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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. chris hamilton

    this writer actually was given space on cnn... they are truly lowering the standards.us shameful

    September 23, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
  2. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Hell is hinduism, denial of truth absolute GOD and place of hindu's denires of truth absolute is hell. to know more visit What is GOD?
    GOD, truth absolute is essence of existence, nothing can exist Without HU "HIM" nor take any form without HU "HIM" THE TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Please give up your hatred

      I saw you posting a lot of hatred messages. Please give it up. God does not reside in a heart filled with hatred. If you dont like something about Hinduism discuss it objectively without hatred. I am sure you might have your reasons for hatred. But by that standard, all religions needs to be hated. Love leads you to heaven. Hatred to hell. You have the choice.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • mama kindless

      @Please give up your hatred: I've seen those posts. It appears that there is a nasty Islamic dude who posts stuff negative about hinduism. He sometimes shows a web site link with something about limit in it. But it appears his name gets spoofed a lot with all kinds of crazy comments that don't make much sense. Most people probably ignore because they know the spoofers are just making fun of him. But his handle is the one your are replying to.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  3. TheTeacherThePreacher

    Born Again Christian, look in your heart and ask yourself whether you really believe, or whether you say you believe because you are afraid. There is indeed a difference, and you won't hide the truth from your God.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  4. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Truth absolute is not a man, nor is a matter and truth absolute is God.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  5. 1word

    Lord have Mercy on their souls, they know not what they do. They are blind to the truth, I pray they come to realize the truth before it's too late.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • mama kindless

      It's a beautiful day here. Please don't tell me you are talking out loud to your laptop, like in a park or something where people can hear you, child. Otherwise, don't be surprised if some men in white lab coats show up. But then again, based on your posts, you might just be in a small closet that you've fixed up with candles and Mary glitter all over the place. My goodness.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • tallulah13

      The problem with the word "truth" is that truth requires evidence. There is no evidence whatsoever for your god, or for any god. Therefore, all you can honestly do is bemoan the fact that there are people who don't believe what you think they should believe.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
  6. Gregg

    hell is churches being used as extermination centers by the anti-christ

    September 23, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  7. Wonder

    Jeez, what I stupid I am. Virtually avrybody can understand and love the Bible, but I still I don't get much of it. For example this thing with "the lake of fire" where sinners are thrown. Is there more info about this lake? Is this a lake with gasoline? rocks and gas, like a grill? Anyway if is liquid and they throw me in it, I 'll go under the fire and since I an not longer breathing. I guess there will be others less boring tham Christian people to have some fun, much better that Heaven, I think. Even if is not liquid, like a grill kind of idea, still I don't have a body that can be burnt, so it will be like a disco with light effects around you, just place some music and have a party. The bottom line, is that what matters is the people no the place. The people in heaven, according to pastors and most serious christians, looks very boring and mentally repressed, so the idea of hell keeps sounding me increasingly great.

    September 23, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  8. Flamespeak

    I will listen and consider the view of the afterlife by religious sources if they also offer a description of where I was before I was born as well.

    Some do, but the abrahamic faiths do not.

    September 23, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  9. Heaven is temporory as per bible

    According to Eastern religions, Both the heaven and hell are nothing but a temporary existence. Even according to bible, heaven gets destroyed at some point of time. This is also very much according to eastern religions. I always wonder how no Christians focus on the following verses.

    Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.

    Isaiah 65:17 "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

    Isaiah 66:22 "As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me," declares the LORD, "so will your name and descendants endure.

    2 Peter 3:10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

    2 Peter 3:13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

    September 23, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • mama kindless

      Revelation?? Of course everyone knows that whoever wrote that mess was high as a kite. St. John the Opium Addict, evidently. He must have crashed his camel into a lake of bath salts though to come up with that wild crap.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:07 pm |
  10. TheTeacherThePreacher

    So Jesus will save you from Hell if you don't worship him explicitly, but all Hitler and Pol Pot and the rest of their ilk would have had to do to get their Get Out of Jail Free card was to say they believed in him just before they died?

