Jay Michaelson tries to explain why the Day of Judgment emphasizes disturbingly negative characteristics of the Almighty. His last paragraph is a mystical bridge too far for my taste.
Perhaps when balanced by other attributes (as it is in all sophisticated theology—rational, mystical and otherwise) the quality of judgment is an important one to bear in mind. But not when it is separated from the underlying truths that love can be felt to emanate from the very fabric of our awareness; that love, not judgment, is unconditional and present even amid great and inexplicable evil; that love ought to be our own aspiration, in imitation of the Divine.
Love is indeed a necessary attribute of God, since unbalanced judgment is stern, unforgiving, and terrifying. These are theological truisms, as Michaelson himself points out, because much of life is stern, unforgiving, and terrifying. People do evil. We make mistakes. Striving and judging are not abusive.
We need compassion* and strict judgment, yes. But here Michaelson’s love train goes off the rails. “Love can be felt to emanate from the very fabric of our awareness”? “[L]ove, not judgment, is unconditional and present even amid great and inexplicable evil” —
Such breathlessness illustrates why mysticism, indeed, much of theology, is inexpressibly annoying. Inexpressibly, because if you, Dear Reader, don’t cry Hallelujah at hearing the vague tale of someone else’s transcendental experience, it’s too bad for you, Jack or Jill, please request a refund after the performance. So lay it out for my benighted soul. What is the “fabric of our awareness”? When does love emanate from it (Yom Kippur? lunchtime? happy hour?)? Even in the small corner of the universe which the fabric of my awareness manages to brush against, I feel the absence of Divine love on many a dark day. When I do manage to make a connection when davening, I do not feel love. I am suffused by a complicated mixture of emotions which are too strange and precious to name. To call them Love is to peddle unicorn-and-rainbow stickers as the spitting image of the Almighty.
Similarly, I do not find – in my experience – that God’s “love…is unconditional and present even amid great and inexplicable evil.” To make such a theological error is as obscene as citing Divine Judgment as the backdrop to the Holocaust, Godwin’s Law or no.
You are welcome to find whatever attribute of God speaks to your esthetic. Far be it from me to be the wet blanket which denies your personal experience of a universe in which love everywhere and always exists. But if you want us to understand your conception of God, you have to tell me where Love fits in a universe in which evil and hatred abound.
God is called compassionate, merciful, loving, judging, punishing, and rewarding. These terms are poor substitutes for any theological truth we may aspire to. No matter how attractive the abstraction, the mystic or rationalist must deal with the same theodicy that previous generations have torn hearts and parchment over.
I’m not going to say “to Hell with love.” I’m looking for that attribute in God just as much as the next religious person. But an empty paean leaves me frustrated and unconvinced.
*Compassion (rachamim), says Michaelson, is etymologically related to “rechem.” Probably more relevant is the verb r-ch-m, meaning “to love.” So instead of calling God the “Womb-like One,” we could call God the Loving One. Less piquant, but more sensical – after all, my God has neither womb nor prostate.