I recently watched the movie “Silence”, and wanted to share some of my thoughts. It’s a story about the severe, real-life persecution of Japanese Christians in the 1600s. I’ve never before seen a movie come out of Hollywood that was completely focused on the persecution and martyrdom of sincere followers of Jesus.
And it almost turned out to be really, really good. Until the very end. Yeah, consider that your spoiler alert.
The movie was directed by Martin Scorcese. You may remember him. In the late ‘80s, he directed the controversial movie “The Last Temptation of Christ.” I remember when that movie came out. My wife, Nicole, and I had just gotten married. I was going to Seminary. One of my best friends was also going to Seminary with me. I remember when he told me he was going to see the movie. I was disappointed that he went. Nicole and I chose not to go, as we knew there were some scenes in the movie that were troubling, unhelpful—perhaps even blasphemous—for believers. And we weren’t the only ones. Even in Canada--where we were living--many Christians boycotted and protested the movie for the way it portrayed Jesus. And Canada typically lags way behind the U.S. in its cultural Chrstianity-ness (yeah, I know that’s not a real word, thank goodness for hyphens!).
So I watched Sacrifice carefully to see what would happen in this movie. And right up until near the end, I thought things were going pretty well.
And then this happened.
There’s this priest, you see, who had been tempted throughout the movie to himself deny Christ, and so save his life and the lives of other believers. He had said (and this in itself is problematic) that it may be OK for others to deny Jesus, but as a Christian leader, he never could. Why? Because of these words, spoken by Jesus Himself in Matthew 10:32-33…
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”
But then he supposedly hears Jesus’ voice say that it would be OK for him to commit apostasy; that Jesus would understand. So he does. And herein lies the problem—and why I believe that Silence sets a far more dangerous precedent than The Last Temptation of Christ.
The latter showed Jesus being tempted to not die on the cross for our sins. But He overcame that temptation. In Silence, something much more dangerous happens: The supposed words of Jesus completely contradict what He clearly—and really—did say in the New Testament. In other words, Scorcese puts words into Jesus’ mouth that directly contradict what He really said about the subject. In this case, the subject is apostasy, but it sets a cinematic precedent that can—and in all likelihood will—be replicated on any number of subjects. It’s a sad commentary on how far Western culture has come in the last 30 years that there have been no protests that I have heard about—public or private—about this much more insidious cinematic blasphemy.
Look, I get it: Critics will say that it’s all academic for Western Christians, in the comfort of our society, to sit back and say that we would remain faithful unto death, even in the midst of persecution and potential martyrdom. And that’s true. But what isn’t merely academic is to say what our response should be in the wake of those things, on the basis of Jesus’ own admonition. And that’s what Scorcese is here messing with: He’s putting words into Jesus’ mouth, not only that He didn’t say, but that are the exact opposite of what He really said. And that’s a destructive and dangerous precedent that I simply can’t let you be unaware of.
Silence was so close, so, so close! For over 2 hours of this long movie, things were clipping along well, and I was beginning to think we may be OK after all. And then it happened. It reminded me so much of the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s. Things often start so well, and then they should just stop, once they achieve their objective. But sometimes folks just don’t know when to stop, and when that happens, the end results can be oh-so-destructive. Silence is one example; the Civil Rights Movement is another.
The latter did a fantastic thing: It exposed racial discrimination for what it is—ungodly, immoral and unacceptable, not to mention unbiblical. And once it achieved its purpose, it should have stopped there, and celebrated its victory. Unfortunately for us and for our society, it didn’t, and we’re living with the fruit of that today. It moved beyond racial discrimination, and said that now we embrace every kind of sexual desire and behavior in the same way we embrace every race and color—and those are the wrong battles to fight. To compare the color of one’s skin to a person’s desires and behaviors is like comparing apples to oranges: They’re simply not the same thing. One cannot be changed; the others can and should, if they involve desire outside of marriage.
The Civil Rights Movement achieved a great victory, but it should have stopped there; it began fighting a battle it should never have fought. It began fighting for sin instead of against it. Silence did the same thing: It presented a strong message for standing up for Jesus publicly and against apostasy, in line with Jesus’ own words, and it should have stopped there. Instead, it didn’t know when to quit, and it filled Jesus’ own mouth with words diametrically opposed to what He really and truly said while He walked the Earth. And the scary thing is, most folks didn’t even realize that happened.
I’ve heard it said that the toughest thing to do if you’re a gambler is walk away when you’re ahead. Throw down your cards, take your winnings and celebrate! Most folks keep playing too long, and don’t know when to stop. Sorry, Mr. Scorcese, but you should have stopped Silence a few hands sooner…