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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. NeilSalemMA

    I found this on a web site called Kheper:

    "A group of people was once traveling through a desert, when it so happened that three of them strayed away and got lost. Tired and thirsty this trio wandered around the desert in the hope of finding some respite. Finally their quest came to an end when they discovered a high well. The first man rushed to it, looked over the wall and found it full of delicious ambrosial water. He immediately exclaimed in a gesture of frenzied euphoria and jumped into it never to come back. The second too did the same. The third man finally walked over quietly over to the well, peeped over its high wall and then turned around and went back, returning to the desert to search for his other fellow travelers, to help guide them to this paradise."

    I believe there is no eternal damnation. We are never alone – never abandoned, not even after death.

    If a man or a woman finds himself alone in the dark, it is only because he has lost his way. He need only listen carefully for his name being called out, calling him to safety and to love.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  2. Atheist motto from the bible

    1 Corinthians 13:11 "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

    September 23, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • sam stone

      Wow..a book...how impressive

      September 23, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  3. truth be trolled

    Penn Jillette on God, No!, Atheism, Libertarianism, & More . . . . .
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aN3-3oNmOMo&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  4. Raider

    Easy answer on this one: Nope.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  5. notea4me

    Religion is the root of all evil. Their is no heaven or hell.

    September 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  6. yoko

    Utter nonsense. God is as real as Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny.
    Idiots kill themselves and others over an old fairytale that gives them comfort and meaning to life. Shallow sheep.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  7. appalled

    Do you also believe in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?? Whoever wrote the books of the bible were higher than kites on opium! Big imagination & the world is dumb enough to believe it!

    September 23, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • John

      An ignorant soul who has never tested the bible through historical fact would hardly put up a good argument against it. Read the Taylor Prism and then the book of Isaiah

      September 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ john – like the historical "fact" of god making Adam out of clay, or dust, or whatever, and then making Eve out of his rib/ Like the historical "fact" of Noah building a boat, taking 2 of every species on board for a year – a year -and then repopulating the earth. Those "facts"???????

      September 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  8. John

    The early church fathers, Yeshua and his disciples quoted from the texts and the name of the book of Enoch. It is difficult to understand but, if you note chapter 22 and Yeshuas parable of the unforgiving servant where he was in jail until he paid the price, ( which would be forgiveness ) he'll was not eternal for those people. It is for some, but that mystery is Gods, not mans.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Enoch, Ehoch.
      Ewho's there, Ewho's there?

      September 23, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  9. Chad

    lol alot of these people should be posting on foxnews.com not on here. religion get our of politics or be taxed. im so sick of this crap. its 2012 not year 400 when people yelled at the moon to stop eating the sun!!!!!1

    September 23, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  10. TruthSeeker

    Hell is the most evil doctrine ever created. It amazes me how Christians and Muslims can look forward to a time when the vast majority of mankind will be tortured in flames for an eternity while they 'enjoy' paradise. Only psychopaths would enjoy such a 'paradise'. I for one would rather burn with the rest of my fellow human beings than take pleasure in their pain and tears.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Chad

      MILLIONS OF RELIGIONS CHOOSE ONE WISELY OR YOU ARE GOING TO BUUUUUUUUUURRRRRNNNNNNN

      September 23, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  11. PRISM 1234

    F. Schaeffer is a bigot. Only someone who is inflamed by hatred and bigotry can paint the picture of true Christianity and its followers the way he did.

    Everything Mark Driscoll said is correct.
    But why do people have problem with God? Because of rebellion in their hearts, because they love darkness more than light.(John 3:19)

    September 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Any being that would punish people for thought crimes is immoral and full of hate. Your god is a god of hate.

      September 23, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      But He says you are condemned because you refuse His hand of mercy. He says you are doing it becaue of darkness that's in your heart. Who do you think will have the last word?

      September 23, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Hey, Prissy, where do you think Samuel Barber is spending eternity? Did your god send him to the lake of fire because he was gay?

      September 23, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
    • sam stone

      Still spending life on your knees, begging for forgiveness, eh Prissy?

      September 23, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Sammy boy you spend your eternity weeping and begging, but to no avail!
      Have a good one, Sammy boy!

      September 23, 2012 at 1:34 pm |
  12. Nation Of One

    I was a Christian Catholic but converted to Islam. It has been 10 years now and my life could not be any better. Many are confused nowadays because many have questions and no one can answer them. However, I can assure you that you will find all your answers in the Islamic scripture, the Quran. Hell and Heaven are clearly drawn out for you in several chapters in the Quran.

    For those who deny (the coming of) the Hour We have prepared a flame. When it seeth them from afar, they hear the crackling and the roar thereof. And when they are flung into a narrow place thereof, chained together, they pray for destruction there. 25:11-13

    and the list goes on....

    September 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • Raider

      So you abandoned one fairy tale for another.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Actually your life could be a LOT better. Leave the fairy tales, grow up, and become a responsible member of the human race

      September 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • ptknight

      "Christian Catholic" is an oxymoron. Throughout history since it was formed, the Roman Catholic Church was the persecutor of Christians. It never has been and never will be Christian. It is idolatrous, and it's no wonder that the religion believes in and perpetuates the idea of eternal burning punishment since they burned or martyred millions during the dark ages. Being a Christian is being for Christ, not the anitchrist. Sadly, most Prostestant churches continued in some of the evil beliefs of the Catholic religion, and the belief in the immortal sould and eternal punishment in hell are two of them.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  13. Bill the Deist2

    I can't seem to be able to reply to my original post regarding deism. To summarize: There was too much evidence for an omnipotent, intelligent designer for me not to believe in God, but too much BS in the religion business for me to label myself as a particular denomination. This is why I chose to be a deist. Deism: Belief in a God (based on reason and nature alone) who set creation/evolution in motion, then chose to step back and observe. Does not believe in the legitimacy of any religions or the bible for that matter (as it was written and edited by man). I was asked for an example of the evidence for an intelligent designer. Well here's one of my favorites. Enjoy.
    The following is an excerpt from a speech made by Thomas Paine to the Society of Theophilanthropists in Paris, France, shortly after the French Revolution:

    September 23, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Bill the Deist2

      Screw it, CNN is being F'ing lame. You can read it at http://deism.com/deism_vs.htm.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Helpful Hints

      Bill,

      See the list of hints on the previous page (#33)

      September 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Bill the Deist2

      In the first place, admitting matter to have properties, as we see it has, the question still remains, how came matter by those properties? To this they will answer, that matter possessed those properties eternally. This is not solution, but assertion; and to deny it is as impossible of proof as to assert it.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
    • Bill the Deist2

      Thank you, I'll try again.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  14. Chad

    life is hell.... PERIOD

    September 23, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      A PERIOD is Hell – that's life

      September 23, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  15. Gregg

    Peace on Earth solution
    Every Sunday religious people could where white T shirts and walk around outside with crosses.
    Every Sunday non religious people could wear black T shirts and stand by their window's with AK 47's

    September 23, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  16. Chad

    the day i was a close minded creationist. Noah being 500 years old, talking snakes, walking on water this that. killing your neighboor for working on sunday because its a day of rest. 90 percent of the bible is disgusting. over half of it was copied from other religions generations before it. remember the days the vikings screamed at the moon because they thought it was eating the sun then they thought they won after the moon passed... thats the mind set before science. i was a creationist for 20 years before i grew up. hey people what human being can think of a place that everyone would be scared of? drowning noooooo shot in the head noo how about BURNING for ETERNITY... if you dont come to church and dont say sorry you are going to hell. such simple mindsets for simple minds for people scared to die. time to open a science book and trust real geniuses real brains and look into the laws of physics rather the laws of standing on water.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      You must not be the same "Chad" we are used to seeing on the Belief Blog. Welcome, rational, non-believer!

      September 23, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
    • One one

      And what is really disturbing is all the people who truly believe that billions of people will suffer eternal torture for not believing as they do AND ARE PERFECTLY OK WITH IT.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  17. The_Mick

    Personally, I think that if there is a Hell, it's not a place of fire: Jean-Paul Sartre had the right idea in "Huis Clos" ("Closed Door" but usually called "No Exit" in English). Souls taken to Hell are put in a room and they keep asking where the fire is as the attendant arrives with each new soul. Finally, it becomes apparent they're stuck forever in a room with people they can't stand. Each can't stand the others. Growing up Catholic, somethere in my early-teenage years I asked -in religion class- why Hell isn't such a big deal to the Jews, but it is to the Catholics. Since the whole Heaven-Hell arrangement was set up BEFORE Christianity, why was our version different than the Jewish version and included some new place called Purgatory? Since then, of course, the brains of the Catholic Church finally reached the same conclusion my 13-14 year-old brain did about Purgatory: it doesn't exist.

    September 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  18. One one

    When I was a child my mom said "if you are good, you go to heaven."

    "If you are bad, you go to hell"

    "And if you are VERY VERY good, you go to heaven and get to go to hell on weekends".

    September 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • John

      LOL, love it!! ;-)

      September 23, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • sam stone

      heaven for the climate, hell for the company

      September 23, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
  19. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    We all know purpose of hell, to scare you into heaven .. but what is heaven for? Let's say you get in .. now what? What's the purpose, the goal, to what end do we spend eternity in worshipful bliss, what's the point in that?

    September 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • WachetAuf

      I have not seen heaven described except that it is a place of perfect peace. Such a place would have us being more like little puppy dogs who wait on their master to think for them, to feed them, to rub their belly, to take them for a walk, to punish them if they misbehave. A place of perfect bliss. Ignorance is bliss, so I am told.

      September 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • I wonder

      I wonder if one could ever trust this trickster, monster god not to pull off more hijinks in 'heaven'....

      September 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
  20. David

    Is this question for real?

    September 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.