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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. Abinadi

    There is no such thing as Dante's hell, a place of literal fire and brimstone. When the scriptures speak of fire and brimstone, it is metaphorical. Imagine a place where Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and all the evil people in history are sequestered in a confined space. You can't leave nor get away from them. Maybe they can't kill you, but they can torture you and play mean tricks on you and ridicule you. There is never any kindness or a soft word. Can you imagine being there for all eternity? People are no different in the next life. The kind of person you are now is what you will be in the next, and you will be with all the other people who are just like you. So, think about that!

    September 23, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  2. Raoul Duke, Jr.

    This whole so-called "redemptive view" of the new testament is junk. There is still supposed to be punishment and hell for those who don't believe in jesus, so how did the new testament change anything about the retributive, jealous god of the new testament? The same "gift" is contained in different wrapping paper.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  3. NYOMD

    The idea of a Hell can only be good for people who would otherwise do evil. It is not for intelligent, moral, and ethical human beings who have a conscience.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  4. snowboarder

    Hell is an imaginary place with which we try to scare the children.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Abinadi

      22 And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance. (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, Chapter 28).....

      September 23, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  5. Chris

    Hell is a lie told to keep you in line. If your morals come from the threat of Hell or the reward of Heaven then you're a coward and an idiot.

    "More a question than a curse, how could Hell be any worse?" – Bad Religion

    September 23, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  6. Eddie

    Only if the Easter Bunny is also real...... What a pointless question in the headline!

    September 23, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  7. yang

    jim, your ability to label everything is not really that impressive. i think it's possible that you may be intelligent, but it's not going to do you much good until you loosen up just a tad. just enough to relax the sphincters.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  8. mama kindless

    Mother nature gives us a decent soul. It comes to us biologically.

    Some people think they need to dress up their souls. Adopting Christian fable is like trying to dress up your soul with accessories from K-Mart. Adopting Islam fable is like trying to dress up your soul with junk from a flea market. (And Catholics shop at the K-Mart too, they just spend too much time at the costume jewelry department.) No matter how much you try to dress yourself up with religion, you are just making yourself outdated, false, and cheap. And you look that way too.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  9. marco

    JUST HAVE FAITH. People who dont believe, let them think what they want. Judgement will come and when that day comes, they cant regret what they said. People, you can change still. Believe in God.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  10. Masviator

    Why Hell ?

    September 23, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  11. Martin

    God is immoral. People who believe in him are gullible and immoral.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  12. jc

    Yogananda taught that it's not possible to have eternal punishmnet for a finite number of sins. Even Hitler after hundreds of thousands or millions of years will have fully paid for his sins. Makes sense to me.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  13. Pat Benatar

    We all know that Hell is for Children

    September 23, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  14. Pow

    21st century and the majority of Americans still believe in a guy in the sky that can smite them.

    Gotta give the church credit, they know how to herd their sheep.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  15. Paul Sall

    god sounds mean...

    September 23, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • j

      God sounds honest !!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You sound stupid, j.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  16. MikeyZ

    I find it ironic that purveyors of Hell persistently describe it such that it requires the existence of a corporeal form to get the full experience. The eyes (fire), nose (brimstone), physical torment (skin), emotional torment (limbic system) - not to mention the brain to which all of that is attached - are either rotting in a grave or reduced to ashes in a crematorium.

    I don't want to admonish these snake-oil salesmen for their misdeeds, though. I want to hire them. Channeled properly, these guys could make my company some serious coin.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Tom

      They do make serious coin under the veil of a church, tax free.
      – Tax the churches -

      September 23, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  17. Rick

    "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.”"

    "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.”"

    Wait, so the devil, who is in hell, will be thrown again into hell? Yep, the Bible is unclear.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Hogarth

      There is nowhere in the Bible where it says that Satan "lives" in Hell. It only references a lake of fire where Satan – who was an archangel originally at the right hand of God himself – will be cast in the end times. I challenge anyone to find anywhere in the Bible where it states that Hell is a place where souls are sent after death, because it isn't there.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • j

      @ Rick

      The devil is here on earth, Jesus says, the devil is the ruler of the earth, that's why so many people are blinded by the devil, and yes Rick it looks like you are blinded by the devil too, just by that commet you made.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • j

      @ Rick

      The devil is here on earth, Jesus says, the devil is the ruler of the earth, that's why so many people are blinded by the devil, and yes Rick it looks like you are blinded by the devil too

      September 23, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      j, did you fail English?

      September 23, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • j

      @ Tom Tom

      no Tom I didn't fail english, sorry I accidently posted that comment twice, trying to keep up with all the comments !!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Yes Seriously!

      The devil is alive and well and he's never had it so easy! This world makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like a bunch of sissies!.
      The devil will be sent BACK to Hell. I think ypu'll find THAT'S what it means.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  18. Hogarth

    The Bible doesn't mention Hell – it only refers to a lake of fire prepared for Satan and his angels. Nothing at all about human souls going there. If you believe in the Bible, then you cannot believe in Hell, as a result.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • j

      @ Hogarth

      the devils angels, the angels that took his side when he made war in heaven, and the devils other angels are people souls, people that don't believe in God and Jesus, and do the will of the devil, those are the devil's angels !!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  19. HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

    God abandons hell. Man lacks that capacity.....................'Rev 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.'

    September 23, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  20. Mike

    This article sums things up so beautifully.

    We have a reasoned and articulate discussion of religious beliefs and how they impact the lives of real people living on Earth, referencing examples to clarify the point. And then we have a reply which is content to simply quote ancient text, never bothering to draw any particular connection to the lives of actual human beings, except to threaten them with suffering if they don't listen.

    I can think of no better contrast demonstrating who I want to be versus who I'm terrified of ever becoming.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:18 am |
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About this blog

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.