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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. Cq

    "But death is not normal or natural—it’s an enemy and the consequence of sin."

    So, if we weren't supposed to die were we ever supposed to reproduce? Can you imagine how crowded the world would be if nobody (nothing?) ever died and we did reproduce? If we weren't then there would only ever have been two humans and there never would have been a world as we know it. Would have have been an improvement?

    September 23, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
  2. Tom

    An elf's favorite ice cream flavor is strawberry. Discuss.

    September 23, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Cq

      All elves, or just this particular one?

      September 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Tom

      All elves prefer strawberry ice cream to any other flavor.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • Cq

      Are we to take this on faith, or have you surveyed all the elves that exist?

      September 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • Tom

      I have seen images of elves in books who are apparently eating ice cream of a reddish tint. Thoughts?

      September 23, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • Cq

      It could be raspberry, or even watermelon, beet, or tomato-flavored ice cream. They're elves, so who knows what kind of tastes they have. They could even be vampire elves eating blood ice cream for all we know.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Cq

      Gotta go fishing.

      TTFN

      September 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Tom

      Cq – will you marry me?

      September 23, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Onetake

      You two should marry in San Francisco.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  3. puppypumper

    Of course Hell is real... look at Texas.

    September 23, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • Athy

      Or any other state in the bible belt.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  4. correctlycenter

    "The wicked concieve evil; they are pregnant with trouble and give birth to lies. They dig a pit to trap others and then fall into it themselves. They make trouble, but it backfires on them. They plan violence for others, but it falls on their own heads. I will thank the LORD because He is just; I will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High." Psalm 7:14-17...

    September 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Athy

      Good grief! Yet another bible spouter.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  5. Phoenix

    "The wages of sin is death", coming from a God who intended us to live forever, death is punishment enough. Still God was merciful and loving so he gave us a second chance and a chance at salvation and resurrection to paradise, not an awakening to eternal torment. Believe and be willing to follow his rules, or don't and stay dead.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Athy

      Man, what have you been smoking. How can you honestly believe that crap?

      September 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Tom

      you really believe that, don't you?

      September 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Bob

      These whole premises of Christianity that god is merciful or that the death of the son of god would have been any kind of "sacrifice" and was required to deal with "sin" are utter nonsense. This is a supposed omnipotent being that we are discussing. Christians, think this through a bit: how come your 'omnipotent' creature couldn't do all that supposed saving without the loony son sacrifice bit? And for that matter, how was it a sacrifice at all, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time it wants with less than a snap of its fingers? Pretty feeble god it is that you've made for yourself there. Give that some thought and maybe it will help you leave your delusions behind. You will remain a laughingstock otherwise, and the more you dwell in your silly delusion and ancient myths, instead of keeping up with advances in medicine and technology, the more America slips downward relative to the rest of the world in science and other fields.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      September 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Answer

      And where will you live once again?

      Oh yah.. your delusional heaven. A place that you can't even figure out. Will you morons who believe have to end up working for eternity? Does your heaven have an economy? Do tell what kind of 'life' there is in that afterlife..

      Are you just bums being served food.. and by whom are the slaves that serve you whilst you're lounging and listening to harp music? Where do the harps come from is another question.

      And this is all powered by god's will – aka – the eternity battery for your pleasures...

      Go and die and shut the hell up with your delusions.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • j

      AMEN, TRUE STATEMENT

      September 23, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • ttwp

      God doesn't wish to see anyone perish, but for all to come to repentance. But for many the cross of Christ is foolishness to those who are perishing because they don't want anything to do with God. Unfortunately they will get their wish and then be regretful of their decision...for there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth realizing what they have rejected and passed up on. The love of God for all eternity.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
  6. swf77

    What I am confused is whether we are talking about the Old Gods or the New, or maybe the Lord of Light? I will guess the Lord of Light, since they talk a lot about fire and God being one, but just in case I will continue to prat to the Seven. The Old Gods are super confusing because they don't have names, but we always tend to our weirwood so we have that covered. This article makes hell so much easier to understand. The one thing that I'm not sure about is why they forgot to mention the Drowned God. He will not be happy about this slight.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  7. Bob

    Lets also discuss why the wolf God swallows the sun every few years, and we have to yell at him to release it, aka a solar eclipse.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  8. Mopery

    Should we abandon the idea of Tartarus? Mictlan? Irkalla? Duat? Diyu? Uku Pacha? Xibalba? Niflheim? Avernus?

    To abandon any of these is to abandon them all. Open your eyes and realize that all religions are based on myths and nonsense, not just some of them, yours too. They're all fake.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  9. Buckhippo

    WHY in the F is this even an article on CNN? Sigh...pandering to the idiotic masses again...if it's not an article about one of those monster Kardashian women ripping a life form out of their own uterus then it's about trying to find out if hell is real??? Really??? Any reasonable human being knows that its basically all BS at the end of the day and we will only know the true answer when we die. Blows my mind that religions exists and people in religion make a career or living doing "God's" work when all they are doing is preaching divisiveness. S uck it you religious moro ns.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Marie

      Sure, we will find out when we die but by then it will be too late to raise our opinions about God. what would you say, Ooooops!!?

      September 23, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  10. Tim Jordan

    Oh yeah, hell is real - it's just outside of Barstow, California. People need to grow the hell up and act like adults. There's no afterlife and this is just a brazen scam.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Marie

      Look deep within you and if you are an adult then you will realized that you, worse then Barstow CA is burning and yearning for something greater than yourself, the bitterness from your heart come across really strong

      September 23, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  11. correctlycenter

    Atheists cannot answer the creation question, can they? Science, intellect and knowledge came from God, Who created us...

    September 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Creationists likewise cannot answer where their "god" came from? Something cannot come from nothing, so who/what created your "god"? Super-god?

      September 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Buckhippo

      Idiot.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Yes, honest people admit when they can't answer a question, and they say "I don't know" unlike dishonest azzhats who claim to know but really don't. YOu really busted us, there.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Answer

      Who made your god?

      September 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • Bob

      Actually we can. It's called the big bang which was set off by quantum fluctuations. This created equal amounts of positive energy and negative energy (adding up to zero when summed). The positive energy coalesced to form sub atomic particles which coalesced into matter, stars, and then planets. Random arrangements of of amino acids formed the first simple life forms that through evolution created man kind. This can all be proven with exact verifiable evidence, modeling. and experimentation. All of this using physics without the need for a god. Where is YOUR proof there is a god?

      September 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • POOF!

      Apparently Satan gave us logic and reason.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  12. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    One has to assume that disease is the will of "god" (just read what is said to have happened to Job in the OT). Therefore, doctors must all be going to "hell" since they're fighting the will of "god." How stupid do you have to be to keep believing this religion $h|+?

    September 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  13. End Religion

    For those who must believe in a god, what if there is indeed a god and his true test, which hasn't been revealed in any faith/book was whether or not you exercised your free will to believe in any of the various faiths/books of hate and intolerance that man created? What if the true test was something like: "Here are many versions of false religions to believe in, all of which purport to be based in love yet are clearly awash in hate and violence. Will you blindly follow the men who've told you their religion/book is holy, or will you use your mind to determine that in reality none of them are good? And that real, virtuous good only comes from your personal decision to do so without threat of pain? Everyone who is deceived by a holy book will be punished for eternity simply by not being allowed into the afterlife extravaganza."

    September 23, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Good question, but as an atheist, I wouldn't respect that god, either.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • End Religion

      @moby: which would be why i started the question off with words that would disqualify your answer...

      September 23, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  14. Sin Breaker

    I'm praying for all of you to see the one truth and way that is Jesus Christ! God Bless!

    September 23, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      Little ho mophobic troll idiot degenerates to:
      "truth be told" – degenerates to:
      "just sayin" – degenerates to:
      "captain america" – degenerates to:
      "Ronald Regonzo" – degenerates to:
      "WOW" – degenerates to:
      "!" – degnerates to:
      "j" – degenerates to:
      "Sin Breaker" – and many other names, but it's still the same disgruntled ex
      Evangelical Fortune Cookie "writer".

      September 23, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • End Religion

      If you believe in god then surely you know we have free will, and so it is god's plan not to interfere in our choices. Why would you ask god to go against his will? Are you so arrogant that you feel your needs are more important than god's swell commandments?

      September 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • j

      Sin Breaker

      save your breath, I've tried to them about God and Jesus Christ so much, it's just pointless, truth be trolled is so blinded by the devil it's not even funny, it will take a miracle from God to ope their eyes.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Buckhippo

      Your statement carries about as much weight as a schizophrenic on the street corner talking to an imaginary god. It would be too much to hope people like you get a clue and stop thinking you are better than everyone else because you have a certifiable delusion called religion. Please, don't bless me or any of us who don't believe in that nonsense. In fact Go Bless Yourself.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  15. End Religion

    What if your favorite color is red but god's is blue? Is that a sin?

    September 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Bush'12

      Mat 23:33 [Ye] serpents, [ye] generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

      September 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • Onetake

      How is it a sin when it is not one of the ten commandments?

      September 23, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • End Religion

      so you're saying his favorite color wold be more greenish or brown tones, like snakes? Good point. but you didn't answer the question. The color is irrelevant really. To answer your question, I will easily escape hell, as will everyone else, because a fiery pit of despair does not exist.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • j

      yep

      September 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • End Religion

      @onetake: what if i am lying to you that my favorite color is red?
      And a question for you: if the only sins are within the ten commandments, why is homosexuality considered a sin?

      September 23, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  16. Tombstone

    Christian, you assume we all believe in your Hocus Pocus. I bet you have nightmares of fire. You live, You die, You rot, its simple.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  17. simplehonesty

    The flame of this fight does not ignite from the difference in religious values, it burns from illiteracy. Its time you did a little research instead of listening to the propaganda you have been fed by your religious leaders. I take no side as I claim to know the truth of evil in your heart, brings no good to anyone.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Could we get an english translation of that, please?

      September 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Ken

      Moby Schtick
      OK, you're all acting like children by just taking what the pastors say at face value without opting to decide for yourselves. Simple enough for ya?

      September 23, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      No, Ken, as that does not address the issue of the poster to "know the evil in our hearts."

      September 23, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  18. End Religion

    For those who must believe in a god, what if there is indeed a god and his true test, which hasn't been revealed in any faith/book was whether or not you exercised your free will to believe in any of the various faiths/books of hate and intolerance that man created? What if the true test was something like: "Here are many versions of false religions to believe in, all of which purport to be based in love yet are clearly awash in hate and violence. Will you blindly follow the men who've told you their religion/book is holy, or will you use your mind to determine that in reality none of them are good? And that real, virtuous good only comes from your personal decision to do so without threat of pain? Everyone who is deceived by a holy book will be punished for eternity simply by not being allowed into the afterlife extrava/b>ganza."

    September 23, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • Gregg

      The ONLY true spiritual belief is to believe but admit that you don't know. people who quote repeat teach human written riddles as if they know are false and lost and wasting all that time of life they were supposed to enjoy. You don't need to know anything you just need to believe.

      September 23, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  19. Phoenix

    "Mark Driscoll is founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle"

    I'm sorry, was't Mars the Roman god of war? No wonder he's preaching hate, hell and revenge.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  20. oneSTARman

    DAMNATION – God Created the Universe and gave this Earth upon which we Live the GIFT of LIFE. Possibly no where else in the Universe was so gifted – we don't know. And YET we ABUSE the earth to the point where our very existence is in DANGER. HELL is the Famine and Pestilence and War and Death that our SELFISHNESS and Stupidity are bringing Humanity by destroying the Planet's ability to support Life because of the CURSE of Global Warming.

    September 23, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Athy

      You need to review the rules for capitalization. You were supposed to get that in about the sixth grade. Apparently you were asleep or reading your bible at the time.

      September 23, 2012 at 2:57 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.