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September 22nd, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Different Takes: Should we abandon idea of hell?

Editor’s note: The new documentary "Hellbound?" explores Americans' ideas about hell. We asked two prominent Christians who featured in the film to give us their very different takes on hell.

My Faith: The dangerous effects of believing in hell

Editor’s note: Frank Schaeffer is a New York Times bestselling author. His latest book is "Crazy For God."

By Frank Schaeffer, Special to CNN

Is it any coincidence that the latest war of religion that started on September 11, 2001, is being fought primarily between the United States and the Islamic world? It just so happens that no subgroups of humanity are more ingrained with the doctrine of hell than conservative Muslims and conservative Christians.

And nowhere on earth have conservative Christians been closer to controlling foreign policy than here in the United States. And nowhere on earth have conservative Muslims been more dominant than in the countries from which the 9/11 extremists originated – Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

What a pair George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden made! On the one hand, an American president who was a born-again evangelical with a special "heart" for the state of Israel and its importance to the so-called end times, and on the other hand a terrorist leader who believed that he was serving God by ridding the Arabian Peninsula of an American presence and cleansing the "defiled" land of Palestine of what he believed were “invader Jews.”

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So whether you're an atheist or not, the issue of who's going to hell or not matters because there are a lot of folks on this planet – many of them extraordinarily well-armed - from born-again American military personnel to Muslim fanatics, who seriously believe that God smiles upon them when they send their enemies to hell.

And so my view of "hell" encompasses two things: First, the theological question about whether a land of eternal suffering exists as God's "great plan" for most of humanity.

Second, the question of the political implications of having a huge chunk of humanity believe in damnation for those who disagree with their theology, politics and culture, as if somehow simply killing one's enemies is not enough.

What most people don't know is that there's another thread running through both Christianity and Islam that is far more merciful than the fundamentalists’ take on salvation, judgment and damnation.

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Paradise, which Muslims believe is the final destination of the society of God’s choice, is referred to in the Quran as "the home of peace"

“Our God,” Muslims are asked to recite, “You are peace, and peace is from You.”

Since Christianity is my tradition, I can say more about it. One view of God - the more fundamentalist view - is of a retributive God just itching to punish those who "stray."

The other equally ancient view, going right back into the New Testament era, is of an all-forgiving God who in the person of Jesus Christ ended the era of scapegoat sacrifice, retribution and punishment forever.

As Jesus said on the cross: "Forgive them for they know not what they do."

That redemptive view holds that far from God being a retributive God seeking justice, God is a merciful father who loves all his children equally. This is the less-known view today because fundamentalists - through televangelists and others - have been so loud and dominant in North American culture.

But for all that, this redemptive view is no less real.

Why does our view of hell matter? Because believers in hell believe in revenge. And according to brain chemistry studies, taking revenge and nurturing resentment is a major source of life-destroying stress.

For a profound exploration of the madness caused by embracing the “justice” of “godly” revenge and retribution, watch the film “Hellbound?”

The film shows how the "hell" of revenge thinking, and the resulting unhinging of some people’s brains through their denial of human empathy, leads them to relish the violent future of suffering that they predict awaits the “lost” in hell.

Do we really want to go back to a time of literalistic religion. Wasn’t 9/11 enough of an argument against retributive religion?

We need “hell” like a hole in the head. It’s time for the alternative of empathetic merciful religion to be understood.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frank Schaeffer.

My Faith: Hell is for real and Jesus is the only way out

Editor's Note: Mark Driscoll is founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

By Mark Driscoll, Special to CNN

As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth. Your job is to make a decision.

When controversies over biblical doctrines arise, it’s a humbling opportunity to answer questions about what the Bible teaches without getting into name-calling and mudslinging. Near the very top of the controversial doctrines is hell.

What happens when we die?

Human beings were created by God with both a physical body and a spiritual soul. When someone dies, their body goes into the grave and their spirit goes into an afterlife to face judgment.

But death is not normal or natural—it’s an enemy and the consequence of sin.

Think of it in this way: God is the source of life. When we choose to live independently of God and rebelliously against God it is akin to unplugging something from its power source. It begins to lose power until it eventually dies.

The Bible is clear that one day there will be a bodily resurrection for everyone, to either eternal salvation in heaven or eternal condemnation in hell.

Christians believe a person’s eternal status depends on their relationship with Jesus and that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Our lives are shaped by the reality that “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

What does Jesus say about hell?

Jesus was emphatically clear on the subject of hell. He alone has risen from death and knows what awaits us on the other side of this life. A day of judgment is coming when all of us — even you — will rise from our graves and stand before him for eternal sentencing to either worshiping in his kingdom or suffering in his hell.

