Posted: February 17, 2022 in World On The Edge

An Ongoing Drama Between God and Each of Us


Our life is an ongoing drama between God and each of us. Whether we accept it or not, no matter who we are or what we do, each of us has an inborn, spiritual relationship with the God who created us, the God who loves us infinitely. We can deny it or shout our disagreement. We can act out in reprehensible ways to destroy God’s sovereignty over us. Our God-given free will allows that behavior. But truth cannot be altered. We were made to be good. We live in a world that God made to be good. And yet moral, physical, and metaphysical evil exists in spite of the goodness — and therefore, suffering exists.

I considered writing this novel, “Shooting at Heaven’s Gate,” several years ago after being shocked that in a small town near mine, a disillusioned and angry young man took up his shotgun and killed many of his family and co-workers. Why had he done it? Jealousy, greed, revenge, or some mental disfunction? Why had he destroyed the people he most cared for?

Most of us can retell the story of Cain and Abel, a story of one brother murdering the other. Genesis 4. When the Father (God) favored Abel’s gift over Cain’s, a few narcissistic traits began to itch in Cain, and then finally took him over — jealousy, anger, and revenge, leading to Cain’s murder of Abel. The sin of Cain separated him from God, just as sin separates us from God. Cain was punished, but even then, God showed him mercy. I have no idea what caused the shootings in this nearby small town, but I suspect some of those narcissistic traits were involved.

In the novel, “Shooting at Heaven’s Gate, goodness is left behind for a time, and evil runs rampart in Bethel, Alabama. Dr. Malcolm J. Hawkins, III, arrogant head of psychology at Bethel University feels his position and his credibility threatened by the impressive, up-and-coming English professor, Ginnie Gillan.

Good and evil do not exist when human nature wants the best way to scratch an itch. The only question is, Can I get away with it? “says Dr. Malcolm J. Hawkins, PH. D.

So, Mal scratches that ‘itch.’ Jealousy, anger and revenge take over him, and Mal decides to use Ginnie’s husband Edmund’s fear and weakness against her. Feeding Edmund a steady diet of drugs and manipulation, Mal lights the fuse of the greatest tragedy Bethel has ever known.

Compassionate, loving teenager, Alma Broussard, lives with her quirky mother Moline, who works in a dental office, and her feisty Aunt Pauline, who runs the chicken farm on which they live. Their lives seem wholly separate from the feuds of academia—but dark secrets lurk in Moline’s past that will bring the people she loves straight into the path of a murderous madman.

In the wake of death and destruction, Bethel, the town that used to be called Heaven’s Gate, will find no easy answers, but there may still be hope for redemption. 

Shooting at Heaven’s Gate is a “Theology of the Cross” novel in which genuine goodness, bona fide evil, and suffering truly live side by side. My intention is that it not only be enjoyed, but that it be used for the discussion of some very human questions.

Discussion Points:

  1. We all hold secrets. Every main character in the novel –except for Alma– has secrets to be exposed. Choose one character at a time (Mal, Edmund, Moline, Pauline, Jose) and reveal her/his secret. How do their individual secrets affect the lives of the other characters? Which do you think is the worst secret?
  • Discuss theatre symbolism in the novel. Edmund acts in two plays; the gravedigger in Our Town and as the lead in Macbeth. How is he like each of them in real life?
  • Discuss Alma’s goodness. How can she choose to remember only a murderer’s innocence as a child after he has killed so many people? Which do you most identify with—Pauline, Alma, or someone else in the novel?
  • Why are the scenes at Heaven’s Gate Graveyard important? Discuss the symbolism, as it applies to the novel, of the Civil War, the lost children buried there, and the chinaberry trees.
  •  Discuss Pauline’s statement in light of God’s gift to us of free will. “That’s the lesson in all wars, especially the ones that go on in our own heads, where good and evil get all mixed up just because they can.”
  • Despite the tough issues in this novel, does it leave you with hope and a chance to heal? Why or why not?

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