A Dilemma for Obedience – An analysis of Japanese Christian Ethics in Silence by Shusaku Endo

Author: Rev. Shuma Iwai is currently a Ph.D. student in Intercultural Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, USA. He has served for many years in ministry in Japan and the United States.

1. Introduction
Freedom of religion had been assured since World War II in Japan. This entails that people have rights to select their own religion without any political pressure and that their faith and practices should be esteemed. It is indeed true that they are liberated from any religious restriction. There are, however, still some limitations or challenges Christians experience in the Japanese context today due to the challenging, customs, and practices of Shinto or Buddhism. Japanese Christians are sometimes forced to follow such traditions which may lead to disobey God.
Silence, written by Shusaku Endo, [1] illustrates a dilemma of the last Catholic priest, Rodrigues, to Japan during the Edo period. [2] He is urged to choose either obedience to governmental regulation, thereby apostatizing from his faith but saving his Japanese Christian fellows. Or to disobedience to that commandment and in doing so to be killed. This paper will deal with his ultimate decision as one example of many impasses Japanese Christians experience. It is significant to examine Rodrigues’ conflict because it will lead us to the point of how Christians in Japan need to respond in order to understand what it really means to obey and glorify God in difficult circumstances. This paper will discuss the following questions: (1) What are the significant Christian issues between human authority and God, in Silence by Shusaku Endo? (2) What is true living God to Christians in Japan?
The paper will first outline the historical background of the Edo period and the setting in Silence, and sketch the overview of that literature. An analysis of the Rodrigues’ predicament will then follow. After examining his conflict, applications to modern Japanese Christianity will be investigated from the point of biblical teaching.

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