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.
The missing component of this good debate, IMO, is both sides are missing the literary unity of the bible and the genre of "unquenachable/eternal fire" which is apocalyptic & literary, not literal in the OT texts. So, it makes sense it is the same in the NT .
Several OT texts speak of unquenchable fire as judgment, Sodom and Gommorah is one, yet there is no unquenchable fire, it's a literary/apocalyptic genre of speech of the Jewish prophets. I think Jesus spoke that way as well. So, I'm with the first gentleman, the idea is not literal.
Well after reading the pastor's wise words, I know how I am voting... I am voting for the Christian, Barack Obama. Romney's beliefs are false because he believes in cult leader Joseph Smith's blasphemous writings.
Jesus clearly spoke about heaven and hell (Matthew chapter 7). These places are real and man today cannot wish these places away because we live in a politically correct world. Absolute truths are exactly that.God does not lie, but man does. God's ways are not necessarily man's ways. Man must adapt to God, not God adapt to man...
No. I consider the idea of eternal torment to be evil, and I will not call it good just because you and your god do. He can take his pick, either there is no hell and he is perfect love who casts out all fear, or he is a hell-creator and isn't a loving, fear-dispelling god, but he can't be both.
man wrote the bible
Camels/ Goats/ Sheep -Don't forget to read Matthew 19:24 and Matthew 25:31-46.
Those places are real because a book man wrote said they were real. Can't argue against that logic.
Response to "steelerguin": Which is why I say "Religion was created by man to control man", and Religion is controlling man through fear. I agree with Mr. Schaeffer. Between the fanatical Christians and the fanatical Muslims there isn't going to be a planet to live on soon. You've heard it said that "man is created in Gods image". Well, I say that God is created in mans image. From the beginning of Christianity we've given God the attributes of hate, vengeance, jealousy...you name any negetive emotion and Gods got it. Ask yourself...who "created" the Bible? Who decided which scrolls to use and which to leave out. There was nothing "Holy" about the Holy Crusades and there is nothing "Holy" about what's going on in the world today. Believe what you want but don't try to make me believe it. Believe what you want but don't create the government in your image and expect me to tow your line. I came to this planet to experience my life not yours. Let like minded people come together if it makes them feel better but let them come together because they want to, not because they were intimidated through fear and threats of a hell everlasting if they don't believe what you believe or through fear of death and hell on this earth if they don't believe.
Tell me one thing Unca Suga doesn't have his fingers in. It's too late. You already have a gubmint god.
God is love. God loves all his children. God is not made in mans image, as Ris seems to believe. God doesnt have hate or jealousy. If he did he would have destroyed us all for our sins by now. God has to judge sin or we all would have just automattically gone to heaven. What kind of heaven would that be. He could have just invented heaven and had us all be robots that loved him....but instead he gave us this imperfect world filled with our imperfect selves. How would we learn what true love really is.
And dont worry for all of those who dont want to spend and eternity with God in love...well there is a place for you too. Those who go to Hell want to be there anyway. It has been said a few times on here that they would rather be there than in heaven having to worship God. So everyone is happy.
Absolutely god is made in man's image
C, you just basicaly said that God created Hell so people could go there and be happy. That seems pretty bizarre to me, almost as bizarre as God creating hell and then sending most of humanity there to suffer for all eternity. Neither makes any sense to this Christian.
Everyone will have there chance, before they die, to accept Jesus as their saviour...If it is truly in your heart and soul to accept him, you will have eternal life with him. If you are a sinner and do not want to repent, then you like to live in sin and dont like God telling you what to do, then you belong in hell...These sinners do not belong in heaven, just look what happens now on earth when the good are together with the sinners....So, yes, the sinner seems to have chosen hell over an eternal life living with God. So in turn it seems to me that they would be happy with their choice to keep living in sin over being in heaven or why else would they choose that.
c: your god is impotent.
C, everyone has a chance to accept jesus before they die? And what of all the native folk living over here in the new world, who had never heard of jesus for nearly 1500 years? Did they get a pass or were they sent to hell? Or for that matter, what makes you think the natives would be eager to flock to a religion whose sole representatives up to that point had engaged in wanton slaughter of their people and drove them from their lands?
I don't know about abandoning it, but I think we should avoid trying to go there.
I challenge you to avoid going to Neverland.
I know Neverland. I've been to Neverland. And sir? Your hell is no Neverland.
Hell is the lower astral plane. Where people who are so attached to material possessions and pleasure that they can go until they heal and progress beyond a superficial view. It is a nasty place but you are not stuck there forever unless u want to be. One story of the lower astral plane was of a guy counting his imaginary gold over and over again for example. Or someone surrounded by all the drugs in the world but can't get high because he is a spirit. Stuff like that. It is a place to see the errors in your beliefs and return back to health
Aye, Mordor is not a place anyone would go willingly, even if you could get past the Watchers at the Gate...And one story was a guy who was counting his golden ring over and over again...
Oh wait, you don't mean you actually believe in Mordor do you? Might want to keep your eyes peeled for a van and some men in soft shoe's wanting to put a tight fitting white jacket on you...