    Doesn't this notion make it seem that God/Jesus is more interested in being "worshipped" (honestly or not) than about rewarding the good and punishing the evil?

    September 23, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • rocinante

      Hitler in fact was an evangelical Christian. He's probably playing the harp for a heavenly choir, right now.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • kf

      Do you think God doesn't know the heart of a man? Hitler and Polpot and etc can say whatever they want; that doesn't make it true. Besides, Christianity is not about ascribing to a creed. It is about following Jesus – obedience to him, and sacrifice of self, love, and trust. It is a relationship. God knows who loves Him. He knows whether Hitler loved him, he knows whether I love him, and he knows whether you love him. I think you are using that straw argument to paint God as a fool. You know that he isn't.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
  11. Kevin

    Your darn right we need a new hell. Lets do just as the bible is intended. Lets make more revisions and change "Hell" very slowly and in a few hundred years "Hell" will be just a Roast where you get name called and bullied by meanies in your past!

    September 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Kevin

      YOU CAN'T CHANGE THE IDEA OF HELL, otherwise, RELIGION IS JUST THAT....an IDEA, NOT REAL, SUBJECT TO CHANGE!

      September 23, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Kevin II, I take great delight in breaking the news to you – religion is not real! It's a steaming pile of bullsh!t.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  12. Larry Eleniak

    If you just look at the facts:

    In sources other than the Bible confirm that there was a Christ. He did many miracles.That he was crucified. He was seen alive after being crucified by at least 500 witnesses.

    Many of The Prophecies written about Him in scripture hundreds of years before his coming were fulfilled. The chances of this just occurring are over a billion to one.

    I for one believe what He has said so if you want to have everlasting life with Him Trust in what He has said and done.

    He Says That He will come again.

    September 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      There is absolutely no proof that Jesus was divine. None.

      September 23, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • G. Zeus Kreiszchte

      Any alleged "500 witnesses" that you refer to are worthless. Where is the video footage? Prove it! If you only have BS written down by people whose purpose is to promulgate this belief, then you have no proof! Circular logic! BS!

      Furthermore, Jeezus already missed his mark by 2000 years. He said he was coming RIGHT BACK!
      Matthew 24:29-34 (King James Version)
      29 Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: 30 And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: 33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. 34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

      September 23, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • robert

      This word facts, it does not mean what you think it means.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Bullsh!t!! You don't have a single undisputed, independent, objective, verifiable fact to support any of your delusions. You can't even establish the most basic foundation fo your cult's beliefs – that even a single god actually exists. You are mentally ill.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Your "sources" are not reliable. Few, if any, are contemporary with "Christ" and some have been debunked as likely later additions. The bible itself can't be considered a reliable source. Even if a man named Jesus had existed, there is no proof of any supernatural events, or even of a crucifixion. You can believe what you want. I believe in that which can be supported by indisputable evidence. Your god (or any god) and Jesus don't qualify.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  13. Frank

    People of the United State of America and the World,
    Well, if you believe Heaven exists then you have to believe in Hell,I can tell you from my Vietnam experince,Vietnam sure felt,looked and smelled like Hell, but thats one man opinion,If Jesus Chirst returns in the Rapture in my lifetime, then the evidence to me would be clear,until then,i am hoping probably against hope that there is something better after this life for me even though I was a major sinner but I am expecting nothing but Blackness for eternity.PS, I am Christian.

    September 23, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Marginal error in my thought process

      Frank, it's ok, man. I think we ALL get the eternal blackness. It's a fate we all share in.

      AND... even the cybernetically and genetically enhanced humans of the future who will have their brains uploaded to a super brain computer and live for a thousand years strong. Even they will get eternal blackness someday.

