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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 • Opinion

soundoff (7,963 Responses)
  1. A different take on hell

    A different take on hell

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LARGqLCYVnw

    Worth a listen.

    October 1, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  2. Geoscba

    Me, personally, I take a different view on God, so my view on hell is probably quite different from a majority of other people's. My heart tells me that hell is not actually a spiritual place, but after you pass on your soul feels the weight of all your missteps during life. For example, if you took a life, you feel the loss and sorrow of the family, etc. It makes more sense to me that people who do bad things while they live, seemingly consequence-free, truly understand the meaning and impacts of their actions once they die. I think you come to a true understanding of your actions when you pass and your soul carries that weight with it.

    October 1, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  3. Anybody know how to read?

    'Jhn 8:28 Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am [he], and [that] I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.'

    September 30, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  4. Bri

    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.

    Sounds like life on earth right now...

    September 30, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  5. tigerlilyspeaks

    At the age of four I was healed by God. Iknow this because one day I had no ball joints for my hip sockets and the next I did. I was prayed for by my church and he healed me. He has saven me from a bus, and a crazy man. I believe in God not cause I am afraid of him I do because I have seen his love, felt it, and know in my own heart what is true. God is there he made all and welcomes anyone into his arms.

    September 30, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • No Way Yahweh

      Yes, and God healed all of the soldiers who had their limbs blown off, all the children who have terminal illnesses, all of the mentally handicapped, and provided food and shelter for all the innocent victims of war and poverty all over the world.... Oh wait... No he didn't... Hmm... wonder whats taking him so long. Funny, he can make a planet full of life in 7 days but it takes him thousands of years to heal one person. WHAT A MIRACLE!

      September 30, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  6. tigerlilyspeaks

    Iwas born without hip sockets, my mother was told i'd have to wear a brace till I was ten. At four years old easter night I make my way slowly to the preachers stand and get prayed for. That night refuse to wear my leg and hip brace to bed, the next morning have a doctors appointment, am completly healed. The one forth the way grown bone overnight grew all the way. That my friends is a Miracle done by God cause I believed he could heal me. God is loving and kind a healer, I do not believe in him cause I'm afraid I believe in him cause he is all loving.

    September 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Veritas

      Which hospital? Which doctor? I'm pretty sure we'd have heard about the first bone to grow overnight and the 4-year old who sensed it and refused assistance in anticipation of said miracle.
      Even if this did happen, which I don't believe for one second, how do you know that prayer caused this to happen.
      The fact that you were expected to be OK at 10 indicates to me that you're not telling the whole truth.

      September 30, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  7. JSmith

    Christians love the idea of hell and it is what keeps people in the belief system. Without it, who the "hell" would even care about their religion. You take the punishment away and the churches would close their doors. Now, the Christian would say, "see, that is why God created hell, so it would lead people to Jesus". I would say, if God wants us to love him because of the punishment we would face if we don't, then he can stick it right in his kester. That is like telling my children to love me or else I will severly beat them all over their bodies every night before bed. "I love God, because I am scared of hell" face it Christian, that is what you believe like it or not. You can rattle on all day about how you love Jesus because of what he did for you, but the bottom line is your terrified of the fire; take that out and you'll start "sinning" like a maniac and walk away from Jesus in no time. Your love is based on fear, and the bible tells you that. "Fear him..." Yea, I fear someone who brutally murders people by the masses so the jews can have their promised land; I fear someone who would flood the entire world and watch little children drown because he is mad he created them; I fear someone who murders people because they lied about the money they gave to the church; yea, I do fear that, but I won't love IT because of that. I was a Christian for 20 years, sold hook, line, and sinker into the brainwashing; Arminian, Calvinist, Baptist, Charismatic, I carried a lot of different names over the years. Over those 20 years I have seen more love from none Christians than I did Christians, go figure...

    September 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      So you found the churches a little wanting? Not surprising, 'Mat 13:33 Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.'

      September 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • Nate

      J,
      I'm sorry for what Christians might havedone or said to you while you we're in the church. Whatever happened I'm sure it was not what Jesus expects of his followers.
      When dealing with the question of hell, it is helpful to take it back one step. Do you believe the the God of the bible is real? If he is then hell, heaver, judgement, salvation and eternal life all come along with it. If they aren't then God is a liar and why would we folow him? So, you're right without hell no one would follow God.
      If there is ultimately no ressurection then Paul says, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." (1 Cor 15:19). So the future heaven (and avoiding hell) that awaits us is a major motivater in following God.
      But the greatest reason to follow God and to go to heaven is to seem him face to face–the greatest being in the world that created us and who brought us salvation not by our own works, but bythe death of his son, Jesus Christ. I know you think about all of the terrible things God has done to judge the earth and its people like the flood, but would a God that hates us send his son to literally die for us?
      –Nate

      September 30, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Dave

      Well said.

      September 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Veritas

      Nate. Why would an omnipotent, omniscient god need to?

