Theology of the Pain of God by Kazoh Kitamori (Book Review)

9781597522564Book: Theology of the Pain of God: The First Original Theology from Japan by Kazoh Kitamori. (Amazon link)

Publisher: Wipf and Stock Publishers

This was a fascinating book! Kazoh Kitamori writes of the pain of God based on Jeremiah 31:20, in which, from the Japanese Literal version, God declares, “My heart is pained.” Predating by many years Jürgen Moltmann’s Crucified God (LINK), Kitamori writes of the pain of God “outside the gate” (Heb. 13:12). This pain is primarily one not of substance, but of relation, for Kitamori. It is because God is love that God is pained, because God loves the object of His wrath: human beings—this is the pain of God. God embraces those who cannot be embraced, God “enfolds our broken reality”. This is a beautiful work, well worth careful attention, especially for fans of Moltmann’s theology.

Given the time it was written (1946 in Japan, translated 1965 into English), it is a truly remarkable project. Although I do think it lacks some of the more revolutionary elements of Moltmann’s theology—and for that reason I regrettably admit that it’s been superseded by Moltmann’s work—it remains a fascinating book well worth reading. It is, however, very difficult to compare the two. The Crucified God was first published in 1972, twenty-six years after Kitamori’s Theology of the Pain of God. For this fact alone it is remarkable. But in this review, given my enjoyment of Moltmann’s theology, as one of my three favorite theologians (alongside Torrance and Barth), I will focus on similarities I enjoyed alongside differences I had reservations about. Enjoy!

Notable Quotes

Some notable quotes I liked from this book. (Brackets “[ ]” contain my comments.)

“The heart of the gospel was revealed to me as the ‘pain of God.'” (19)

“God in pain is the God who resolves our human pain by his own. Jesus Christ is the Lord who heals our human wounds by his own (1 Peter 2:24).” (20)

“Salvation is the message that our God enfolds our broken reality. A God who embraces us completely—this is God our Savior. Is there a more astonishing miracle in the world than that God embraces our broken reality? …Accordingly the pain of God which resolves our pain is ‘love’ rooted in his pain.” (20-1 [One of my favorites from the book!]

“Luther calls the death of Christ ‘death against death’; I call the pain of God ‘pain against pain’.” (21)

“The ‘pain’ of God reflects his will to love the object of his wrath. … Luther sees ‘God fighting with God’ at Golgotha. God who must sentence sinners to death fought with God who wishes to love them. The fact that this fighting God is not two different gods but the same God cause his pain.” (21)

“Every form of docetism results in a denial of the pain of God. … Only the pain of God can deny fundamentally every sort of docetism. It is now clear that the concept of the pain of God upholds the significance originally attached to the historical Jesus.” (35) [Docetism is the heretical denial of Jesus’ earthly, human body.]

“The message ‘the Son of God has died’ is indeed most astonishing. ‘It is impossible for us to understand the logic of Paul completely unless the death of Christ means the death of God himself.’ God has died! If this does not startle us, what will? The church must keep this astonishment alive. The church ceases to exist when she loses this astonishment.” (44)

“The most urgent business before the church and theology today is the recovery of wonder, the pronouncement of the gospel afresh in order to make this wonder vivid again.” (44) [This perhaps may be my favorite quote from the book!]

“We conclude from this that God’s pain was fitting for him. ‘To be fitting’ means to be necessary to his essence. The pain of God is part of his essence! This is really the wonder. God’s essence corresponds to his eternity. The bible reveals that the pain of God belongs to his eternal being.” (45)

“The cross is in no sense an external act of God, but an act within himself.” (45)

“The essence of God can be comprehended only from the ‘word of the cross.'” (47)

“If we center our pain in the pain of God, until it is purified by his, our pain is saved from sinfulness for the first time.” (54) [Here’s where I start disagreeing with Kitamori.]