The Bible could not be clearer: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

These are not just obscure Bible verses. In fact, Jesus talks about hell more than anyone else in Scripture. Amazingly, 13% of his sayings are about hell and judgment, and more than half of his parables relate to the eternal judgment of sinners.

Keep in mind that Jesus’ words come in the context of the rest of Scripture, which says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Furthermore, he “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

God is far more loving, kind and patient with his enemies than we are with our enemies.

What does the rest of the Bible say about hell?

The Bible gives us many descriptions of hell including (1) fire; (2) darkness; (3) punishment; (4) exclusion from God’s presence; (5) restlessness; (6) second death; and (7) weeping and gnashing of teeth in agony.

A common misperception of Satan is that he’s in a red suit, holding a pitchfork at the gates of hell. But Satan will not[j1]  reign there. Hell is a place of punishment that God prepared for the devil and his angels, and it’s where those who live apart from God will, according to Revelation:

. . . drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb [Jesus Christ]. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night.

At the end of the age, the devil will be “thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Hell will be ruled over by Jesus, and everyone present — humans and demons and Satan alike — will be tormented there continually in perfect justice.

Jesus says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. ... And these will go away into eternal punishment.”

Is there a second chance after death?

The Bible is clear that we die once and are then judged without any second chance at salvation. As one clear example, Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

We live. We die. We face judgment. Period.

How long does the punishment last?

Some argue that the punishment of sinners is not eternal, a view called annihilationism. This means that after someone dies apart from Jesus, they suffer for a while and then simply cease to exist.

Annihilationism is simply not what the Bible teaches. Daniel 12:2 says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Jesus speaks of those who “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Grammatically, there is no difference here between the length of time mentioned for “life” and that for “punishment”; rather, there is simply eternal life and eternal death.

Am I going to hell?

The good news is that the closing verses of the Bible say, “Come!” Everyone is invited to receive the free gift of God’s saving grace in Jesus. Jesus is God become a man to reconcile mankind to God.

He lived the sinless life we have not lived, died a substitutionary death on the cross for our sins. He endured our wrath, rose to conquer our enemies of sin and death, and ascended to heaven where he is ruling as Lord over all today. He did this all in love.

The stark reality is this: either Jesus suffered for your sins to rescue you from hell, or you will suffer for your sins in hell. These are the only two options and you have an eternal decision to make.

My hope and prayer is that you would become a Christian.

Have you confessed your sins to Jesus Christ, seeking forgiveness and salvation?

If not, you are hellbound, and there is no clever scholar who will be of any help when you stand before Jesus Christ for judgment. You’re not required to like hell as much as you need to believe in it, turn from your sin, trust in Jesus, and be saved from an eternal death into an eternal life.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Driscoll.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Devil • My Faith • Opinion

soundoff (7,963 Responses)
  1. Josh

    Yes, hell is real, and its zip code is 20004.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Jose

      Who would've thought that Hell would exist – and that it would be in New Jersey?

      September 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  2. sam

    this article is based on what the bible says...the bible tells of a man who takes the place of sinners to bear their punishment so that man can be reconciled to God....those who accept Jesus inherit life and and those who choose otherwise do not...this renewal of life is one that is beyond a physical existence and one that is spiritual.....

    the choice is each person's to make...he/she can either choose to believe in this or not...you decide which route you will take...this choice applies to those who have the capability to differentiate between two choices....noone can force you into it...

    but choosing to believe in Jesus is not merely to escape from hell but rather to start a relationship with a heavenly Father inorder to live a life that is meaningful and one that is with a sure purpose....its not a religion with rules but rather a relationship with the designer with you being the design...He knows everything about you cuz He made you....

    September 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • original sam

      'cuz'? Really?

      September 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • sam

      hahaha..yep...i said it....

      September 24, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  3. vahellbilly

    Hell... Was married once, to a girl from Maine... My family warned me about marrying a northern-girl and I did not listen. That marriage was pure-hell for 3.5 years!

    September 24, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
  4. Channel 1 Atlanta

    Reblogged this on CHANNEL 1 ATLANTA.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  5. KingJC

    Faith goes agaisnt all logic, it defies logic and human reasoning and understanding. What can only be understood by faith will not be understood any other way. All arguements against things that require faith are fruitless and prove nothing except the Bible itself. It is written "Even the foolishness of God (if there were any) is higher than the wisdom of man."

    September 24, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Faith is like dividing by zero. Once you allow it, you can "prove" anything.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Eric G

      Translation: I get to make up my own rules of reality because I said so. As long as I say my rules are based on "faith", they are accurate.