      September 30, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  8. Think-About-It

    My, my! Don't you just love to show your a$$ by attempting discredit someone else's intelligence. But that's just the very tactic that those with a complex of inferiority love to use! All washed out, eh!?

    September 30, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
    • Think-About-It

      Above post is for "moi ".
      (went to wrong page)

      September 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • End Religion

      Hypocrisy at its finest, brought to you by the religious. So much for the postulate of your intelligence.

      September 30, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      What a christ-like tone you have.

      September 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I answered your reply back on page 120 with this post:

      If god wanted me to think hell was "good" he could have made me that way, but instead he, being the potter and I being the clay, chose to make me with a mind that thinks eternal torture is the business of evil fvckwads-–is that what you're saying?

      September 30, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
    • Think-About-It

      ......and I responded to yours on the same page with:

      Hey, Moby, God did not say hell is good. He said it is prepared for devil and his angels,. But since you chose to listen to the devil and don't mind him lording over you, he is your father and your destiny is to be with him. To each his own, as they say!

      October 2, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • Think-About-It

      P.S.
      regarding my "tone" ... Christ wasn't to kind with words toward mockers and selfrighteous pharisees!

      October 2, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  9. john valenza

    Two brief points to this almost comical concept of lilteral belief in hell. 1) the lake of fire to which new testament alludes was historically and literally a grrbage dump outiside of Jerusalem which according to historians, burned day and night. It was used metapherically by elders to keep children in their place....'don't behave and into the lake of fire (Hades) you go'.
    It worked for the kids back then and continues to work for segments of todays literalists. 2) The Satan whio is CEO of hell is not always pictured as evil. In book of Job Satan sits in the council of God in Heaven (of all places), but if we cherry pick our literal beliefs we overlook such writiings. Just something to think about while we have the pomposity to conclude what lies outside of space and time.................

    September 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      Jump to conclusions much?

      September 30, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • End Religion

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uxuTyXQHqkI&w=640&h=390]

      September 30, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  10. dennis

    "Satan's cleverest trick was to persuade us that he does not exist." So said Charles Baudelaire. There is no defense against an enemy one refuses to even acknowledge.

    September 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • End Religion

      and there's just no arguing against crazy... you talk to imaginary people. How much more clear can it get that you have a delusion?

      September 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Which begs the question, why would people feel the need to defend themselves from that which cannot convince them it exists?
      .
      .
      "Little, invisible, magic dragons cause cancer!! Their most potent weapon is that they've convinced the medical community that they don't exist!! Fight the little, invisible, magic dragons that cause cancer!! Don't be deceived into thinking they don't exist!!"

      September 30, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • FYI

      Moby Schtick,

      Agree wholeheartedly with you.

      * "begs the question" does not mean "raises the question", though. Google "beg the question" and you will find the real meaning of the phrase in Logic.

      September 30, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      Is moby out begging again? I told his mother to watch that.

      September 30, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
    • Veritas

      Isn't Moby's correct usage? He's questioning the underpinniing premise of the Baudelaire quote.

      September 30, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  11. CNNReally?

    Yes we should abandon hell since it does not exist. The author quotes his own source, the bible, as authority, which is begging the question. Hell is a concept to control sheeple. How awful to scare children with ideas of eternal torture. I cannot check my God-given reason at the door and say I believe things that are logically preposterous. That would be lying and hypocrisy, which I believe is wrong. And I don't need old fables written by primitive people to teach me right from wrong.

    September 30, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      Sounds like a primitive argument. But what the hey, you decided.

      September 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • End Religion

      What's primitive is the thought process, "I do not understand, thus god."

      September 30, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      End Religion, don't you mean, 'We discovered DNA, thus no god.'?

      September 30, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      CNNReally?, your existence just shows how fast mutations can occur in a short period of time.

      September 30, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • End Religion

      "'We discovered DNA, thus no god.'"

      The existence of DNA does not disprove a creator.

      September 30, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      You would't be fibbin' now, would you?

      September 30, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  12. Brewski

    Everyone on the Planet is an eternal spirit residing in their temple, their body. Everyone is spiritual. Spirituality has nothing to do with religion.

    September 30, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • athanasius777

      You are right when you say that everyone has a spirit, i.e., an immortal soul that will live forever. You are wrong when you say that being spiritual has nothing to do with religion. For a Christian, at least, the very reason why God became man in the Person of Jesus Christ was to show us the way to Heaven. One way in which He did this was to found a religion, a church. He promised that religion would be guided by "the Spirit of Truth," i.e., that the human person would know, infallibly, the truth about God, faith and morals, thus providing a certain path to eternal life. One can be "spiritual" but what point is that if the person does not follow the truth? Only religion provides that, and Jesus provided it when He said, "On this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against."

      September 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • End Religion

      you girls fight fair now. No pulling at one another's weaves as you grapple to determine who's most "truthy" about the imaginary soul

      September 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  13. Philip Mark Edwards

    Yup, 'hell' is real and we all face that at some level and some dimension of ourselves. In fact, the physical and interdimensional beings all converge upon that cataclysm that earth at several points has experienced. Time is not only linear. It has happened and it will happen again. My impression is that 'someone' has tried to warn us.

