Volume 20, Number 1

The Gatekeeper

Timothy Smith

Fall had recently ended on Earth, but the winter weather in this oasis remained heavenly as usual. Cosmic beams illuminated the brilliant blue sky, the shade of palm trees comforted people baking under the hot sun, and a pleasant breeze carried the beautiful melodies of songbirds to the ears of all those who wished to hear. Most of Heaven’s inhabitants considered it just another perfect day in Paradise.

I did not feel this way in the least, however. Fretting over the start of my new career, I enjoyed none of the peace and serenity savored by my neighbors. Gallons of sticky sweat gathered on my skin, and my heart pounded in my chest. I had not felt so nervous since my first few days at Angel High. Almost paralyzed by the idea that I might disappoint God after He gave me the opportunity I had longed for since first sprouting wings, I feared I might even pass out. Luckily, nothing of the sort occurred, and I was able to reach my new boss.

When I arrived at the feet of His throne, God quickly noticed my trepidation and addressed me accordingly. “Cast away your uneasy nerves, my son,” He bellowed as a big smile formed between the egg white hairs of his massive beard. “Your job is really quite simple: I pass a judgment, and you either open the gate or leave it closed. You have no need to worry.”

“Y-yes, sir. I know,” I said, my fears mostly allayed by his cheery disposition.

“Well, then, get to work,” He responded. He then thrust a shiny golden key into my hand and sent me on my way to becoming St. Peter’s successor.

Eager to impress, I scuttled to the podium outside Heaven’s pearly gates, gleaming key in hand. I inspected my surroundings, and I was shocked by the unmitigated emptiness of the white expanse surrounding God’s tropical Paradise. Then, just as I began to think that inter-life traffic was much less busy than I had envisioned, two men materialized directly in front of me. Their shaking hands and quaking bodies caused me some concern. Anxious and confused, I turned toward the Heavenly Father for guidance.

“Silly young disciple, don’t you see?” He asked. “The first man is a heathen; you shall grant him no entrance to Providence.”

Startled, I looked down at the man’s file and, sure enough, this man was an ardent atheist. Sure, he had been a model citizen and an exemplary high school history teacher, but he had never affirmed the existence of God nor found Jesus. He undoubtedly deserved eternal damnation. As such, I pulled the clouds out from underneath the sinful being. The flames of Hell crackled and popped as they feasted upon their new firewood.

“Conversely,” God continued. “The other man is pious. Open the gates for him.”

I then gazed at the second man’s file. He had been a thief and a killer, but he was a fine Christian. Indeed, his record was somewhat blemished, but he had attended mass every weekend and asked forgiveness for his grievous sins. It was clear that, despite all the mistakes he had made, he had acted in accordance with the will of God. Thus, I opened the pearly gates as wide as possible. The man gleefully strode into God’s kingdom, and I realized then how enlightening my profession would be.

Next, while the honorable man dipped his feet in God’s heavenly pools for the first time, a middle-aged woman stumbled clumsily toward my podium. She explained that loose bricks had cascaded upon her as she was constructing homes for the less fortunate. I considered this tragic at first, but I soon found solace knowing that this upright individual was destined to bask in the Lord’s timeless embrace.
Then God informed me that the individual was a wicked Pagan who deserved nary a divine reward, and I felt guilty for sympathizing with the woman. I supposed that, in the abstract, eternal sorrow is an unjust fate for a woman who dedicated her life to improving society, but, as God reminded me, “She deserves to suffer for professing such a despicable faith.”

For the next couple days I had several simple, yet profound experiences, and I learned a lot about how God judged his children. However, about three hundred judgments in, the situation outside Heaven became quite bizarre. A large group of excited rabbis approached me, and they looked as if death had been the best thing to have ever happened to them. Apparently, a high-speed train had demolished their bus and taken their lives, yet they exuded an uncanny level of optimism. In belief that they had been positive influences in their community, they assumed Yahweh would reward them for spreading His word.

