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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. Joe

    Religion is a pretty good excsue for war these days but the real question is why is does CNN consider this news? It is no more news then fairy tales or Greek Methology. We would have a lot less war without religion and the egotistical idea that only they are right and god is on their side alone. This is both selfish and pathetic and most have been brainwashed from birth.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  2. truth be trolled

    Did Jesus Exist? – The Atheist Experience #756 (full episode)
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJlhB2aUrS0&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
  3. blaqb0x

    Christian Justice System
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWAUhadJzTk&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  4. Ted S

    If you speak to those who have had Near Death Experiences, the vast majority will tell you that they experienced a Llght which was so profoundly loving it cannot be put into words. Many were guided through a review of their life on earth. so they could see for themselves where they fell short of the standard of compassion that the Light represents; but none report being judged by this Light or by anyone else. Even the minority who have had fearful NDE's report that their experiences were exactly what they needed to help them make the necessary changes when they returned. If you expect Hell and demons, you might find them for a while; until you decide that you choose the loving presence of the Light.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
    • rooty

      I'm not going to make some angry reply, but I will admit people with your kind of response infuriates me. The majority of people go through a flashback through their whole lives and see an embracing light when they have an NDE? Is this fact, sir? Where did you get this information from? As far as I know, there are also alot of people who don't have any experience like that, so there goes your idea out the window. How can you preach on the internet like this? Oh just go into the light? What the heck do you even mean? It's people like you that confuse human beings because there isn't anything realistic about what you're saying...it's not right to preach what you do not know. People need to be taught that being a good person has intrinsic value in itself and that real honesty and love means uncovering those truths that we ignore deep down inside...that we actually DON'T know if there is a god or not...and that we must be the best we can be regardless.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm |
  5. truth be trolled

    Bill Maher – Atheism Not a Religion ....
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A41WZBcmnfc&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • cobe

      opinion of yet another comediant...
      maybe intelligent, funny... but still ...a clown!

      September 23, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • truth be trolled

      What a tard – I see from your other comment that you feel compelled to comment without watching, since on that one, you completely missed what it was about. Therefore your replies are insignificant.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  6. Harry

    My beloved dog of 13 years died a few months ago. She had all the emotions a person has, including anger, fear, love, great loyalty, playfulness, even a sense of humor. If she can't go to heaven, why should I? I really am no better than she was. She displayed courage and dignity I'll never have. I'm serious. This is a dilemma for me. When she died she simply ceased to exist. My fate should be no better than hers.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Christy

      Harry, I'm so sorry to hear about your dog. My 15 year old dog recently died, too. I still miss her.

      There is a difference, though, between human and animals. When God created humans, He made them in His image. He made humans to be a like Him in the world, and be a representative of Him in the world. The truth is, while your sweet dog did cease to exist, you will not, and you're right in that you don't deserve better than her. In fact, you deserve worse. We all deserve worse.

      After God created humans and set them to rule on earth as His image bearers, they disobeyed Him. That's when everything went wrong. That's when death entered the world in the first place. Now, because God is perfect and we are not we are separated from Him. As a result of what we've done wrong against Him there is a punishment that must be paid. That punishment is death. That's what you deserve. Death and Hell. That's what I deserve. That's what every human who has ever lived deserved, save one.

      But even though we were completely undeserving, God loved us so much that He, Himself, came as a human. His name is Jesus. He was perfect. He deserved Heaven. He is the only one who did not deserve death and Hell. He died in your place. He died in my place. Because of His death, we are able to live in Heaven with God forever, completely undeservingly. Then, He came back to life. Because He died in our place, we now can live the life that He deserved. He died for us that we might live forever with Him.

