In his play Amadeus, Peter Shaffer tells the story of Antonio Saleri, a young musical prodigy who prayed this prayer to God:
“Lord make me a great composer! Let me celebrate your glory through music – and be celebrated myself! Make me famous through the world, dear God! Make me immortal! After I die let people speak my name forever with love for what I wrote! In return I vow I will give you my chastity, my industry, my deepest humility, every hour of my life. And I will help my fellow man all I can. Amen and amen!”
In his younger years he strictly kept his vow to God. He kept his hands off women, he worked diligently at his music teaching many musicians for free, and he tirelessly helped the poor. His career began to blossom and he was thrilled that God was keeping His end of the bargain. All was going well for him until Mozart appeared with musical gifts far above Salieri’s. His genius had obviously been bestowed on him by God. Amadeus, Mozart’s middle name, means “beloved by God,” and yet he is vulgar and self-indulgent. The talent God lavished so prodigally on Mozart begins a crisis of faith in the heart of Salieri. And he pens these words:
“It was incomprehensible…Here I was denying all my natural lust in order to deserve God’s gift and there was Mozart indulging his in all directions – even though engaged to be married – and no rebuke at all!”
Finally, Salieri says to God, “From now on we are enemies, You and I,” and spends the rest of his life seeking to destroy Mozart. All of his efforts to be a good Christian were ultimately revealed to be profoundly self-interest. God was just a useful instrument. He told himself that he was sacrificing his time and money for God’s sake, but there was actually no sacrifice involved. He was doing it for his own sake, to get fame, fortune, and self-esteem.
“I liked myself,” Salieri said, “till he came.” Soon the moral and respectable Salieri shows himself capable of greater evil than the immoral, vulgar Mozart. While the Mozart of Amadeus is irreligious, it is Salieri the devout who ends up in a much greater state of alienation from God, just like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable in Luke 15. In the story Amadeus, Mozart of course is like the younger brother and Salieri is remarkably like the elder brother.
Dr. Timothy Keller said in his book Prodigal God, “If you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good person, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior. You are serving as your own Savior.”
Unfortunately, when I hear the description of the elder brother in Luke 15 and in the story of Amadeus, I see a part of myself and my own tendencies.
Questions: Do you see some of the same traits in yourself? Have you ever tried to bargain with God? Have you ever tried to use your goodness to get what you wanted from God?