Unfortunately for them, God’s declaration quickly extinguished the light in their eyes. “Though these men lived morally upstanding lives, they refused to accept my son Jesus as their savior. As such, they must pay retribution,” He proclaimed. “You shall hurl them into the merciless arms of Satan.” The rabbis’ resulting sobs evoked feelings of sympathy within me, but I complied nonetheless. God was certain they had gotten what they deserved. I was beginning to believe that I was not so sure.
Over the next few hours, Death brought no new guests, so I enjoyed a power nap, had a beer with St. Michael, and devoured an absolutely divine Christ’s Crispy Chocolate Chip and Caramel Chunk Bar. Eventually a pompous, tax-swindling CEO marched toward the Pearly Gates. The Lord responded to the man’s arrival in a surprising fashion.

“Hmm,” he mused aloud. “I am not certain what fate this man has earned. While he has stolen billions from those worse off than he, he has also returned millions to his community through philanthropy. Also, I see that he praised Me regularly and was a pious man, despite his having committed infidelities several times a week. Hmm. . . .” God then continued to comment on several more issues, but I simply began to ignore Him after a while. I needed to hear no more to predict what His decision would be. I opened the gates for the righteous, God-fearing man and awaited my next visitor.

The next soul on trial was that of a resilient young boy who had succumbed to cancerous brain cells. He had struggled with the disease for over two years, but the inevitable had finally occurred. As he timidly approached the door to Paradise, I read about his virtuous life and deemed it unfair that such an innocent boy had to die so young. I expressed my feelings to God, but He shared none of my pity.

“Foolish young angel,” He roared loudly enough to shake the halo right off my head. “This child is an immoral, icon-worshipping Hindu. You shall slam the gates to My kingdom in his face.”

I found the decision disagreeable, but it was my duty to execute God’s divine will. Replacing the golden ring atop my head, I locked the pearly gates. I had to look away as I did so, however, as I was unable to watch the child beg and plead. It was then that I realized that being the Gatekeeper would be much tougher than I had imagined. I have yet to understand how St. Peter lasted over 2000 years.

Soon after, The Lord’s inexplicable callousness revealed itself once again. I felt He had made some questionable decisions before, but His next pronouncement seemed particularly unjust. It concerned an entire Muslim family killed by a suicide bomber. As they ambled reverently into God’s imposing shadow, they knelt down and thanked Him for His unconditional love. Their file revealed that they merited admiration; they were incomparably devout and treated all others respectfully.

Nevertheless, God said that they too were “depraved heathens,” citing their offense as worshipping false prophets such as Mohammed. “Cast them into the underworld’s hottest flames,” He commanded.

Having no other choice, I begrudgingly did so, and then I returned home for the night. As I removed my flowing robes and folded my wings, I looked in the mirror and immediately regretted my decision to accept the job as Heaven’s Gatekeeper. I reflected on all the poor souls I had sent to suffer, and emotions ranging from the hottest anger to the deepest sorrow flowed through me. Strange, salty drops of water dripped from my eyes for the first time, and I then understood for the first time what it meant to cry. I drifted off to sleep wishing I had never learned.

Early the next morning, God passed the last judgment I could endure. He forced me to send two venerable Buddhist monks to the Underworld immediately after requiring me to grant a disgraceful warlord eternal bliss. Weary of God’s unreasonable pronouncements, I determined that I would no longer be the means through which He unfairly punished the so-called depraved and rewards those He incorrectly viewed as just. I immediately tendered my resignation to the Father Almighty.

Surprised and furious, He firmly warned me, “You shall burn in the blistering fires with Satan if you do not reconsider. I will cast you down just as I did Lucifer many years ago. You do not understand the graveness of your mistake, my child.”

Then, reflecting on all the flawless individuals I had condemned and the corrupt system I had supported, I quickly responded. “I do understand, and I do not care,” I declared triumphantly. “If this is truly how you select who gains entrance to heaven, then I am content going to Hell. Considering all the demons you let into this place, I feel like it might not even be half bad. In fact, I’m sure it’s heavenly.”