In Babylon, Daniel experienced a dream full of symbolism. He saw the Final Judgment. Ten thousand times ten thousand people stood before a throne. “The judgment was set,” he wrote, “and the books were opened” (Daniel 7:9-10).
Many years later, the apostle John received a revelation on the Isle of Patmos. Here’s how he described the same future event:
I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.Revelation 20:12
What are these books that will be opened when we are judged? The Guide to the Scriptures indicates that the Book of Life is both metaphorical, comprising “the total of a person’s thoughts and actions,” and literal, referring to a heavenly record.
In an 1841 letter to church members, Joseph Smith made a distinction between the “book of life” in John’s revelation and the other books which will also be opened:
You will discover in this quotation that the books were opened; and another book was opened, which was the book of life; but the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works; consequently, the books spoken of must be the books which contained the record of their works, and refer to the records which are kept on the earth. And the book which was the book of life is the record which is kept in heaven; the principle agreeing precisely with the doctrine which is commanded you in the revelation contained in the letter which I wrote to you previous to my leaving my place—that in all your recordings it may be recorded in heaven.Doctrine and Covenants 128:7
Two passages from the Book of Mormon support the view that our earthly records will matter in the next life.
Nephi quoted the Lord as saying,
I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.2 Nephi 29:11
And during the Savior’s ministry on the American continent, He gave the following instruction to His twelve disciples:
Write the things which ye have seen and heard, save it be those which are forbidden.
Write the works of this people, which shall be, even as hath been written, of that which hath been.
For behold, out of the books which have been written, and which shall be written, shall this people be judged, for by them shall their works be known unto men.
And behold, all things are written by the Father; therefore out of the books which shall be written shall the world be judged.3 Nephi 27:23-26
I’m uncertain why an earthly record is needed if a perfect heavenly record exists. One possibility, though, is that the very act of keeping records changes us. As we record our experiences and actions in personal journals and in more formal documents, our behavior and our character are influenced by the stories we tell and by the events we remember. A written record effectively anchors us to a positive course of action or a positive vision, which in turn enables us to progress toward that vision.
Sister Camille N. Johnson recently reminded us that the narrative of our lives will be on full display at the Final Judgment and asked us to consider what kind of story we want to view at that time:
We will be judged by our book of life. We can choose to write a comfortable narrative for ourselves. Or we can allow the Master Author and Finisher to write our story with us, letting the role He needs us to play take precedence over other ambitions.“Invite Christ to Author Your Story,” General Conference, October 2021
Today, I will remember that I will be judged according to records kept both on earth and in heaven. I will record the events of my day, paying attention to those events and decisions which are moving me toward greater godliness. And I will seek the Lord’s help as I make decisions, so that I can be happy with the finished narrative at the end of my life.