Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:11-15
Here at the end of all things the author sees a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. While Satan, and his co-conspirators, are swimming in a lake of molten sulfur– those who have attended to their souls and the One who leads them are celebrating this new reality. It then says that the heavens and earth “fled” from His presence and “there was no place for them”. This is both interesting and confusing. How could the earth and heaven “flee”? How could there be no room for them?
This reminds me of the way C.S. envisioned heaven in his book the Great Divorce. In this fictional account of heaven souls travel on a mystical bus from the “grey town” (hell if you will), a place with no substance and reality, to a place of extreme substance and reality, heaven. On these “field trips” the ghosts or souls get to meet loved ones and others with whom they discuss this new place and what it would take to stay there. Here is a snippet of one conversation about the meaning of heaven and hell between the character intended to represent Lewis and his “intercessor” George MacDonald:
“Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.” – C.S. Lewis from the Great Divorce
My take on this description of the future heaven and earth is that these physical realities as we have known them will cease to have any meaning for us because we will be spiritual beings inhabiting a different plane of existence. We will no longer be bound by the bodies we used to bump about in on Earth. This would be a bit like a fish travelling to live on the land and losing its ability breath in the way it did while it lived in the water. This new reality will require our spiritual senses that we have hopefully developed through lifelong soul seeking and learning about God.
I do not think the souls looking on this surreal scene are animated corpses, but rather luminous beings finally free of their earthly vessels and all the disease, death, decay, and distraction that those bodies experienced. This is one of the reasons I could never really understand an obsession with visiting loved ones at a cemetery, where their bodies or remains are interned. In my view the part of that person that I knew and loved, their soul, does not reside in ashes or coffins. Their soul is either rejoicing or mourning, but it is not hanging out in a cemetery waiting for me to visit.
The “books” described are some sort of account of our lives and all the choices we have made that led to this moment of judgment. Those present are both great and small, making it clear that there will be no “favorites” in heaven. Those invited on not done so based on human lists. The Pope and a poor pauper will stand next to one another, and in all likelihood they will not event know that one soul was seen as “great” while the other was seen as “small” from an earthly vantage point. Apparently all those who have passed from this earth are judged at this metaphysical meeting, “The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them”. It does not matter if you went down with the Titanic or were eaten by a bear you arrive at this point if decision.
The passage says “each person was judged according to what they had done”. I feel like it would be more accurate to say “each soul” is judged by what they have done and the choices they have made. One could understand this passage to mean that good works are what is written in these books and that get us into the “book of life”. I think this would be a misreading of the deeper meaning here. Actions taken by our bodies, i.e. good works, are an important part of our journey home, but they are only an outward manifestation of what is happening with our souls. If we ignore our spiritual muscles we will not have the stamina to make the important and hard choices that are needed to keep us from a swim in the “lake of fire” described here. One more quote from The Great Divorce then I will leave this reach of river. This is again the conversation between Lewis and George MacDonald:
“Son,’he said,’ ye cannot in your present state understand eternity…That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.” – C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
We must tend to our souls to make them unshakable so that when the inevitable spiritual squalls come our way, both here on Earth and perhaps after we cross over the great river, we can stand with confidence at the great white throne.
Prayer: God help us to make our souls unshakable and prepared for this day when we will meet You face to face and soul to soul.