Of Wrath and Love: a review of 'Theology of the Pain of God' by Kazoh Kitamori

Theology of the Pain of God by Kazoh Kitamori should certainly be appreciated for its place in history, as a precursor of sorts to later and better formulations of the theology of the cross (I think, in particular, of Eberhard Jungel's God as Mystery of the World, Jurgen Moltmann's The Crucified God, and Douglas John Hall's The Cross in Our Context), and for its particularity as a Japanese contribution to the conversation (even if Kitamori "remained outside of Japanese theological circles"). But despite the gratitude with which it should be received, it seems to me that it should also be received with some suspicion. I am open to the possibility that I may have contextual and hermeneutical differences with Kitamori which make it difficult for me to fully embrace his project but I should still name two specific issues that I must take with Theology of the Pain of God.

First, while I agree with Kitamori's assessment that "everything hinges on the cross... the essence of God can be comprehended only from the 'word of the cross'"(47), I believe that he fails to make the resurrection of the crucified Jesus explicit from this axiom. Indeed, "the cross is in no sense an external act of God, but an act within [God]self"(45), but in what sense does the resurrection help us interpret this act of God and the pain of God on the cross? If the ontological priority is given to the past and the present, then the experience of Christ's future as normative is either rejected or obscured. In other words, while Kitamori rightly sees the cross as God's taking of death into God's very self, God's "eternal essence," the taking of death into God's self in Theology of the Pain of God is never explicitly for the "sake of life" (as Jungel would clarify). Something is left to be desired in Kitamori's eschatology in this regard. It is not Moltmann's eschatology of the resurrection whereby God identifies Godself with the crucified Jesus. It is rather, an eschatology "fused with this pain" (144). We are not, by the resurrection and the ontological priority of the future, put at odds with the injustice of the cross in the present (as we are in Moltmann). Instead we are ourselves to find joy in the pain, "pain must be our function" (64), and thus, it seems to me, pain itself is sacralized. This is problematic.

The second issue is related to the first and is, perhaps, more fundamentally problematic. Kitamori is preoccupied with human guilt and God's wrath, preoccupied with seeing Christ's death on the cross as the execution of God's wrath exacted upon Jesus on the cross. Under the spell of this guilt theology, Kitamori operates on the axiom of divine wrath and divine love. The pain of the cross is the pain of God's wrath and God's love finding themselves together in Jesus. "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 causes his pain" (21). It's unfortunate that it is here that Kitamori places the dilemma and root of God's pain, for it presupposes a notion of divine justice which demands wrath from God as a necessity. Not only this, but it obscures the more real and potent pain of a man crucified at the hands of human religious and judicial powers and God's identification with him. God, for some reason, must be the cause of Jesus' death in Kitamori. It is God who executes Jesus (again, sacralizing and also justifying the torture and execution of Jesus). "The God of the gospel causes his Son to die and suffers pain in that act" (47). I consider that bad parenting. I do not find it necessary or helpful to see God as the cause of the death of Jesus, at least not in this strong sense. Rather, God, in Jesus, opened Godself so fully in love for creation that God gave to creation, humankind in particular, all that it needed to destroy its creator. This is the vulnerability of love. The father experiences the death of Jesus, not as its cause, but as the victim, the one who must endure the death of a child. That is the way in which God fights with God on Golgatha--as one experiencing death and one experiencing dying. Here, I am inclined to think that Dorothee Soelle's famous criticism of The Crucified God in her book Leiden--that it was a theology of a "sadistic God" who kills his own son--albeit a misinterpretation of Moltmann, is actually accurately applied to parts of Kitamori. Obedience to Kitamori's God, and the joy he describes in this obedience, sounds tragically similar to the loyalty of the abused to their abuser.

All this criticism does not negate my aforementioned appreciation for this book. Again, I am grateful for it and cannot speak more highly of certain elements of its expression of the theology of the cross and rejection of the "theology of glory." But with such a preoccupation with divine wrath and human guilt, and without explicitly holding resurrection as the other side of crucifixion, it is certainly a good thing that later theologians offered fuller articulations of the theology of the cross.