Theology at the Movies



The Godfather

Tom Hanks (You’ve Got Mail) once quipped that all life’s dilemmas can be answered through vignettes from The Godfather. If you’re facing a monumental challenge, hey, “go to the mattresses.” So here’s my spiritual take-away from that blood-spattered drama.

In the opening scene, Amerigo Bonasera, the undertaker, wants a favor from the Don. Yet he fears to be in a relationship with the mob boss. “I don’t want to get involved.” So couldn’t he just pay the Godfather some money and have his selfish wish fulfilled?

A bit later, when movie mogul Jack Woltz refuses to give Johnny Fontaine the coveted movie part he wants, he still says to Hagen: “The answer’s no. Never. Johnny Fontaine never gets that part. But while you’re here, can I still pay you guys some money under the table and get my labor disputes resolved?” It’s the same scenario again: I refuse to have a relationship with you; I don’t want any involvement. But if I can have an arm’s-length handshake agreement . . . okay, I’ll do business.

So often we want things from God: blessings, protection, even forgiveness from our sins. But all of these spiritual gifts are only available if we’re willing to submit and enter into a saved relationship: to have Jesus be our Lord and King. While it’s true that God sends rain on the righteous and the wicked alike, and that God does woo lost sinners through the Holy Spirit, it’s equally true that most of heaven’s blessings can only be shared when we fall on our knees and are willing to be adopted into God’s family.

There’s a hard verse that reads: If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear [my prayer.] Ps. 66:18. And we get a mental image of God, His back turned to us, with His hands over His ears to block out our plea. That’s not a useful metaphor considering He’s omniscient and can’t help but know all things. Instead, God, while reaching out, frankly acknowledges: “Listen, I long to heal you and bless you and forgive you. But it’s only when you’re willing to be in daily abiding relationship with Me that the blessings can really flow.” Forgiveness isn’t a drive-up ATM machine where you can put in a $5 bill, get absolution, and then continue in the same destructive path as before.

As I write this, my granddaughter Kira is visiting us. And she’s an amazing kid: spiritual and loving. But if she chose to live a life of estrangement from her family, and yet showed up on my doorstep wanting a no-questions-asked cash transfusion that would likely go toward drugs or petty crime, I think I’d say no. Because that kind of unwise “favor” would do nothing but harm. It would perpetuate the rebellion.

Instead, Jesus reaches out His nail-scarred hand and says: “Please. Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy-laden. Let Me be your Friend and your Savior. And then, within the security of that connection, I can give you literally everything.”

Man, that’s an offer you can’t refuse.