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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. Tom LI

    To the first Speaker/writer – while the NT God can have a more forgiving nature, you can not just say that is the whole picture. The OT God is still there, Jesus still tells us to be worried about that wrath...and then there's that good Old Book Of Revelation tacked on the end of the NT that just simply makes sure WE dont forget about that revengeful OT God. He aint gonna come back all full of a loving Party spirit...he's gonna come back and many are gonna get the old smote'n treatment.

    The reality is there is no point to faith in these Gods for American Xtians (and most in the West) if there is not a Hell or Heaven in their tenets. Same goes for the Muslims. Whats the point if Humans cant try and be the Judge-Jury and Executioner in their faith – making the "calls" that are only for their God to make...what fun would Xtianity and/or Islam be is it didnt make the Believer feel more special and righteous, even if their behaviors are not that special and not that righteous? "I say I am, and When I say I am, God agrees with me, because he is MY GOD!!!"

    September 23, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Damocles

      @Tom

      I agree, I see very few believers who say 'I believe simply that my deity created everything' and I see far to many say 'my deity is going to punish those that don't agree with what I say'. They tend to act like the kids that got picked on in school and wished they had a big brother to protect them.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:16 am |
  2. Danno

    No proof = no hell. I can completely make up stuff too.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  3. Forrest Rhoads

    I love it when the Christian pastors explain hell. "This is the color of the wallpaper there, and this is the setting on the thermostat. I know these things because of my clear understanding of the scriptures." They know the exact doctrinal particulars, and I guess their familiarity with the theory is supposed to lend weight to counterbalance the obvious fact that they don't know what the hell they are talking about. If there is a hell, I hope there is a particular level reserved for Christian [and Muslim] theologians, so steeped in and certain of their mutually incompatible certainties. Hell is a particularly Grimm fairy tale, but fairy tale it is, nonetheless.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  4. Reets

    Many believe the Bible teaches there is a cleanup fire, but not an ever-torturing one. Otherwise God is mean, and the problem of sin would go on forever. See such websites as amazingfacts.org or bibleinfo.com. There are 2 main differences between Seventh-day Adventists and other Christian beliefs. First is this viewpoint, and then their belief that the 10 Commandments are valid – even thou shalt not kill, or steal, or disobey parents, etc. An evangelical source for this is the book "The Fire that Consumes" by E.E. Fudge. God came to this earth as a non-threatening baby – to take our fear away.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  5. SayMorrrrreee

    Guys like this put all of their stock in the written word but often have very shallow spiritual lives.

    If Hell exists, it is a place people go to by a series of choices that take them farther away from God.

    God created people to know, love and serve him. These people who talk about Hell skip step 1.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  6. Context is your friend

    So on one hand, a commentator that paraphrases part of a single bible verse and draws "long" conclusions. On the other, one that cites numerous scriptures so that you too can check to see if what he is saying is truly what the bible says.

    This is not an argument by proxy which many try to do. Neither of these people will be with you in judgment. You can check for yourself with the verses given (and surrounding verses). Most won't confirm if they are properly parsing scripture though and will be confident in their ignorance, having already made up their minds.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  7. Eastwood

    There are many religions in this world that believe one will go to hell if he/she does believe in their gods.

    If you believe in that kind of things (yea, "things",) you should believe that no matter what you will go to hell in all of those religions but one.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • !

      Christianity is the only truly religion.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • nope

      @!: nope

      September 23, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Eastwood

      Yea, their religions say so. Keep believing in hell and good luck.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  8. 200 TON HAMMER

    If you are a born again christian as it says in romans chapter 10:9~10 you have too bring jewish people back too isreal jesus is comeing back too isreal not your brick and morter building in usa or europe

    September 23, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Where is isreal? What's morter?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:35 am |
  9. Prayer is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
    Prayer has been shown to have no discernible effect towards what was prayed for.
    Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just go to http://santorum.com to find out more.
    Prayer prevents you from getting badly needed exercise.
    Prayer makes you fat, pale, weak, and sedentary.
    Prayer wears out your clothes prematurely.
    Prayer contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
    Prayer fucks up your knees and your neck and your back.
    Prayer can cause heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
    Prayer reveals how stupid you are to the world.
    Prayer exposes your backside to pervert priests.
    Prayer makes you think doilies are exciting.
    Prayer makes you secretively flatulent and embarrassed about it.
    Prayer makes your kids avoid spending time with you.
    Prayer gives you knobbly knees.
    Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just google him to find out.
    Prayer dulls your senses.
    Prayer makes you hoard cats.
    Prayer wastes time.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Dan W

      It is said that the only power within prayer, is the power to change how you think about things. You cannot change the future, but you can change how you respond to that future. So when we 'pray' to G-d asking Him not to let our gold fish die, all we are doing is preparing ourselves for the fact that the fish my die, it may be sad, and we need to get over it.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Peter

      So agree, people who pray are more likely to not get what they want, ask the billions of starving, hurting, sick, sad and poor of the world, it is up to you to answer your own prayers

      September 23, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  10. Charlie-Chicago

    I have always been facinated by the assumption that if you don't believe in a Jesus, Muhammad, Yahweh, Vishnu, etc.. you have no chance of peace in the afterlife. What about the millions of people around the world from every kind of culture & belief that lead a good life, help others, love and care for family and friends, and do not denounce anyone else's beliefs? Are they just out of luck when they die? If God is an all loving God, why would he punish the good and the just if their only "sin" was not buying into the conventional dogma of organized religion? Like I said...it has always facinated me!

    September 23, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • !

      God also punish evil people. He is strong.

      Christianity is the only truly religion. Read the Bible!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • nope

      nope @ "!"

      September 23, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Dan W

      Of course the bible says that Christianity is the only true religion; the people who started Christianity wrote it with the intention of taking over the world and annihilating every other faith on Earth.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  11. Braveheart

    If our simple life on earth has legislation, justice and consequence then it is absurd to not to believe in afterlife. The defined law of nature and everything in it to support life and existence reflects an athoritative power to answer to. If evil and good is real then it would be natural to have consequence for those action. Author speaks of God's judgement as revenge but how about the human miscarriage of justice and inablity to carryout justice. Should our life end here without judgement then evil would go unpunsihed and good deeds unrewarded that to me is more unfair.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Bettina

      The universe does not care about fairness to a peon like you.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • Aestherus

      Life ain't fair, sweetheart.

      October 8, 2012 at 7:16 am |
  12. Sandi Winston

    Would like the author to know that Christianity is based on the teachings of Christ. Christ never supported killing our enemies and sending them to hell. Judgment we are told throughout scripture belongs to God alone.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • Peter

      Christianity is a pick and choose religion, you pick what serves you and ignore the rest!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  13. gatecrasher1

    Those who reject Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are going to Hell. That includes atheists, and followers of the Moon Prophet who came after Jesus, and rejected his message in favor of a false prophet. The Jews, I believe, at their moment of judgment will have one last chance to repent and finally accept Jesus into their hearts as YHWH, the true and only Son of God..

    September 23, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      HA HA HA HA HA! And what about all the people who lived and died BEFORE they could have possibly heard about Jeebus? What about all the people who lived and died in geographically isolated regions of the world and had no chance of hearing about Heebus......for instance Native Americans had no chance until 1500 years later! Your "god" sure is irresponsible delivering his allegedly all-important message to the universe! What an incompetent dolt!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  14. Kenny

    God cannot make a bald man grow hair, we can.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Kevin

      That's where your wrong Kenny, he can, how do you think you got hair in the first place?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      jim, how come He didn't see fit to help you grow a brain?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  15. jkrebs054

    Hell? No.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  16. Kenny

    God cannot clone a lamb, we can.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Kevin