      But atleast your memories carry on to your family and friends, and they help to define and better humanity, a process thast we all work towards. In some ways, I think god would be humanity as a super-organism.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • nobull4u

      You sound like a straight-up guy and seeker of truth. Thanks for your service to our country. Hope you make it up to heaven.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:19 pm |
  14. Rick

    I find it interesting that people who don't believe would take the time to read the article on a Sunday. My experience has been that people who have decided to not believe in God come to their conclusion emotionally and not intellectually. Jesus' claims to be God and the only way to reconciling with God were radical and controversial statements then and now.

    September 23, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Athy

      Quite the contrary. We come to our non-belief intellectually. It's the emotional ones that are the bible babblers.

      September 23, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • tallulah13

      There is no logical reason to believe in any god. Only emotional ones.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Ok Ricky, please demonstrate your superior intellect and lay out your case for your god and your cult. I bet that you don't have a single fact to support your delusions – not one!

      September 23, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Lee

      Never have been able to reconcile the idea of a God that loves you immensely but is willing to torture you endlessly for the obviously HEINOUS crime of not loving Him back. I actually like this post because the pastor, unlike most Christians who absolutely INSIST that you send yourself to hell with your unbelief, is seemingly willing to admit that, no, God is indeed punishing you by sending you to hell. He loves you A LOT, but gosh darnit if he isn't willing to send your tush to the lake of fire and sulfur forever. And the best part: unbelief is the only crime that you WILL ACTUALLY BE PUNISHED FOR! Yay! Everything else is forgive and forget once you believe. What a perfect justice system. We should adopt it here in the US:

      Judge of rapist: "Do you think I exist and that I care about you?"
      Rapist: "..........yes, I guess?"
      Judge: "Free to go. Give him an unlimited supply of money on the way out. Neeeeext, you seem to have stolen a candy bar. Do you think I exist and that I care about you?"
      Candy bar thief: "Well, my philosophical position is th...."
      Judge: "Shut up. Bailiff, take him to be tortured until he almost dies. Then, rehabilitate him, and torture him until he almost dies again, and just repeat that cycle forever and ever. And I mean EVER...like 20 trillion years from now, still be doing that."

      PERFECT!

      September 23, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  15. rocinante

    CNN's giving pastors column space to just openly proselytize now?

    Whats next? Catholic priests given ad space to help organize their boy's choir and boy's basketball camps?

    September 23, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Jon

      In case you hadn't noticed, rocinante, you're in the Belief Blog section of the website. There's also sports in the sports section, and financial matters in the Money section as well.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  16. Steve

    Religion kills more people through out the world then drugs or any other motivator of death. When will people wise up and get smart about all this. Be you Muslim, Jewish or Christian. Every one of those religions say they have the answer and they are more right then the next. As Long as people use religion this will always be a problem. Why is it that people cannot understand this. Why is it that this is such a hard concept for people to understand.

    September 23, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Yes hinduism corruption of truth absolute called religion are cause of mayhem on earth, handy work of hindu santans, criminal goons.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
  17. mr.knowitall

    Does Mr. Schafer know that none of the 9/11 hijacker were from Pakistan and or Afghanistan....Please correct your facts..thanks

    September 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Part of hindu absurd mind of followers of hindu Mithra ism, pagan savior ism labeled Christianity.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  18. gary

    Myths ... gods, demons, dragons, hell, heaven, trolls, leprechauns, angels .... all pretend mythical concepts.

    September 23, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  19. TheTeacherThePreacher

    It's for real. I know, I work there.

    September 23, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  20. Just call me Lucifer

    Life on a planet where 2/3 of the population are psycho-zealots that believe in an invisible deity and an invisible devil is hell.

    September 23, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Truth absolute is the diety, and hindu's blinded have no knowledge of "HIM", even though hindu's deniers of truth absolute see "HIM" in their life.

      September 23, 2012 at 7:12 pm |
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About this blog

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