Never heard of mordor. Fantasy usually hides the truth though. Lower Astral is the same place you go when you have nightmares. Its basically an octave in the 4th dimension. Many people can consciously visit the Astral plane too. Do a little investigation with and open mind.
This is all so crazy it is comical.
In Lateran Council V, Pope Leo X condemned all who believed that the soul is mortal. The true biblical teaching that the soul of man is mortal was attacked by Rome. All who beleived it were considered heretics. Ready targets for Rome's Inquisitions. In reality, the idea of human souls being Immortal is the very heart of the occult Spiritulism that erupted in the late 1800's and is today thriving in the New Age Movement.
The Bible does not teach that Hell is a place were individuals are tormented under fire forever. It goes contrary to God's personalty. According to 1 John 4:8. "God is Love." It was out of love that HE created the universe and humankind. When God created the Earth, HE put Adam and Eve under beautiful, peaceful conditions to enjoy life. They had everlasting life to look forward to. Adam and Eve did not exist before being created on the Earth and when they dead because of disobedience they suffered the consequence of their decision and grew old and died. They went back to that non-existence state. The Bible teaches at Eccleiastes 9:5, 10..5 For the living are conscious that they will die;*+ but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all,*+ neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. 10 All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power,+ for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge+ nor wisdom+ in She′ol,*+ the place to which you are going. Sheol is the Hebrew word for Hell, or common grave of mankind. Also, God is the source of all life and life is a gift, he does not punish individuals with eternal suffering. Wicked individuals will no longer exist. Notice also, here at Jeremiah 7:30, 31 30 ‘For the sons of Judah have done what is bad in my eyes,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘They have set their disgusting things in the house upon which my name has been called, in order to defile it.+ 31 And they have built the high places of To′pheth,+ which is in the valley of the son of Hin′nom,*+ in order to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire,+ a thing that I had not commanded and that had not come up into my heart.’+ The nation of Israel rebelled against their God Jehovah and started doing things contrary to his will, they adapted pagan rituals from pagan nations and were burning their children in the fire. A thing that Jehovah God had not command his people to do nor did it even come up in HIS heart. So if He Jehovah God would not command His People to do something like this on a small scale and that it did not come up in HIS heart, then why would he do something like this on a larger scale? Does not make sense, that is because the Bible doesnt teach Hell fire........
Unfortunately, you have misinterpreted scripture. The bible is very clear about hell and the "lake of fire". God desires all should be saved through belief in Jesus which is consistenet with His personality as you put it. However, we all have free will and unfortunately some decline His grace and face the consequences.
'..............The Bible teaches at Eccleiastes 9:5, 10..5 ....' Watch out for the Watchtower.
The Bible repeated teaches that death is a sleep. When Lazarus was awakened from being dead for 4 days he did not say "WOW! Heaven is awesome!", or "Purgatory is so weird!", or "Hell is horrible!". He was asleep and Jesus said so! Jesus unmistakenly declared death to be a sleep. Ecclesiastes 9:5, right in front of me from the King James Bible, says "the dead know not anything." What makes people think the second death will include torture if the those supposedly being tortured are asleep and decayed into dust. Genesis 3:19 says "for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Revelation 20:14 declares the Lake of Fire to be a second death. Malachi 4:3 says the ashes will be under the soles of the feet of the righteous. I have never heard anyone preach that the ashes will be screaming some audible or silent scream, and no, I am not a JW, just an old fashioned Protestant.
The idea that the soul is immortal is a strong Papal belief. Both Protestand Reformers William Tindale and Martin Luther were condemned by the Vatican for diagreeing with the Papacy regarding the nature of man. They both believed the "soul" of man is mortal. The Vatican believes in the Immortality of the Soul. .http://biblelight.net/luther-tyndale.htm
Surprisingly to some, the supposedly atheistic forces behind the French Revolution believed in the immortality of man's soul. These enemies of God sent countless people to the guillotine for disagreeing with its beliefs. Satan's lie to Eve was essential this: disobedience will lead to Immortality. In reality, the wages of sin is death.
'So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell,
"I'm as mad as hell,
and I'm not going to take this anymore!!"'
Reverend Driscioll, to me, is more like the Devil Incarnate than a pastor. "We are right and everyone else is wrong." Sorry Reverend, rhis "church" sounds more like your own self righteous ego trip than a house of worship – more like a cult. Trafficking in fear and closed mindedness is all I hear in this article....Very scary.
Don't worry, be happy. Your daddy make it all bettttttter.
'Very scary'?? OH, oooohh. 'Rev 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and who remongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.'
Rev. Driscoll gave a succinct synopsis of Christian doctrine regarding death, judgement, and hell. It is up for you to believe or deny it. There was nothing "fearful" in anything that he had written. You are the one doing the name calling and finger pointing. Not once did Driscoll's response chastize those who don't believe. He was merely presenting what the Bible teaches.
Agree. Sounds pretty insane to me. And the only "proof" that what he's saying is true is basically "it's in the bible, therefore it is true."
