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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. Blessed are the Cheesemakers

    Threats of eternal punishment betray a weak argument.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  2. noone

    Next on CNN, Is Santa Claus real?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  3. Dan

    Yet another attempt to rationalize the irrational. And in the course of doing so, we get even more interpretations of The Bible.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  4. SugarKube

    Ask Ted Kennedy.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  5. Paul(BosFanInCHgo)

    ...Lucifer's mission is to deceive. Either you believe or you do not, however, I do not condemn others beliefs. I understand the source and as a Christian, we are to convert not condemn, provide the knowledge with the understanding is up to the individual to decide.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      The Easter Bunny's mission is to deliver chocolate eggs.
      Santa's mission is to deliver presents.

      Got any proof to back up your Satan statement?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Dan

      I"m just being honest here and not trying to troll. I used to believe for a very long time. What drove me to being an atheist was the proselytizers. It seemed as if everyone, to include me, had a different interpretation of The Bible and supernatural, and they all seemingly contradicted each other. I was tired of listening to other people and decided to investigate for myself. When I did, I thought I would find truth. Instead, I found more of the same. If Lucifer is real and his job is to deceive, he's doing a damn fine job.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Joe mama

      Based on what we know about morality and fairness, it seems awfully contradictary for a loving God to put you in ETERNAL hell full of torment because you questioned your belief in His Son. It seems evil. Why not make your presence known, without question, and say clearly that you have to worhip me or burn in hell forever.... it seems wrong to be totally silent and give no proof of your existence and THEN surprise people at the end. It also seems meglamaniacal to threaten eternal hell... why not make us slaves then? and if He is all knowing and KNOWS we will go to hell, WHY CREATE US IN THE FIRST PLACE just to see us tortured forever???? it doesn't make any sense....

      September 23, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  6. Robert

    Hell is simply one more facet of religion that religious people use. Too many people use religion as a way to justify what they wanted to do anyway. Hell is just one piece of that mental crutch.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  7. caesarbc

    Hell is not real. It is just that bipolar duality suggests that there be an opposing force for everything. In order to sustain the concept of God and Heaven... there must be a Devil and Hell.

    It's a mind trick.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • HAVE MUD WILL TRAVEL

      The false prophet and the beast? The people caught in the middle duking it out with the dragon? So YOU figured out how it works so it doesn't exist? I've heard that one before. It's the technicians doing the ol' reverse engineering, AKA scientists.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  8. The Creator

    Oh, stop it.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Adam

      Make me!

      ......

      Oh, wait – you did!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  9. notsofast10

    I believe, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life". I live a life of thankfulness for what God has done me and believe Heaven is real and Hell is real and that I am going to Heaven for accepting Gods Gift of eternal live. If I am wrong..... what have I lost?

    You do not believe in Heaven or Hell and live your life according to your own rules and knowledge and reject God's Gift of eternal life. If you are wrong.....what have you lost?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Seyedibar

      intelligence.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • mama kindless

      sanity

      September 23, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • justmyview50

      Well said, notsofast10.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Just a John

      @notso
      Ah! c'mon, you probably only go to church to see if you can palm a few dollars off of the plate, admit it.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Of course, if you think about it even for a minute, you are taking the risk that one of the hundreds of other religious beliefs is actually correct and that you have chosen the wrong one, and will be eternally punished. Every Muslim believes just as strongly as you do that if you are not following Mohammed that you will be punished, why are you not carefully following Mohammed just to be safe?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Possibly quite a bit if Islam or some other non Christian religion turns out to be the correct one, and an angry God decides to punish you for worshipping a false prophet.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Dwayne Edghill

      That means that YOU do not really believe it. YOU are just afraid. your life is about living in FEAR. You are truly lost.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      sorry not but, like most others that put forward that question, you seem to think its an either or situation and you forget the other option......
      there is a god but isnt the one you are worshipping and you are just as screwed as the rest of us,
      best bet is to worship them all.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • notsofast10

