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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. Alfred K. Rocci

    Hell is not fire and brimstone...pitchforks and demons...it is much worse. Hell is our realization of the love we refused to share, the help we did not give, the bounty we did not share, the humanity and decency we failed to demonstrate.
    Hell is of our own making and that is why it is so horrible.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:05 am |
  2. Scott

    We need to stop pretending that religion can solve our problems. Clearly it hasn't been working. Fortunately we have had enough science to solve many of them ourselves.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:04 am |
    • truth be told

      The only reason we have science is because God gave science to mankind. The greatest scientists have found in their greatest discoveries that someone has been there before them and that there is an unknown quanti ty still before them when they arrive.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:07 am |
    • ameri2010

      You have it backwards. We are born with a sinful nature because of original sin. The world will not get any better until Christ comes back to take over; man is corrupt. Science, when used in an intelligent way, is something God gave man to explore and discover fascinating things about his world. Science, when used to deny God, is not intelligent. Furthermore, science has only proven the Bible correct. This world was designed and design can only come from a designer – God.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:21 am |
    • Ray

      Science has all but proven climate change, yet a considerable portion of the American public refuse to 'believe' that climate change is real. Science seems to be based on faith just as much as the next religion.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:24 am |
    • JonnyJive5

      @Ray
      The difference is that climate change actually exists according to evidence whether or not you choose to believe it. Gravity doesn't work because we believe in it, it is a real force that works independent of believe. God does not exist according to evidence independent of belief.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:31 am |
  3. WASP

    love the idea, but then again what would christians have to scare little children with? lmfao
    seriously the next great dvd sell ould be "christians gone wild." hahahahahahahah

    September 24, 2012 at 6:03 am |
  4. Ben

    The opinions expressed in this commentary are NOT solely those of Mark Driscoll.

    There are millions of people around the world (like me) who share his views

    You can't have Heaven without Hell.

    September 24, 2012 at 6:02 am |
  5. rocinante

    i thought this comment thread was idio tic in the daylight hours... seems like its far worse at night. I wonder why that is? Are there so many trolls from Europe and other parts who have nothing better to do than spam US news web sites?

    September 24, 2012 at 5:56 am |
  6. infonomics

    Hell is other people.

    September 24, 2012 at 5:55 am |
  7. Realist

    Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have a 'Golden Rule' about treating others the way you want to be treated. None of us are doing a very good job of following that rule these days. Christians often ask WWJD (what would Jesus do)? Well, for starters, Jesus wouldn't be calling another of God's humanity a 'primitive goat humper'. So Jim, please take another look at the Bible. Those of you from all religions who are being crudely and rudely judgmental of others, try reexamining the kind and compassionate side of your theology

    September 24, 2012 at 5:55 am |
  8. SoPoJim

    Is hell real? Not a chance in hell

    September 24, 2012 at 5:50 am |
  9. Jesus

    All the cool people are in hell, anyway. Who wants to spend eternity with a bunch of puffed up fanatics?

    September 24, 2012 at 5:49 am |
  10. hananGowaily

    Ashhado An la Elaha Ella Allah wa Ashhado An Mohammed Rasool Allah

    September 24, 2012 at 5:34 am |
    • Mahreen

      Allahuma Ajirni Minnunaar.........ameen

      There is no God except Allah and Muhammad Peace be upon Him is his last messenger. (no doubt)
      May Allah almighty bless everyone with difference between right and wrong.ameen

      September 24, 2012 at 5:57 am |
  11. Mohammad Omer

    What if someone who becomes Chritian and still continue to do sinfull activities, will he go to paradise?
    What about existing christians who continue to involve into sinfull activities, will they be forgiven?
    Is it so simple !!! just believe in Jesus and get a free ticket to paradise?

    September 24, 2012 at 5:34 am |
    • some guy

      Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will follow My commandments."

      If one claims to love Jesus, but does not do what Jesus commanded, is that person truly Christs? I think not.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:35 am |
    • Mohammad Omer

      The article above says "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". This means Jesus did not know what lies after death before testing death himself !!!! If Jesus is God then he should have known this from the begining itself.

