G: the Godfather
I found the character of Vito Corleone pretty interesting. In the opening scene, he denies one man’s request and tells him, “You never wanted my friendship. And you were afraid to be in my debt. …You never needed a friend like me. …[And now] you don’t even think to call me godfather. …What have I ever done to make you approach me so disrespectfully?” So the man changes his approach, says, “Will you be my friend?” bows his head, and kisses the godfather’s hand. That changes everything; the don will now come to his aid – stand as his ally, his protector…his friend. But no one gets something for nothing. The trade is unconditional loyalty…up to and including a returned favor if ever asked.
When not conducting business, the mob leader is quite the family man. He dances with his wife at their daughter’s wedding, and even refuses to allow a family photo to be taken at the same event because one of his sons is absent. He plays with his grandchildren. He cries when he must identify his son’s murdered body.
The godfather also has an understanding of what justice means – he refuses to kill a man who only inflicted suffering on someone else…he only inflicts suffering to that man. And, despite the fact that the “business” of the film is an outlaw sort of “justice,” including murder, bribery, and immorality, the whole mob system works on a kind of honor system. The heads of the “five families” resolve their differences based on their word. The members of “the family” (blood relatives and close business allies) are loyal to each other. In fact, the godfather is himself (along with his son and successor Michael) the protagonist of the story. The audience likes him…respects him.
It strikes me how aptly this represents my old view of God the Father. He was a God who demanded respect and loyalty and promised judgment and retribution for every time I slipped. I had to be careful, because the God I served was temperamental and prone to anger…and He was very powerful and could strike me down if I did one too many things He didn’t like.
Since then I have discovered that I didn’t really know God at all.
Brennan Manning puts it well. He says in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, “Justice says, ‘I owe you nothing, for you have broken the contract.’ [Sounds like the godfather’s idea of justice.] But where justice ends, love begins and reveals that God is not interested merely in the dividends of the covenant.” I don’t believe God says, “If you scratch My back, I’ll scratch yours,” or “What’s in it for Me?” His love for us is Selfless. He does not love us merely because we were made in His image; that would mean He loved His image in us rather than just loving us for “us,” which would make Him rather narcissistic, don’t you think?
I don’t think God made us because He needed new relationships. He already had community within Himself (the nature of the Trinity). He created us in a Selfless act of benevolence – He created beings with whom He could share in relationship purely for their benefit. “What wondrous love is this?”
One of my favorite Scriptures is 1 John 4:8 which says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
A good relationship with the godfather involved a certain amount of fear. But God tells us repeatedly to “fear not,” and to “come before Him boldly” and be “made perfect in love.”
How do you view the God of Christianity? Has He been described to you as angry or loving…or both? Has He revealed Himself to you in a certain way?