From “Theology of the Pain of God”

Theology of the Pain of God claims to be the first major, indigenous, original work of Christian theology from Japan.  It has been on my reading list for many years.  Now, I can finally claim to have read through it.  It starts out very academically, but about halfway through the book, I found myself drawn in and very absorbed by the book.  For this simple review, we will look at a couple passages that I found to be especially striking, but first we will have a brief overview of one of the book’s major teachings.

God’s Love

To briefly summarize one of the major teachings of the book, we need to look at three aspects of the Love of God in regard to human beings.  First, God loves human beings in general.  God creates human beings and loves them.  They are a part of creation that God declares to be good in Genesis.  This is the first aspect.  Yet, because of sin, because human beings violate God’s law, human beings stir up the wrath of God.  God’s anger burns hot against human beings because of their many sins, such as idolatry and abuse of the poor.  This creates pain in God.  God’s wrath becomes aimed at those whom God loves.  There is pain and tension within God in this instance.  The final aspect then is God’s love winning out over God’s wrath.  To illustrate this, Kitamori often turns to the prophets, such as Hosea.  God loves human beings, but then human beings do wrong, turning their back on God and God’s good will for them; a tension is created in God, one between God’s righteous anger and God’s love; the tension becomes resolved when, after experiencing it for some time, God’s love wins out and God works to redeem and save human beings, as might be seen in Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.  These three aspects of the love of God form a major cornerstone of Theology of the Pain of God.  There is, of course, much more to the book, but this teaching is incredibly important to the structure of the book.

Having briefly and simply outlined this part of Theology of the Pain of God, let us now sample some of the book and allow it to speak for itself.

Forgiveness and Pain

The pain of God is the forgiveness of sins…To forgive is to forget.  One has not forgiven if he or she says, ‘I have forgiven, but not forgotten.’  Has one forgiven his or her neighbor’s sin if he or she remembers it bitterly and continues to speak of it?  And can the forgiven one really enjoy the peace of forgiveness?  When one truly forgives, he or she must forget the fact of his or her forgiveness.  This certainly does not imply that forgiveness is easy tolerance.  One must bear responsibility for the sinner and suffer pain.  However, the pain, if real, penetrates the one who forgives, and issues forth in intent love.  One is not really forgiving others as long as he or she complains about his or her own pain in forgiveness.  Forgiveness exhibits its true nature, and pain proves to be real, only when intent love enfolds others, forgetting its pain.”  (p. 40)

This is a tough and thought-provoking quote.  It works well in the realm of “everyday” human sins, but it is severely challenged by large-scale, disastrous sins.  We might wonder what exactly the author has in mind in terms of sin in this instance.  Nevertheless, I believe that the quote does hold some merit for thought.

The Cross and Pain

The real meaning of the cross of the Lord is the pain of God.  To follow the Lord of the cross is to serve the pain of God.  Thus, to follow the Lord of the cross, bearing one’s own cross, is to serve the pain of God by suffering pain oneself.”  (p. 50)

Again, there must be a time and a place for this quote.  To apply this quote unilaterally could be disastrous.  Would it be okay to tell a chronic sufferer of pain to bear more pain?  Yet, for the right set of conditions, this could be a good impetus for one, in an attitude of discipleship, to empathetically encounter the Lord and those who suffer chronically.

The Mysticism of Pain

I am disolved in the pain of God and become one with God in pain.  This is what is actually revealed in [several biblical] passages.  In Luther’s word, it is condolore, ‘to suffer together’ in the pain of God.”  (p. 71)

In terms of mysticism, this passage is remarkable.  Once again, however, we could add to this quote a disclaimer much like the ones made above.

Pain in the Death of the Son of God

God hid wholly when, in the person of God’s only Son, God passed through death, but this does not mean God lost God’s own existence.  Even in the event of the cross there is no single change in the God who is the ‘I am that I am.’  How could this be possible?  It is because God continues to live in the person of the Father while dying in the person of the Son.  The death of God the Son can be called the pain of God because the person of the Father lived.  Pain can only be experienced by the living, not by the dead who are already freed from suffering.  Because God is essentially one in God’s essence, although Father and Son differ in the persons of the Trinity, it is possible that the Father still lives even in the death of the Son.  Thus the pain of God arises.  The death of God the Son was real death, and its darkness was real pain.  God the Father who hid in the death of God the Son is God in pain.”  (p. 115)

This passage stands alone fairly well and is worth some contemplation, especially for people who have wondered about this aspect of theology.  An important note, however, should be added to the word “hid.”  By this, I do not believe that Kitamori means that God the Father literally ran away and hid.  Rather, I think that he is utilizing Luther’s concept of the hidden God.  It is not that God is playing peek-a-boo or hide-and-go-seek; rather, sometimes, because the situation appears so dark and dreary, we as human beings cannot see where God is located and the work that God can be doing.  We cannot know of the resurrection that might occur after the crucifixion, to put it in other words.  Finally, one might also add to this passage the person of the Holy Spirit (depending on one’s theology in regards to the Holy Spirit).  [I considered adding the Holy Spirit in brackets after the mentions of the Father’s still existing during the crucifixion of the Son; however, in order to accurately display Kitamori’s work, I did not make this amendment.  I do believe, however, that such an amendment can and should be made if one ever picks up this quote and decides to use it for further theological work.]


With these few quotes and the outline of Kitamori’s work on the Love of God, I believe that I have conveyed some sense of this major theological work.  I recommend Theology of the Pain of God for its interesting and thought-provoking nature.  It makes for an interesting theological dialogue and has expanded my own thinking; it is my hope that another reader might find the same outcome for herself or himself.

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