      That is just the type of thinking that causes people to fly planes into buildings. "Faith" is not a benign version of reality. It is "make believe", and it is dangerous to the rest of humanity.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  6. jd33t

    Worse than believing in god, heaven, and hell, is pursuing a belief in 'nothing'. There's nothing wrong with believing in nothing...but to pursue it? That's just as crazy as believing in an imaginary man in the sky. There seems to be this illusion that the less you believe in, the more intelligent you are. The curious ones, the ones who continue to search for answers to all of the mysteries of life, those are the intelligent ones. Pursuing a belief in nothing, that just makes you ignorant.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • Sheila

      Humans are limited in their understanding. Though it seems we can comprehend vast things, there is more beyond that. That knowledge is not given to us as it is beyond our ability to handle. Our flesh and spirit is unable to handle the higher things at this time. Those who believe go through "refinement" towards perfection, and then when God raised them he has a time to "change" us and bring on the final perfection. It is then we will be better able to understand. Sometimes we want to put off being obedient in certain areas of our lives as we " want to understand something first". It is okay to seek Truth and to search out a matter of God's word. For those who truly seek God with all their heart, soul, and mind will be answered. But our not understanding ALL things cannot be a reason for us not to be obedient. It is pertinent to first understand God's nature and his will for all of us. Then we can better see why he warns us against sins and lusts of the flesh, demon worship, lies, murder and other sins.

      It is indeed God's will that as many as will call upon the Lord shall be saved. But you must be sincere and of a contrite heart. God is Love, Mercy, Compassion, Righteous, Just, Long-suffering- Patient, Kind, Gentle, Peaceful, giving hope, encouragement.

      Satan is the opposite of all these things.

      Have you ever been hurt by lies ? Have you had an injustice in your life? Is there peace ? When you look at all the wrongs and evil in the world, you must understand that these are the things that come from the evil, from Satan and from the sins of humankind.

      God punishes as he sees fit, he corrects those that are his to refine them to protect them. So sometimes you will see the wicked living what appears to be a good life, but they have their day. There is an appointed day of wrath.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  7. sputnick1

    I lived in HELL for nine years. Then I divorced her.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • On the other hand

      sputnick,

      Unless it was a pre-arranged, forced marriage, this disses you as well as her (you picked her!).

      Sorry that you suffered, though.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  8. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    The God of heaven and hell etc. supposedly brought me into being from nothing. I had a beginning. The same God can't seem to offer me an ending. His plan is for me to continue eternally in either heaven or hell. Why is nil not an option? It's where I began, after all.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  9. Newton W

    I am comforted, very comforted, in the knowledge that when I die my brain dies with me, with all my thought processes, consciousness, emotions, and memories that made we what I was. Death is complete and final, and that is very comforting. There could be nothing more terrible than eternal life under even the most blissful conditions imaginable. Most people imagine life after death as of only a few decades or centuries, time with their friends and loved ones. But eternal life would go on not just for hundreds or thousands or tens or hundreds of thousands or millions or billions or trillons of years but on and on and on. Mind numbing boredom would set in very quickly. Now that would truly be hell. Fortunately, we will all be spared such a fate.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  10. Doc Vestibule

    St. Peter: Well, according to the celestial registry, you've been a good man. You may enter the Kingdom of Heaven and live for eternity at His side.
    Thomas: Thank you!
    St. Peter: Enter and join your fellow Presbyterians.
    Thomas: Oh, I'm Catholic, not Presbyterian.
    St. Peter: Oh, well then, go to Hell.
    Thomas: But wait a minute, you just said I could go to Heaven.
    St. Peter: Well, the Kingdom of Heaven is for those who have followed the one true path.
    Thomas: Presbyterians?
    St. Peter: Presbyterians.
    Thomas: Wh-wh-what about Catholics and Mennonites and others who lived faithfully by the tenets of their religion?!
    St. Peter: They blew it
    Thomas: So anyone who isn't a Presbyterian goes to Hell?
    St. Peter: No, no, Baptists go to Purgatory.
    Thomas: Oh, God likes Baptists?
    St. Peter: No, God likes to get their hopes up.
    Thomas: And to think the Jews claimed they were God's chosen people.
    St. Peter: Oh, that was years ago. No, the Lord's finicky.
    Thomas: Finicky?
    St. Peter: Well, it was the Jews for a few thousand years, and God got into Muslims, 'cause He liked their hats; then, when they started slicing off hands, God went with Zen, then there was the Hopi Indians and the Aztecs for a while
    Thomas: What about us Catholics?
    St. Peter: Oh, He never liked them. The closest He got was the Anglicans, 'cause He liked Henry VIII's sense of humor.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      A nice change of pace and a good chuckle. Thank you.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  11. biobraine