      What you don't understand is that because we all sin, we all deserve to be punished. God's plan thru Jesus is to pay the price that we can't pay for our sin. Christianity is like no other religion because a Holy God reaches down to us thru Jesus and makes a way for us to become acceptable and Holy by wiping away our debt (consequence of sin). All other religions require us thru works to do something to earn eternal life. Christianity is the only religion where eternal life cannot be earned...and that is so hard for humans because our pride makes it difficult to accept that! Think about it.....how hard is it for you to accept a gift from a stranger without feeling like you need to re pay them? Jesus Christ was the ultimate gift and you don't have the ability to repay. That is why it is so difficult for "intelligent" humans to believe.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      "What you don't understand is that because we all sin, we all deserve to be punished."

      why?
      we would be dead at that point so why the need to punish anyone for anything? he could simply only take the 'good' to heaven and leave the rest 'non-existant', why the requirement to torment for eternity for simply failing to believe? Thats not the actions of a loving, forgiving diety.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • notsofast10

      Well Cedar, if you have lived a perfect, sin free life, then you have nothing to be worried about. However, if you have told a lie, stolen something, cheated. etc. then you cannot not be with a Holy God in eternity. Good vs Bad? Sorry again, in the eys of a Holy God, you are disqualified from being good unless you have lived a perfect sin free life. Which is why Jesus lovingly went to the cross for you, me, and everyone else to pay the price that you cannot pay yourself. The gift of eternal life, it is up to you to receive it or reject it.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      "The gift of eternal life, it is up to you to receive it or reject it."

      so thats the reward, like i said, but enless torment as a punishment for not believing (being a good person isnt enough apparently) is not a sign of a loving god.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • notsofast10

      How would you define a "good person"? Someone whose good deeds out weigh their bad deeds? By what percentage of good vs bad should we use to declare someone a good person and make them eligible for entry into heaven? Who decides? What is the criteria that is acceptable to everyone? Pretty confusing and I bet no one would ever agree. That is why our Loving Holy God made it so simple. There is no confusion. One sin, you are disqualified, period! Unless your disqualification can be over turned by someone that has the authority to do so... Jesus is the only way!

      September 26, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  10. Bill

    Mark lost me on line one when he said he's going to tell the 'truth'. Unfortunately for Mark, there are so many 'truths' out there that the chances of his being correct would be a horrible bet in Vegas. Mark, have some humility. Believe what you want, but don't sell it as the only option, cause a bunch of us aren't buying.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Moreover, those that describe the "truth" with such certainty are typically the ones who don't back it up with any evidential support whatsoever. That's just the truth because they so.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  11. confedkilla

    Conservative Christians and Muslims are one and the same. Both are capable of taking their zealous beliefs to fanatical levels leading to the death of thousands. Both believe in women having less rights than men, and women having less freedom to make decisions. Both sides have created a religious death machine that is fueled by overzealous rage, blood, and violence. Both believe in limiting the knowledge of the masses. Both believe that the Gospel of Christ leads to an ethmocenric

    September 23, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • confedkilla

      Both believe the gospels and truths of their prophets is ethnocentric including only one race and one culture in their so called eternal heaven.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • confedkilla

      Both sides are well funded and well armed.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • confedkilla

      Both use science, knowledge, and psychology only to strengthen their grip ruling over the cultures and masses. Any knowledge or science otherwise its blasphemy.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  12. Gregg

    Sunday being a day of church and football I love the way supposed religious right republican's refer problems to football games. Such as Bush and Iraq " it's not even the 4th quarter " or Romney " time to punt "

    September 23, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      They're smart enough to play the game and dumb enough to think it matters.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  13. Derek

    Our Heavenly Father is the God of Love. He sent his Son to die for All Man. Anyone believing in Him will not perish but will have everlasting.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      I don't believe, so that means I deserve eternal punishment....that is not "all loving".

      September 23, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • John

      Too bad you have fallen for a false messiah and will roast for eternity for your parents indoctrinating you into the wrong religion. Enjoy hell.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • robert

      Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man – living in the sky – who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time… But he loves you! – George Carlin

      September 23, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      "I don't believe, so that means I deserve eternal punishment....that is not "all loving".

      exactly.
      i cant force myself to believe but apparently that means i need to be eternally punished in 'perfect justice'

      September 23, 2012 at 11:24 am |
  14. ImWEBSPY

    If God is all powerful why does he need to rest?

