Over the course of my life so far, I’ve encountered abuse from six individuals: an adult and an older child in my own childhood, and four more people in adulthood. Abuse has run the gamut: emotional, spiritual, sexual, physical, and verbal.

When Peter and I experienced abuse in adulthood, because of the extended nature of it, we unconsciously  built up compartmentalizations to survive. When the abuse was over, those survival mechanisms continued without our realizing it. One spring day in 2019, everything came crashing down. In the terminology of a Psychological First Aid course I took recently, at that point we had crossed the threshold from distress to dysfunction: unable to cope with the ins and outs of daily living. Our compartmentalizations had enabled us to survive, and even continue operating for 6 years past the end of the abuse. But now they had served their purpose. Now it was time to heal.

As the number of people who’d abused me increased from 2 to 4 and then 6, something cracked inside of me. I began to wonder if maybe my abusers knew something about me that I didn’t. Maybe there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Maybe something within me deserved to be abused.

We returned to Canada on medical leave. Adjusting to the different time zone was difficult, as usual. I’d wake up for hours on end in the middle of the night. Peter and I were in rough shape, and my waking times often included an element of suffering over the psychological wounds we’d experienced. On the nights when there was no suffering during my waking hours, I had nightmares.

One night, suffering was of the waking variety. I felt compelled to re-read a short piece I’d written as I processed the fears I was experiencing at the prospect of starting the journey towards healing, and the worry that we might never reach our destination.

Finished reading, I sat back and let my mind wander. I was mourning the emotional destruction my beloved Peter had endured.

My thoughts turned towards those who’d wounded us, and a recent realization I’d come to in therapy—that I still loved them.

How can I love them when they’ve done this to me and especially to Peter, the person I love most in the world? I wondered. I felt a little repulsed by myself.

I sat there with the pain of knowing that one set of people I’d loved had caused such devastation in the life of someone else I loved even more deeply.

Then a new thought swept into my consciousness. This is the sort of pain that God must feel all the time, as He sees how brutally human beings treat each other when He loves us all.

When packing for Canada, I’d included a few books in my suitcase—books that I’d been meaning to read over the past several years but hadn’t gotten around to yet. One of these was recommended to us by Higa sensei, the pastor we’ve been working with over the past nine years. It’s called Theology of the Pain of God, by Kazoh Kitamori.

This book is often referred to as the first original theology from Japan. It talks about the God who experiences pain alongside His creation. If God is love, then the choice to love means that He cannot be emotionally distant from His creation. The choice to love is also a choice to experience pain on behalf of, and because of, the loved one.

That night, I felt compelled to pull it off the bookshelf and start reading. My copy is a fifth edition. With each update, Kitamori had written a new preface. That night I only got through the prefaces. That was enough for the time being.

In the preface for the third edition, a line jumped out at me:

“God in pain...[is the] God who ‘embraces those who should not be embraced‘...[and therefore] reconcile[s] the world to Himself.” [1]

Based on the surrounding text and prefaces, I’m sure that Kitamori was thinking of lepers and social rejects when he penned the term “embraces those who should not be embraced“. But when I saw those words, my mind went elsewhere.

My thoughts flew to the perpetrators—violators, abusers, those committing sins. God suffers not only alongside those experiencing wrongdoing committed against them. He also suffers at the damage the wrongdoers are inflicting on themselves, and at the reality of one person He loves wilfully causing hurt to someone else He loves. Yet He makes the decision to keep loving both the abused and the abuser.

His love, and therefore His pain, are truly unfathomable.

[1] Kazoh Kitamori, Theology of the Pain of God, (Eugene: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1958), 12.

Picture source: Canva