      God spoke a Lamb into existence, can you do that?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Got any evidence, Kevin? The Bible doesn't count.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  17. Sam

    Atheists needs to look at our national motto (Hint: Read back of your dollar bill)

    September 23, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Why?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Harrison Bergeron

      e pluribus unum?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • MalcomR

      It only became our "national motto" out of the fear an hatred of the McCarthy era.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • John

      Who is the "we" in this motto? The Christian zealots in the 1950s who changed it from the previous motto and threatened and demonized anyone who dared disagree was labled a filthy atheist commie?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • jas

      If it is on money, it must be true. Most of us worship money, right?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  18. TS

    Eternal means timelessness – time is not a factor. It means a change with respect to time is not possible making heaven and hell identical ! Angry vengeful god who gives you free will only to make you an offer you cannot refuse like Godfather ! These religions are a curse to all beings and like cancer they spread causing untold violence for all living things

    September 23, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • jason

      time is a construct God made for man, think about that one..... Gen 8:22... My physics class is still baffled by that one

      September 23, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  19. Prayer is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer takes people away from actually working on real solutions to their problems.
    Prayer has been shown to have no discernible effect towards what was prayed for.
    Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just go to http://santorum.com to find out more.
    Prayer prevents you from getting badly needed exercise.
    Prayer makes you fat, pale, weak, and sedentary.
    Prayer wears out your clothes prematurely.
    Prayer contributes to global warming through excess CO2 emissions.
    Prayer fucks up your knees and your neck and your back.
    Prayer can cause heart attacks, especially among the elderly.
    Prayer reveals how stupid you are to the world.
    Prayer exposes your backside to pervert priests.
    Prayer makes you think doilies are exciting.
    Prayer makes you secretively flatulent and embarrassed about it.
    Prayer makes your kids avoid spending time with you.
    Prayer gives you knobbly knees.
    Prayer makes you frothy like Rick Santorum. Just google him to find out.
    Prayer dulls your senses.
    Prayer makes you hoard cats.
    Prayer makes you smell like shitty kitty litter and leads you on to harder drugs.
    Prayer wastes time.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • !

      Few 100% true fact why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things:

      † Atheism is a religion that makes you angry, stupid, brainwashed, ignorant & blind.
      † Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
      † Atheism makes you post stupid things (90% of silly comments here on CNN blogs are posted by closet atheists)
      † Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
      † Atheists are misguided and causes problem in our religious & public society.
      † Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
      † Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
      † Atheism making you agree with Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler (denied his faith later), Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders who killed religious people because of their religious cult!
      † No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
      † Atheists are angry, drug additcted and committ the most crime.
      † Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
      † Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
      † Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
      † Most atheists are uneducated... No atheists could run for presidency.
      † Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
      † Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
      † All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
      † The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
      † Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate & Communist countries = Atheism!
      **Only 2-3% of the U.S. are atheists/agnostics VS. over 90% who believe in God (80% Christians) in the U.S.**

      † † Our Prayers goes to atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator † †

      PS! the USA is a † nation and will always be. You know it's true and stop being ignorant and arrogant!
      (Take a look at our federal/state holidays, 99% of our presidents, blue laws in parts of the nation, name of some cities/counties/streets, the majority of people, some laws, calendar, culture, etc.)
      http://rightremedy.org/tracts/7

      ¦There is only one God and it is to Him that you pray. All others pray to false gods and idols. Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist are all lost unless they know Jesus as their Lord & Savior.¦
      /

      September 23, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  20. MalcomR

    @Christopher: Do you really think that people only do good because they read it in a 2000+ year old book? Really? Have you never seen apes in the wild? Doing exactly what humans do? They kill, they love, they plot against each other, they sacrifice themselves for loved ones and friends, and it goes on. Why do apes, wolves, bees, ants, etc, not simply kill each other in rampant compet.i.tion? Why do they live in stable social groups? Hmmm? Where's their book?

    September 23, 2012 at 9:27 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.