    September 23, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      or take 6 days to make everything
      or have to discover what adam and eve did
      or have to get the people to mark the doors to ensure that angel of death didnt visit there

      or a whole slew of others.

      or even more fundamental llke why create anything in the first place, why create man, and why have a system where people have to live to determine where they go when they die?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  15. Niam Krawt

    Big surprise, Driscoll turns a discussion into proselytizing. And I love how religious people state as fact things they absolutely cannot prove in any way. You know, just like any other religion that claims to have some mutually exclusive truth that it can't prove either.

    The concept of hell can't be discussed without first discussing whether religious claims are true in the first place, something nobody has been able to prove since the dawn of time.

    Until that time, I shall continue to group religious claims with other unproven claims such as aliens, Bigfoot, leprechauns, and Santa Claus.

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

      @Niam. We'll have our "proof" after we die, won't we?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ Charles – no. no, we won;t have proof – because we'll be dead. Just dead.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Charles

      @Attack. Just reasoning through this. If no one can "prove" there's a hell, but after we die we find out there really is a hell, there we will know, won't we? Also, how do you know we'll be "just dead"? Assuming no one knows what happens after death, there's no proof that we'll be "just dead", either.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Consequence

      if you are looking for proven fact, you might as well group a million scientific suppositions along with Santa Claus. When a Christian talks about a :"fact", it is because through faith he sees biblical knowledge as fact. for us humans, there is rather little beyond death and taxes that we objectively know to be true. we do not know how the universe was created or whether there was a why and a purpose to it all. we do not even know whether certain foods are good for us or bad for us nor can we get medical science, after thousands of years of human study, to be of one mind on just about anything. We are left to exercise faith or not, to accept there is a purpose or not and to take a medical scientist's advice or not. it is really all up to us...but that is not to say there are not consequences for our choices.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  16. mary.martinsen

    is hell for real ??? No, it really is not. Nothing more than monotheistic fiction, sorry. God and devil are separate representations of morality and immorality. Unfortunately, the premise is false as devil is not supposed to be on equal footing with God, but with good v. evil concepts, he has to be painted as a separate, formidable opponent. The whole one-God notion is overly simplistic and almost childish in design.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  17. James

    I am a catholic and went to a catholic school where it was drummed into us that we would go to hell for certain sins and to purgatory ( a kinder version of hell ) for not so serious sins. Every week, it was mandatory to go to confession before the weekly mass. It was very hard to rack my brain to draw up a list of all my sins, often invented, so that I had something to confess to. That was how scared of hell I was made to be. Then, after Vatican 2, we were suddenly told that the God of Damnation is no more, to be replaced by the God of Love. I no longer let religious doctrines dictate my actions and thinking. I believe that I can be the best person possible drawing on my own spirituality and morality. That is what God will want me to do.

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

      Vatican II did not do away with hell. If someone told you it did they told you wrong. Sounds like your teachers growing up were overly legaistic as well.

      September 23, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • PepCap

      Gerald where are my unicorns??? Noah saved the 16 species of penguins and did give a hoot about my unicorns!!

      September 23, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  18. taildragon

    Excellent job, CNN, finding one believer who rationally warns against the dangers of lunacy, and one who embraces it. Even though I don't believe, it's reassuring to know that there are thinking believers out there, and not just the nutters who attract all the attention.

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

    AvdBurger ought to be kicked off here every time he posts. This isn't a place to advertise your website, spammer. If you had a better mousetrap, the world would beat a path to your door. If you had anything worthwhile to say, you'd be reeling in believers so fast you wouldn't have time to spam other venues.

    You have to come here because you can't attract anyone to your nonsensical belief system. Maybe that should tell you something.

    September 23, 2012 at 10:58 am |
  20. gary70

    this is hell

    September 23, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Hor-ny guy

      Having a throbbing stiffy with no place to plant it is hell

      September 23, 2012 at 10:58 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.