The Test of Love

“Where love is, God is..”

This sermon, delivered on January 4, 1970, is Rabbi Olan’s answer to the Beatles’ assertion that “All You Need Is Love” (released July 1967).  That would be true, Rabbi Olan says sadly, if people were perfect, but we are not.  In an imperfect world, he says that we need police at home and armed forces abroad to respond to the threat of violence.

At the same time, Rabbi Olan squarely faces the paradox that force alone does not work.  The way out of this paradox, for him, is that social justice is a form of love.  “In a world of [people] who are imperfect, force is a necessity if we choose to survive.  Yet, we must recognize that it is a failure, even though a necessary one.  We must learn to love.”  

He teaches (following the Prophet Isaiah) that we must start from justice rather than coercion if we want peace.  “Decent homes, adequate incomes, clean and pleasant neighborhoods, opportunities for self-development and fulfillment—these are the ingredients of what can resolve the problem of crime and these are the constituent elements of love.”

In discussing justice and love, Rabbi Olan returns to a favorite metaphor of God’s two thrones: the throne of law and the throne of mercy.  If God sat only on the throne of law, none of us would endure.  But if God sat only on the throne of love, there would be no order in society.  Rabbi Olan makes the audacious suggestion that just as we have tasks, so God has a task: “God must find the harmony between justice and love.”

As you read or listen to this sermon, reflect upon where that harmony may be found today.

Follow this link to read the sermon text.
Follow this link to listen to the audio recording.

*Written by Lionel S. Joseph and Frances M. Olan*