    In spite of having gone to church for years, having read the bible, having prayed daily most of my life, my religious beliefs have steadily eroded. The questions I have developed through the years have not been answered to any satisfaction by anyone with strong religious beliefs. If a god or gods are here I can't fathom why they wouldn't just let themselves be known. Of course, religious folk will tell you that god shows himself all the time, but I have yet to see any scientifically substantiated proof of this. Talk of hell and heavan seem to me like coercion to believe, the way you would scare a small child to get them to fall in line. I have an appreciation for the logic and reason that Dawkins and others have brought to the table. Like them, I still believe in the possibility of a god or gods, but don't follow any particular religion as the answer as to why we are here. Religion just seems to be full of empty promises to me. This life is all I know and I don't expect anything after it.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  12. jerry gage

    God has lived at least 14 billion years, big bang theory, man can live up to 100 years. Take out your calculator and divide that down 14B/100Y,, ie years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds and you get this; our possible 100 year life is 22.7 seconds of God's time that you are in your body on earth. So to be punished for billions of years after death for somettthing you did in a millisecond of your 22.7 second life in Gods' time would be the act of a God who forgot what the instincts he gave us are capable of making us do. Like creating cruel, punishing and terrifying religions that promise you that you can go to heaven if you go to church on Saturday or Sunday and give "religious" men money so they will not have to work.
    In closing, you would not sign a million dollar 100 year business contract without reading it but the church discourages reading a Bible that contradicts itself every other page, and no Father living today would allow his neighbors to sacrifice his Son for crimes/sins that these neighbors' children would do thousands of years in the future.
    Religion is a busines of money and power invented by lazy men.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  13. Sweepe

    the idea of hell as the same as "you get black coal from santa if your bad"

    September 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • MaryH

      To Thomas the Tank Engine getting coal for Christmas is the best gift of all. :-)

      September 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Josh

      I think today, you get 6 barrels of oil, if you're bad. No one uses coal anymore.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  14. oneworld2

    I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me.

    So that means there are more gods......
    Maybe the bible god is the false one...
    Maybe it's really satan tricking you, and you have to preform the 10 commandments to get in heaven.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  15. caz

    religion was put into place to control large masses of very weak minded individuals, as to give them a crutch to help them get through life because they are to narrow minded to accept the truth about life. It is selfish to believe that you or anyone else has the right to eternal salvation just because you believe and are human. Wake up people, mother nature is the only true G.O.D and even you god fearing Christians out there punish her on a daily basis by living the materialistic lives that consume you. There is no happy ending just the now so live it up while you are here instead of forming your whole lives around the hope that you will be able to live for eternity. STUPID STUPID HUMANS WHEN WILL YOU LEARN......

    September 24, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  16. TRUTH

    Lookup Zeitgeist... and read Richard Dawkins the bible fails to mention the millions of years of natural selection, evolution etc. If you believe earth is 2000 years old or less you are in for a shocker..

    September 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
  17. Amelia

    Mark Driscoll is full of it. He is way too certain of things that should retain an element of mystery and are, ultimately, unknowable by humans. Just because he is convinced of x,y, or z doesn't mean it's true. I can't believe people are so taken in by him.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • sam

      I bet he happily says it all with a straight face, too, oblivious to how insane he looks. I feel kind of embarassed for him.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
  18. rock-a-fella

    You always have a choice and your only true belongings are the consequences of those choices...heaven and hell are created from within–everyone will have to fight their own personal Armageddon at least once in their life....that is the only absolute truth.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Eric G

      I can think of another absolute truth.....
      50% of the population is dumber than average.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  19. Former Christian

    There is no god, heaven, hell, or any of that. That pretty much wraps it up! With that said, that does not mean life is empty and yadda yadda yadda which is why so many choose to stick with the delusion of religion...because they don't want to feel alone and that this is all there is. I hate to break it to you, but my first statement is truth. I was blinded by religion until I turned 12. You can choose to believe it all you want as I did, but it is utterly ridiculous to do such.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  20. That guy

    To Chr:
    God is simply willing to let you make the choice for yourself. He doesn't send you to Hell, you choose it for yourself. God loves you so much that He is willing to respect your free will no matter what choices you make for yourself.

    September 24, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • snowboarder

      any deity who requires adoration under threat of eternal torture is undeniably false.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      If God really respected our free will, he'd recognize our union and bargain with us in good faith, but noooooo ...

      September 24, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
    • sam stone

      If god loved us so much, he would forgive without having us acknowledge his son as a savior.

      Does his son really have that much trouble making friends that his daddy has to threaten people to get them to play with Jeebus?

      September 24, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • R.Williams

      @Sam,
      Then why are our prisons so full of people who proclaim to be religious? Obviously belief in that book and it's punishments doesn't make people be good.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • R.Williams

      Whoops, wrong thread thread.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.