffering. In our own moments of despair, how easy it is to want an easy way out? How tempting it is that we want to pin the blame and the responsibility of this suffering to another? How easy would it be to shout out “Lord, Lord” and expect to be brought out of suffering?
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
Isn’t this the exact temptation that Jesus rejects during the start of his ministry?
“Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:5-7).
The promise of the Lord redeems us, but only if we ourselves have the faith and the resolve to live out that faith, even if the whole world seems to be crying out against that faith.
The Council of Trent (one of the Church’s ecumenical councils) states that “When God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it”. There is a degree of co-operation that comes about between man and God, even if man is moved by the Grace of God to do so. Ultimately, because of His death on the Cross, He has already extended a hand to man and promised us Redemption. The question is, will we, even in our own sufferings and our own sorrows, have faith and accept Him, not as a God of quick-fixes but as a God of suffering?
“When you suffer, I suffer with you. To the end I am close to you.” (Shusaku Endo, Silence)
© 2018 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan