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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. Pol Pot

    Is hell real? Not any more than heaven is. Get over the fantasy guilt trip and enjoy this short life.

    September 23, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  2. llɐq ʎʞɔnq

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk6ILZAaAMI&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      lol! nice one, bucky.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      I've been praying for years for the blessing of receiving and experiencing the blessed milk jugs of a certain Ms. Scarlett Johansson – so far my prayers have not been answered.

      Stupid god!

      September 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Shahid

      ALLAH is the GOD, only one GOD, and Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) is the last and final Messenger of ALLAH (GOD). and Jesus (PBUH) and Moses (PBUH) so on all, are GOD Messengers who delivered the GOD message to this WORLD in the EARTH

      The Video who is created, I would say he is the baby means he doesnot know the basic of the World , how is created, I have so much sympathy this guys who created the Video, because he is in the ignorance, May ALLAH (GOD) guide him right path.
      PRAYER to GOD (ALLAH) is the communication between you and GOD, GOD answer your prayers always.

      Can I ask him following questions, if he think very sincerely and conciously :

      1. How you and you body is create, means how you came in this world, who is created your Hand, leg etc.... Think about yourself first, Is that you or someone else.

      2. Science nowadays proven the reality of existance of GOD(ALLAH), are you able to see the AIR, why you believe it is AIR, tell me why ? Is that you feeling or touching or seeing. your answer No. because you are feeling, but the exists of ALLAH(GOD) beyond this example, I am just create understanding for you..

      3. Who is the Nature, your science said everything came from Nature, who is nature, your scientist proved that somebody controlling this universe, galaxies, mountain, sky, water, air, etc.... WHO answer is ALLAH (GOD).

      4. Your Intelligence so weak that you can't control or stop your death,, , I know you will say everybody has a taste of death why not me, so why not you stop that...everybody knows Date of Birth (DOB) but doesnot know the Date of DEATH (DOD).

      I have much more questions to give you understand of GOD(ALLAH) is exists, he is no imaginary, it is your weakness of your brain that you have... once you died and then you can see whole the thing your eyes, but for this you need to wait.

      I hope you will understand... I'll invite you to come in ISLAM and see the reality of GOD(ALLAH)....If you want to ....

      MAY ALLAH Guide me and you... Ameen

      Thanks
      Shahid

      September 23, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  3. Ray Hanson

    Ignorant people like this author are definitely the devils advocate. We are all God's creation, and he is a JUST God, not wanting anyone to go to Hell. Love your enemies you fool! Why do you think he would put his own son on the cross if not to give us ALL a path to heaven IF We So Choose! It grieves God to see anyone reject him and choose their own eternal sentence!!

    September 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • sam stone

      ray......that's funny.....the way you imply that you speak for god.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
    • End Religion

      ray, you are not god's spokesperson. I am. And he wants you to know you've offended him. He commanded you not be arrogant, yet you are. He commanded you obey him, but you haven't. He wants you to apologize, and to not transgress again. He doesn't want you to pray for forgiveness though because praying is a waste of time.

      September 23, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
    • j

      says ahteists are fools, for not believing in God

      September 23, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  4. j

    God gives you a chance to repent from your sinful and wicked ways and turn to Jesus Christ your savior, everytime you wake up in the moring, everyday that passes is another day lost to turn to God. God says TODAY is the day to turn to Him, because tomorrow is not yours.

    September 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • MDAT

      We don't want that.Tolerate.Preaching with fear of hell which is not real is stupid.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Athy

      j, you're bible washed beyond any hope of recovery.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • j

      what's stupid, is not believeing God, God calls these people fools !!

      September 23, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • sam stone

      j: free people do not need to be saved. slaves do. now, b1tch, get back on your knees and beg

      September 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Athy

      When did god say that? Did I mss it somehow? Wasn't it on the front page of my newspaper? Maybe it was on the late news?

      September 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • tallulah13

      "j" can speak for god, because god lives inside "j"s head.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • j

      read the Bible, I'm telling you guys, you all think i'm crazy, read the Bible

      September 23, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • Athy

      Does the bible say you're crazy?

      September 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      J, what part of the bible should we read? The rib woman part? How about the talking snake? The rabbits chewing their cud? The guy who lived to 969? How about the incestuous old fart who built a boat and put 2 of EVRY animal on it, and sailed around for a year, then repopulated the earth.

      Right – just read the bible. right.

      September 23, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • sam stone

      j: iron age sheep mounters called these people fools, not god.

      September 23, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  5. jamesH28

    Lately I've been having what can only be described as 'out of body experiences'. I wouldn't have believed in them if I hadn't experienced them for myself. All I know is that what we experience 'with' our physical senses, can also be experienced 'without' them. Everyone has dreams where they see things, hear things, taste things, smell things, and feel things. There's something far more interesting going on in life, beyond what we experience with our physical senses. But I don't believe this other form of existence has anything to do with the ridiculous fear mongering of the religions who speak of things like 'heaven and hell'. Religions use scare tactics to control a population of people. I believe there's something truly amazing going on in the world, but we'll never understand it until we abandon all the current models of 'belief'.

    September 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  6. CSX

    When David's son dief because of his sin, he knew he would see his so again.....2Sa 12:23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

    September 23, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • j

      God killed David's first born son, because he was a result of sin, when David committed adultery with beth sheba

      September 23, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • redzoa

      Well that makes perfect sense if you just don't think about it...

      September 23, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Athy

      Wasn't it Bathsheba? j, you can't even get the spelling right from your fable book.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Nah, Athy. It Bath's sister, Beth. He had a thing for sisters.

      September 23, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Athy

      Yes, I knew all those sheba girls. Man, they were alright.

      September 23, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  7. Scott

    I love unicorns. They are real, I swear!

    September 23, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • redzoa

      You forgot to add that if someone doesn't accept the "truth" of unicorns, they will ride upon its horn for all eternity after they die.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Of course they're real. They're mentioned in the bible!\

      Job. 39:9-10 KJV, "Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? 10Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?"

      Psalm 22:21 KJV, "Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns."

      Isaiah 34:7 KJV, "And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness."

      September 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • AnhiliatioBunny

      We live. We die. We face The Easter Bunny. Period.
      Have you confessed your nonstop desire for eggs to the Easter Bunny, seeking better variety and a higher cocoa content?
      If not, you are Chocolateless, and there is no store open on Easter Sunday that will be of any help when you stand before The Easter Bunny for more eggs.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  8. KalifUni

    We all are living in hell now my friends. It is not the end.

    September 23, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  9. Fact

    @Brain Hetz: Of course to an atheist or agnostic what Driscoll says sounds insane – "The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing." 1 Cor. 1:18. Nevertheless, it is true and hell does exist.

    September 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • MDAT

      It is not real.Do I have to make a Portal of obsidian?

      September 23, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • tallulah13

      So you accept a bible verse that says the bible is true as proof that the bible is true? Sucker.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      @ tall – I'd use the term "moron" instead of sucker for fukwit Fact

      September 23, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
  10. KalifUni

    The fact that you put Bush and Bin Laden in the same sentence makes your entire article moot. You are an evil little man.

    September 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  11. Marty

    God loves all of humanity, not just Christians. To think otherwise is to put our failings on Him.

    God is capable of love, forgiveness, mercy and charity on levels that we humans cannot even fathom. There is a place in Heaven for all of His children!

    May God bless us all – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists – everyone!

    September 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  12. Gunnar

    Just imagine there were a torture video from hell.
    You show it to a Christian without telling him the source, and he would probably be like:
    "Oh no, this is awful! Disgusting! What a horrible thing! How can anyone do such a thing to a human being?!"
    Then you tell him it's a petty criminal who is being tortured there, and he might say:
    "But you can't do such a terrible, cruel thing to anybody, no matter if he's a good person or not! It's just wrong!"
    Then you tell him, it's actually a torture scene from hell. And he's like:
    "Oh, in that case... This is great! I am happy to see that he gets what he deserves and that his agony will go on forever. What a fine example of God's perfect justice! Praise the Lord! – Can I see some more?"

    Religion has the potential to destroy your natural feelings of empathy. Use with caution.

    September 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  13. jean

    How many people would keep their religious affiliation if God were to announce that there is no heaven and no hell? This is it. Why do people choose the religious affiliation that they do? Is it that particular religion's view of the here and now, or the promise (or fear) of what comes after that gets people in the pews?

    September 23, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Marc

      Umm, most religions don't have a literal heaven and hell. Judaism doesn't – Buddhism doesn't.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  14. joeymom

    Is Hell for real?

    No.

    Next....