“Isaiah 63:9 says that God suffers with suffering mankind, but this is quite different from the gospel of the cross—God’s pain in loving sinful men. Jeremiah 31:20, however, literally agrees with the truth of the cross. No more appropriate words can be found to reveal the truth of the cross.” (59) [This is perhaps the clearest statement of difference between Kitamori and Moltmann. For Moltmann God’s suffering in Jesus Christ is His solidarity with a suffering humanity. For Kitamori, God is in pain as the God who loves the objects of His wrath.]

“We cannot know what the pain of God is; we can know it only through our own pain. Our pain must witness to the pain of God by becoming the symbol of the pain of God.” (60) [Kitamori calls this the analogy of pain (analogia doloris).]


Following these quotes Kitamori develops upon this symbol of pain (the analogy of pain) into a mysticism of pain. It’s at these two points and what follows that I have the most difficulty with Kitamori’s premise. I enjoyed greatly the first half of the book, as you can tell with the quotes I present here. This is a brilliant book but I have my concerns with the latter half of it.

Kitamori says that the pain of human beings is an analogy of the pain of God: we know God’s pain through our own pain. This stinks of natural theology, sadly. Moltmann is far more helpful in pointing us, above all else, to the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross as God’s suffering. This and this alone is the right place to begin with a theology of God’s suffering. But sadly, while Kitamori reaches this same conclusion of God’s pain, he does so wrongly by emphasizing our pain as the place of knowing God’s pain. Moltmann is right in saying that it is God’s suffering in Jesus Christ, not our pain, that is the basis for understanding God in our suffering. Though this analogy of pain is perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of this book, it is also the most problematic.

In turn Kitamori spirals even further into problematic theology when he deals with the mysticism of pain. Kitamori begins to glorify pain, which is something we must reject. He seems to say that when we are in pain, when we suffer, we are closest to God, that pain is our entrance into life with God.

One of the principle problems this is rooted in is that Kitamori seems to place the pain of God above the love of God. God loves because God is pained, not the reverse. Accordingly, for Kitamori, there is no God higher than the God of pain, and thus pain is never truly overcome. We do not overcome pain, we join God in His pain. This, again, is something we cannot follow.

When Kitamori talks about the mysticism of pain, he writes in such a way that glorifies pain as the highest good. This culminates in a rather chilling statement towards the end of the book. Kitamori writes, “To hate oneself through the medium of the wrath of God is to live in the pain of God. This is unreachable grace. For the wrath of God is used as the medium of the pain of God for our salvation, although it basically means our destruction.” (83) We are encouraged, in the mysticism of pain, to hate ourselves in giving ourselves over to God’s wrath—which seems for Kitamori to be an absolute wrath of arbitrary hatred—to justify our pain in God’s pain.

From this Kitamori moves from the mysticism of pain to the ethics of pain, and finally into the transcendence of God’s pain in the hidden God. This latter half of the book I have great difficulty following, as I have made clear. Though I will note that his eschatology in chapter twelve was fascinating to read. But ultimately, my conclusion is that Moltmann is far more helpful in understanding God’s suffering with us.

However, this does not mean that Kitamori’s work is to be wholly rejected. I tremendously enjoyed this book, and find it helpful and insightful, especially given it’s publication date. Given the history it is written into (just after World War II) it is remarkable. As the quotes above show, there is much to appreciate here, and for that reason I can recommend this book to anyone interested in a theology which takes seriously God’s suffering in Jesus Christ. However, I do so with clear reservation.

Overall I would give this book four out of five stars. I can’t bring myself to give it any less, because I truly enjoyed it as a remarkable piece of theology, yet I cannot rightly give it any more. Generally speaking, here you’ll find a fascinating book well worth the effort!

I’d like to thank Wipf and Stock publishers for the review copy of this book. I was given this copy without any obligation for writing a positive review, and have fairly and honestly read and reviewed it here.

Buy Theology of the Pain of God.

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