    September 30, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • End Religion

      phil, there's a whole lot of documentation required in your assertion. Get crackin', honey badger!

      September 30, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  14. Seyedibar

    Yes. We should abandon the notion of Hell. It's an imaginary place used to scare people into conforming to a belief system. While we're at it, let's ditch the ideas of messiahs, prophets, reincarnation, gods, magic powers, demons, ghosts, talking snakes, and leprechauns. We'd be much better off for it.

    September 30, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      The default for man is having a god. '2Cr 3:17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord [is], there [is] liberty.'

      September 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • athanasius777

      Proverbs 15:2: "The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly."

      September 30, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • End Religion

      @anybodyread: the default for man has been fear of the unknown which he chalked up to a god. We understand you need your binky and will throw a tantrum when we take it from you but It is time to grow up.

      September 30, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      End Religion, you sound just like Hillbill Clinton who wants to shove sodomy down the worlds throat. You like war that much?

      September 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • End Religion

      @anybodyApparentlyDoesn'tRead: "End Religion, you sound just like Hillbill Clinton who wants to shove sodomy down the worlds throat. You like war that much?"

      another cogent statement, brought to you by the finest representative religion has to offer.

      September 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  15. Loggan44

    The old testament doesn't mention Heaven or Hell. Isn't it curious that God would have had that written about from the beginning. Heaven and hell didn't get added till the new testament. Hmmm...sounds like a scare tactic for gullible people. People really should be more concerned about what is happening in their life then about what may happen after they die.

    September 30, 2012 at 11:36 am |
    • Seyedibar

      It does mention Hell 31 times, by it's older name Sheol. But that would still be no reason to believe in it.

      September 30, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  16. sagewy

    I think of a famous quote reading this article, "Religion is for those who fear hell; spirituality is for those who have alreay been there."

    September 30, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      No doubt about spirits. '1Ti 4:1-2 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;' AND, drum roll.....'1Ti 4:3 Forbidding to marry, [and commanding] to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.'

      September 30, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  17. cblogz

    Mark Driscoll: All you can do is point to what the Bible says. Reality tells a different story.

    September 30, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Anybody know how to read?

      Not sick of lies yet? '1Jo 5:19 [And] we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.'

      September 30, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  18. Forever Judas

    The Kardashians and Jersey Shore 7/24, now that would be HELL.

    September 30, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • sagewy

      AMEN. The only redeeming qualities of that show would be watching them for torture purposes. I cannot even make it past the commercials for those shows.

      September 30, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  19. Moderate

    Both of these opinions are very extreme views. Either no hell (which is clearly against what the Bible teaches) or a hell where anyone who didn't hear about and accept Christ in this life will forever be "burned" in hell. Check out what the Mormons believe about hell. It is much more logical–given that we know God is love.

    September 30, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • Forever Judas

      Does the book mormon teach about Swiss Bank and OFF SHORE accounts to avoid paying your fair share of taxes?

      September 30, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  20. athanasius777

    "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
    into the unquenchable fire." (Mark 9:43) The Catholic position is a blend of the two proposed in this debate. It is clear from the words of Christ and other references in scripture that hell exists. But it is equally clear that God takes no pleasure in the loss of any soul, even the most evil. Anyone who goes to hell after death has condemned himself by a free choice to commit mortal (deadly) sin and to persist in that sin until death. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:
    1033 We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."612 "Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren. To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called 'hell.'" And again in another paragraph: 1035 "The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, 'eternal fire.' The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs." And the Catechism makes clear that God predestines no one to hell: 1037 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. In the Eucharistic liturgy and in the daily prayers of her faithful, the Church implores the mercy of God, who does not want 'any to perish, but all to come to repentance'."

    September 30, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Anthony Zarrella

      Amen! (By the way, I love the username, Athanasius!)

      God is *both* loving and judging – show me one good Father who isn't. His greatest gift to us is that He gives us our own choice – if we choose Him, He'll move the heavens themselves to draw us to Himself, but if we choose to reject Him, He'll let us, no matter how much it pains Him to see us suffer.

      God is all-merciful, and He is all-loving, *neither* of which is the same as "all-forgiving." I don't know about anyone else, but I wouldn't *want* to believe in a God who could look at Hitler, or Pol Pot, or Caligula (assuming they did *not* repent – only God knows that) and say, "Well, you may be an unrepentant monster, but since I love you, I'll just let it slide." (Not that what I want makes any difference to who God is, but I don't understand the *desire* for an all-forgiving God, who doesn't even demand sincere penitence...)

      Hell is necessary, not because God wants to see sinners suffer (I mean, come on – He bled and died for sinners, not for saints), but because His gift of free will would amount to nothing if, in the end, our choices made no difference.

      September 30, 2012 at 11:33 am |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.