    September 23, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  15. Brian

    Hell doesn't exist and the scriptures do not support the existence of hell. What most don't realize is that most "bibles" have been altered greatly in their texts to continue the doctrines of specific religious sub-groups. Look at the actual Hebrew and Greek texts to see what the words are to get an accurate understanding. Socrates and Plato tought the existence of the soul after death, which is nothing more than Satan teaching lies so you don't know the truth.

    Psalms 146:4 says when someone dies they return to the dust and their thoughts perish.

    Eclestiates 9:5,10 says clearly that the dead know NOTHING at all.

    "Hell" is hades, which means the "common grave of mankind", not a fiery place. Job begged to go to Hades when under stress, do you think he begged to go be burned and tortured?

    September 23, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
  16. Quick Question

    Ok, so there seems to be a large amount of comments stating that Hell is not real, that God, Jesus, the Bible, etc... are made up and so on. The same people seem to keep saying because nobody has ever seen it or proven it to exist that anyone that does believe in it is an idiot. My question is, can the same people prove it doesn't exist? If a tree falls in the forest and there isn't anyone around, does it make a noise?

    September 23, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Athy

      We don't have to prove it doesn't exist. Lack of even a tiny shred of evidence that it does exist is all the proof we need. When lacking any evidence for either side, the simpler, more logical argument is far more acceptable.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      It's logically impossible to prove that something doesn't' exist. The onus is on the person asserting a claim that something exists to prove it>

      Example – prove to me that ghosts don't exist

      September 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
    • IWantToGoToHell

      I believe in a fuzzy pink elephant that floats in the netherworld, a dimension neither you nor I can see, who pulls all the strings and makes this universe work.

      I believe in it. I have faith in it.
      Can you disprove it?
      No.
      Can I prove it?
      No.

      That is the absurdity of God.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • MagicPanties

      That's a very silly, albeit common, response.

      I claim that my invisible pink unicorn created the universe.
      You can't "prove" that she does not exist.
      Therefore, she does.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm |
    • Quick Question

      Not at all trying to step on anyone's toes, I really was looking for your opinions. I guess my question is silly, etc... as you all would say. Allow me to ask this: I understand that a common answer from christians when asked about proof is that faith is their proof. To a, atheist, that concept sounds very ridiculous, I get that. I have noticed that when an atheist is asked to prove it all doesn't exist they always say something about a "pink fuzzy" something or other that created everything and for the person asking to prove it doesn't exist. It seems that there is no real, logical talk about any of it. That if either christians, or atheists could prove their case there would be no debate just like anything else. It is another thing in this world that can not be proven or disproven. Does that make it wrong for me, as a Christian (and no, not a church once a year, I'm Christian because grandma said so, kind of Christian), to ask a non-believer what their point of view is? For lack of a better term what they are placing their faith in? That is what it all seems to boil down to. Faith. I have faith in my beliefs, doctrine, etc.. and an atheist has FAITH in theirs. I am in no way trying to act like I know everything or any of that. I for sure have more questions than answers! I am not trying to push my beliefs on others or anything like that at all. I would just like to get the point of view of others, both christian and non-christian, that is all I seek. Thanks!!!!

      September 23, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  17. Christopher

    No hell or deities. Please, please pick up a science book, and also apply critical thinking to religious texts. There's zero evidence for any religion. You're only hurting society by propagating ignorance.

    September 23, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • truth be told

      It was God who created science.

      September 23, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • redzoa

      Funny, other fundies are quick to point out that science was invented as a tool of Satan. Still, no evidence to support either notion...

      September 23, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • Athy

      Why would god create something that will eventually prove he doesn't exist?

      September 23, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • MDAT

      Athy is right.

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

    Is Middle Earth real?

    Is Santa Claus real?

    Is my invisible pink unicorn real?

    September 23, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      And would that be your throbbing invisible pink unicorn of love? I can't see it but – um – I think I can feel it! Now get that thing away from my leg!

      September 23, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  19. mark robare

    why would a good God create such a wicked place to torment humans?
    my God would never do such a thing.
    "the whole world is lying in the (power of the) wicked one(satan)" 1 John 5:19
    you should all be looking for truth for "truth will set you free" john 8:32

    mark

    September 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  20. imsunr

    Scare the children and let them behave! Boogey, Boogey, Boogeyman!

    September 23, 2012 at 5:35 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.