Come on, man.
What if..... there are more than one layers of universe? And.... what if somehow from beyond this layer of universe a being called God was able to create matter and essentially hold the shape of the universe into the form it has? What if that being (God) was rejected by the inhabitants of one of those layers of universe (lets say, this one for example) and God simply removed his hand from the process of holding the atoms together that made up all the forms of matter in that layer of universe? What happens when atoms fly apart? Nuclear fire maybe (as in the process encountered in a nuclear explosion)? So what if "hell" is a reference to a layer of universe destined to ultimately come unglued (become a layer of nuclear fire) and references to it were not so much threats as they were warnings? A place exists where God forever turns away from. A place where any who want nothing to do with God have the freedom to make something out of nothing (reassemble the matter God once held together) if they are able. Yet... what if they are not able after all? Seems to me all rather logical. Perhaps there is a layer of universe called "Hell" and perhaps we are already in it waiting for it to unwind to its final state. If it happens to be true then the words about passing through the fire to a new layer of universe called "heaven, new earth, etc" could also be true. I know... a lot of "what ifs" right?
Hell, I have been saving extra money so I can buy my way to heaven while I raise hell on earth. It's all that stupid. Leave folks alone. Eventually they will find their true place if they haven't already
Oh "heavens" no! It makes for great entertainment. Since I'm regularly said to be possessed by the devil, where would I set up shop if there was no hell?
Now since I am an atheist, you might as well say I'm possessed by tinkerbell, or santa claus I take all that about equally seriously.
Oh the lake of fire thing? I would not get too hung up on any one of the 100,000 or so versions and translations fabricated out of myth out there.
What.. abandon Hell? Then what would all the movie and TV writers write about? Plus authors.
Hell is a great subject for some.
Persuading sane adults that hell exists is hard enough. When you start by implying that Bush and bin Laden are equivalent because they both believe in hell is absurd. I despise Bush, but gimme a break.
Now: equating America's far right with the Taleban - there you have a solider argument. But hell has nothing to do with that, either. The problem for both of those groups is their insistence on imposing their moral code on the rest of us, even if it means killing.
Interesting contrast in styles of argument in the two above editorials. The first makes a rational appeal to abandon the notion of Hell for the sake of greater social good. But the problem is, people won't abandon the belief in Hell for rational arguments of social good. No, they'll only abandon belief if something can overcome their fear of punishment for their lack of faith. The most galling element to me of both Christianity and Islam is their emphasis in many circles on fear of punishment if one should stray from "the path." It's all blatent attempts to control the masses through fear-mongering. This notion of eternal torment as punishment for lack of faith or for rejection of the "true belief" is entirely inconsistent with the central Christian principle that God IS love. I just don't buy it.
You can not "buy it" if you wish. It is the Truth and it is something you don't want to get wrong.
Eternity is a long time. Ask God to reveal to you if there's any truth to what Driscoll wrote. Scripture says if "you ask it will be revealed" Why take the chance of being on the wrong side of this? May God bless you.
Christianterry: Your argument is sort of laughable.
First of all, you imply that only you and those who think like you have "the Truth"
Then you engage in a Pascal's wager argument about "not wanting to get it wrong"
Sam Stone: What if "Truth" really is absolute? Example... Christ said "I am the truth."
Hmmmm: "Truth" may indeed be absolute. But, for anyone to claim that they have the ultimate truth is hubris.
Hmmmmm....which Word Of God (TM) is "The Truth"? How many versions do the Christians have?
And, given the amount of translation and editing that has gone on with the bible, how can you be certain WHAT Jesus said?
Hmmmm....will you respond?
How about we abandon christianity instead and maybe this hate and negativity that permeates everything they touch will fade.
this miller kook is a bigot. you got it right. let him eat wafer.
I would love to see that happen to all three major religions. Sadly it will never happen because far too many people have been brainwashed about religion, God and hell that without these society would descend into utter chaos.
I think by making hell not matter or by considering to make the same disappear / not exist one would have to also eliminate or eradicate and do the same with the idea of haven or basically then the entire Hereafter. This would then mean that the good (predominant element of a man's composition) and the evil thoughts (the only one item in this world that is not subservient to man) are just concepts and not exist in reality. Wouldn't this then not lead to the doing away with the composition of the very world itself that we live in and that does exist and have and will consist of the prophets or the people of God and the Bushs or the Osamas of the world. Hence above are not just ideas we can do away with or think they not exist as we surely not live in a perfect world. The world though is very beautiful and on how much it is so would be a different debate.
To fill hell with disbelievers on either side is not a responsibility passed over to a man but is for the God himself (The most Forgiving & Merciful) and to make sure we do not become hell-bond and do become haven-worthy in the Hereafter is a responsibility that rests on our shoulders. To know right form wrong is with-in our making (our conscience) but to keep the evil thoughts (mischief and blood-shed) out of our minds the Hereafter the haven and the hell is a MUST: A natural way a self correcting path for Bushs or the Osamas of thsi world.
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.