“If we ever learn to obey the demands of justice and love… then we can have peace and good will.”
This sermon, delivered on January 25, 1970, is one of Rabbi Olan’s most challenging reflections on God’s justice and human responsibility for our suffering. His theme is how to respond to dictators and tyrants, and his first response to the idea that it was God who sent Pharaoh, Hitler and Stalin is, “What outrageous nonsense all of this is.”
Yet he goes on to say that dictators “come upon the scene because [people] have failed to live by the laws of a moral society”. For Rabbi Olan, there is a moral order, built as deeply into the fabric of the universe as the law of gravity (to take his favorite example). His struggle, in this and other sermons, is to understand the origins of suffering: to think that God would use dictators as God’s agents is unacceptable, yet our refusal to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly” can somehow invite dictators in.
Yet, says Rabbi Olan, there is still hope: “we, as [people], must do our part to establish justice and then God does his part.” When we do our part and work with God, the dictators will be defeated, and we can have what the prophets promised: “real hope”.
*Written by Lionel S. Joseph and Frances M. Olan*