Tomorrow across the USA, and perhaps globally, the movie Silence will open in broad release. I am on my way to Asia as I write this post, and hoping to see it soon. In case you missed my two previous posts on this movie, based on a book by Japanese novelist Shusako Endo, I’m expecting it to be a powerful statement on not only what is worth dying for, but what is worth living for. (See my posts Silence: The End of Triumphalism and Silence Part 2: The ‘Hidden’ Japanese Christians ) It is a Martin Scorsese directed film which took 20 years to bring to the screen. Scorsese was raised in a Catholic home and inspired by the life of Father John Principe, who introduced him and his friends to new movies but interpreted them from a moral perspective. Scorsese writes “I thought if I could become a priest, I could be like him or as influential as he was at that time for us.” He goes on to say that his “interest in spiritual things never went away and a lot of that energy went into the films”
Martin Scorsese went on to make some very controversial films for many Christians, including The Last Temptation of Christ among others. He says that his own faith has “ebbed and flowed”. He says of his search for God, “it’s complicated, but I’m searching for the same things.” Isn’t it “complicated” for all of us? According to Patrick Ryan of USA Today in a recent article, “Scorsese’s willingness to engage with others about religion proved beneficial on the set of Silence, which has been largely well-received.”
So back to the question “is there anything worth dying for?” Apparently many feel so, as the Center for Study of Global Christianity (led by my good friend and colleague Dr. Todd Johnson) quotes the figure of 90,000 Christian martyrs just in 2016. The Center has done extensive research on martyrdom in history, and estimates the between 2005 and 2015 there were 900,000 Christian martyrs worldwide-averaging 90,000 per year. (The whole report is available on request at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dying for faith in Jesus Christ is not just something that happened in the Roman Empire in the first three centuries, or in larger numbers in the Persian Empire in the first five. (See my post An ‘Imperial’ View of History ) It is still happening today. The book and movie Silence describes the agony faced in the 15th-16th centuries by local believers and missionaries in feudal Japan when called to denounce their faith on pain of horrific torture and death. But there are agonies being faced right now as I write this, around the world.
I well remember sitting at the table in my home in India a few years ago. We were having coffee with one of our dear friends, who had been raised as a Christian but did not have personal faith in Christ. Also with us was one of our friends from Muslim background who was now following Jesus. This brother had faced great pain and the threat of death from his family for his faith. At one point that day, as he shared of the persecutions he had gone through, our other friend said in surprise, “you mean that the Christian faith is worth even dying for?” The brother replied, “yes, following Jesus is worth it.”It was quite a shock and revelation that Christianity was not just a religion to be lived, but a faith in a Person worth dying for.
Last week I received an email from the son of someone I was on staff of in a Discipleship Training School (DTS) back in the early 1980’s. This young man, in his late 20’s, is a missionary in South Asia. He had read one of my blog posts, and was concerned that many times his generation is being challenged by a call to “adventure and justice.” He wrote, ” While I acknowledge that both appeals contain truth, i.e. true adventure is living life with and for the King, and He is a Just King, I worry much that we are following the demands of a dominant culture. Demands for a safe and comfortable exercise for our faith. Instead of an exercise that costs much, and earns rewards for eternity still unseen.” Wow, thanks Josiah. Are we lowering the bar too low in challenging people beyond their own nationalism, racism, political issues, and comfort zones?
Josiah reminded me of these words that I wrote in a post last year: “The message of possibly becoming a martyr for our faith and witness is not always the easiest one to mobilize new missionaries. Yet, it must always be part of that challenge, because it is not going to become less of a reality but even more.”
The movie Silence will bring out the complexities of that question, “is there anything worth dying for?” As I’ve said before, it will not be easy to watch. It is so much easier to stay in our comfort zones of sports (and I love sports!), or political griping and warfare, or just trying to make sure we have enough money to retire on. Or for many in the world, enough money to keep our kids fed and clothed. Or yes, living for adventure or sallying forth for justice in the world with perhaps our own motives unexamined. But we must be called to something (Someone) bigger than ourselves. Because what is most worth dying for, is also most worth living for. And that always involves loving our neighbors as we also love ourselves.