      So, no, you don't deserve better than your dog. In fact, you deserve much worse, but Jesus has made a way for to have the eternal life that you never could have deserved. The Bible says if we believe that all this is true about Jesus, and turn from being disobedient to God, we are given this gift. I hope and pray as I type this that you will take this gift.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • Religion hater

      Christie, you're so dumb

      September 24, 2012 at 12:42 am |
    • Damocles

      @christy

      I can't begin to describe how sad it is that you have that outlook on life. You cheapen your own life with the words you put down. I find it unsurprising that you can't offer Harry anything more than doom and gloom. I hate to say it, but your words are sick.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:54 am |
    • Damocles

      @harry

      I have had more than a few awesome pets pass away. It is sad, there is no doubt about that, but why beat yourself up on wondering where the animal is going? Isn't it better to keep the memory of your animal and remember, with fondness, all the good times you had?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:58 am |
  7. truth be trolled

    The Failure of Christian "Science" – The Atheist Experience #770 (full episode)
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQbk8uePlbw&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  8. Hawkeye321

    Hell is real. It's called Ohio.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  9. Amazing...

    I believe God has all the attributes we strive for: infinite empathy, patience, love, forgiveness, wisdom. A God who is jealous, vindictive, retributive, who keeps you in line by a continual threat to murder your children, or who punishes you by actually killing them–that would be a God I could not worship or believe in.

    Am I cherry-picking? Yes...

    If I didn't, I would have to be an atheist.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
  10. paul

    it,s a personal choice follow your heart

    September 23, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  11. hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

    Mohammad Go Home.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Not before you. hindu, copy cat.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • UncleM

      You do realize that Hindus are not Muslims, right?

      September 23, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
  12. j

    God can stop the devil in a split second if He wants, God lets the devil have he's way on earth, God let's the people of this earth choose who they want to worship.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
  13. j

    God can stop the devil in a split second if He wants, God lets the devil have he's way on earth, God let's the people of this earth choose who they want to worship

    September 23, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Observer

      So God has let the devil have his way for thousands and thousands of years. Nice guy. I'm sure you'd do the same if you were God.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • j

      It's God's will, you have no right to question God, you should be happy He gave you another day to live.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Observer

      If I were God I'd reveal myself and put an end to the suffering, but I'm an agnostic, not a Christian who supports letting the devil have his way.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
    • TomPaine

      Oh good grief J, I'm tired of the people who say you should thank God for everything including basic necessities of life like food and even for just being alive. Guess what would happen if he didn't provide another day of life? According to your beliefs you'd be in heaven with him, so what favor is he doing giving you another day on earth?

      September 23, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  14. Jesus Christ Son of God

    I can tell you hell is real, because I've been there for 2000 years.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • End Religion

      that's what happens when you "lay on hands" against a child's wishes. Jesus, you should have known better. I know your dad had his way with your mom when she was 13 but you've gone too far.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
  15. j

    astheists are the devil in flesh

    September 23, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • Observer

      j,

      After thousands and thousands of years, God is still powerless to stop the devil he created.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Luke

      And we're just as dangerous.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • End Religion

      the nest called. they want their cuckoo back.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:51 pm |
    • j

      God can stop the devil in a split second if He wants, God lets the devil have he's way on earth, God let's the people of this earth choose who they want to worship..

      September 23, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Luke

      And, once again, I'm just as dangerous as God and the devil. Do you want to see me move heaven and earth? Because I'm just as good at it. I promise!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      J, notify the media if you ever learn to write in English, dear.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:58 pm |
  16. paul

    it,s a personal choice, for those that care believe for those that believe not do not believe each person is responsible for his own life they should not criticzie each other belief but should respect it
    there is a time appointed once for all men to die,

    September 23, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
  17. My Hero

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7NrITIIdRE&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  18. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    "..nowhere on earth have conservative Christians been closer to controlling foreign policy than here in the United States."
    Now THAT'S scary as HELL!!!

    September 23, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
  19. truth be trolled

    George Carlin – Religion is bullsh it . . . . . . . . . .
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RT6rL2UroE&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • cobe

      watch out! 'truth be trolled' is on the mission here
      I bet he secretly thinks he is a god-sent to all the atheists..

      embed some clips from mission impossible, get some scientology action figures involved

      September 23, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It's "god-send", you stupid azz.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  20. My Hero

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8b4CzzyVCsI&w=640&h=390]

    September 23, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
    • End Religion

      This guy is like god: so angry, but he loves you (if yer a young'n)

      September 23, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • j

      Adam and Eve was married, God referred to Eve as Adam's wife

      September 23, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      J, you're beyond stupid. Adam and Eve WERE married, you moron. Except neither of them existed except in your fevered and idiotic imagination, twerp.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:03 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.