Imagine what life was like for Paul Miki, a native Japanese vocation to the Jesuits who, in the 16th century, made inroads in preaching the Gospel to his Japanese brothers and sisters.  Catholicism was a threat to the Shinto and Buddhist religions so the government began to persecute Catholics who openly practiced their faith and imprisoned those who proselytized, such as Paul Miki and his companions. Eventually, Miki was captured and he along with his missionary companions were taken to Nagasaki.  On Feb. 5, 1597, they were crucified and as they hung from their crosses, were executed by a squad of soldiers who threw spears at them. The Church observed the feast of Saints Paul Miki and Companions on February 6.
Sounds a lot like the film produced by Martin Scorsese, “Silence,” in which two Jesuit missionaries, Fathers Sebastião Rodrigues and Francis Garpe, a century after the death of Paul Miki, travel to Japan in pursuit of their missing leader. Like the religious climate in the time of Paul Miki and companions, the shogunate still banned Catholicism which was perceived as a threat to Japanese society.  These missionaries view firsthand the persecution of Japanese Christians at the hands of their own government.  It was brutal—hard to watch with no respite from the carnage which lay in the wake of the Tokugawa government’s crackdown on western missionary activity.  Rodrigues and Garpe separate and the former goes through the countryside asking himself, “why is God silent while his children suffer?”
Sometimes, like Father Rodrigues,  we witness unjust events in our lives. Perhaps we hear of a fatal accident. A loved one succumbs to cancer. We hear of another casualty in the war on heroin and opioids. We watch TV and learn about more havoc at the hands of terrorists.  In each and every scenario, we ask: “why is God silent?”
As a theologian, I cannot speak for God—but I can say the mystery of God’s justice has plagued great thinkers from  the beginning of time. In response, I would like to say that “God may be silent at times but never absent.”  There is a difference between a silent God and one who abandons us.  In times of silence we are called to “trust” which is the basic meaning of “hope.”  We cling to this grace because God, who does not need to explain his choice not to intervene, is still with us in our suffering.  Ultimately, this God will have the last word, and that word is “arise.”  God was silent as the Japanese martyrs clung to the wood of the cross and were executed.
God was likewise silent as Jesus, the sinless Lamb was led to his slaughter on the Altar of the Cross.  Jesus atoned for our sins—and on the third day, he heard “Arise.”  Likewise, as heirs to Christ, despite the imperfect world in which we live, a world which at times makes no sense, we trust that God is still in control.  And with Paul Miki, we are reminded that our suffering, in the light of Christ, now has meaning as it expiates vicariously the sins of those who cannot atone for themselves.  Like Paul Miki, like the Jesuit Missionaries from “Silence,” we pine to hear the Father say what he stated to Jesus: “Arise, my child, the Kingdom of Heaven awaits you.”
I do not pretend to have the definitive answer to the mystery of theodicy, I am simply a theological paramedic applying first-aid to a deep gash.  May the wounds of life not rattle us too much as our suffering, like that of the martyrs, does contribute to Christ’s on-going redemption of the world, a world worth saving, a world worth living.
Amen.