      I'm no scholar of any religion but Student of Knowledge.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:44 am |
    • Mohammad Omer

      @some guy, You said "Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will follow My commandments."", thats correctly said, Jesus asked people to follow/obey him NOT to worship him !!!

      September 24, 2012 at 5:54 am |
    • some guy

      @Mohammad Omer

      Jesus did not die for the heck of it, nor did He die to "test death."

      Jesus died to remove the sins of those whom His Father has given Him, even those whom He chose.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:56 am |
    • some guy

      @mohammed omar – Wrong.

      Jesus said, "That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him."

      You cannot worship God without worshipping Christ. You cannot even worship God unless you are in Christ. You must respect Christ's diety first as the second person of the Trinity (fully God) or esle you are in vain.

      So yes, Jesus did command respect for His person – which is worship.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:59 am |
  12. some guy

    God, Jesus, Heaven and Hell are real. It does not matter what people "think". What is is and what is not is not.

    Those not in Christ are going to hell. This is true. However, it is wrong for Christians to thump and judge people over the head. The end of revelations says "Let those who are righteous be righteous still. Let those who are evil be evil still. etc" You folks get the message.

    And yes, Athiesm is a religion and a belief system – just as much as any other religion out there.

    Approach the living Christ and repent, and He will surely forgive you. If not, the Word He spoke will judge you on the last day.

    Period.

    September 24, 2012 at 5:31 am |
    • name

      Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.
      Atheism is not a disbelief in your god, it's an absence of belief in _any_ god.
      I don't believe in invisible pink unicorns, teapots in orbit or Zeus. None of those things are a 'belief system'. Why is my failure to believe in your god any different?

      September 24, 2012 at 6:31 am |
  13. Proud Muslim

    Come to Islam. You will feel the difference. Dont be a looser by describing your wrong/foolish imagination about Islam. Come, see and feel the difference. Thank you :)

    September 24, 2012 at 5:24 am |
    • some guy

      Fraudelent religion you mean. No other religion in the word has spurred such continual displays of anger, hate, and murder.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:34 am |
    • TJ

      One would be closer to Heaven by being an atheist, and closer to heIl by being a muslim. And personally, I prefer aduIt women, and not little girls like your prophet.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:38 am |
    • Mohammad Omer

      @Proud Muslm - First of all if you are Muslim you should not be proud, you shold humble yourself and learn how to call people to become a better Human Beings.
      @ Some guy an TJ - Please do NOT judge any religion by its people, people do bad things that does not mean that religion teaches them to do so, there are somany chistians involved in bad things, but this does not give anyone to right hate Christianity, and it applies to all religion

      Lets not hate each other and have a healthy conversation without bad words....

      September 24, 2012 at 6:04 am |
    • Mairaj Ahmed

      There is no God except Allah and Muhammad Peace be upon Him is his last messenger. (no doubt)
      May Allah almighty bless everyone with difference between right and wrong.ameen

      September 24, 2012 at 6:21 am |
    • sam stone

      "Muslims are primitive goat humpers."

      As were the people who wrote the bible

      September 24, 2012 at 6:23 am |
    • Amna

      @ TJ
      According to most authentic reports, the life of Muhammad (S.A.W.S) prior to his first marriage with Kadija was absolutely chaste and pure (and this in a place and in a society where debauchery and adultery were common) and even his enemies has testified to this. The pegan offered him not only riches and a kingdom but also the most beautiful girls; but he spurned the offer. During his youth and manhood, he proved a faithful and ideal husband. He was 50 year old, or somewhat older when he married a second time and most of these were widows or prisoners of war with the exception of one who was a divorcee and most of whom were past the age of connubial relationship – from any sensual motives.
      Read the history before spreading incorrect information.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  14. Susan

    ...Only in your mind's eye. Unless you want to count living on Earth today like Hell–that's very real for so many people.

    September 24, 2012 at 5:24 am |
  15. ElDorado786

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUbjw683Aio&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 5:23 am |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 24, 2012 at 5:22 am |
    • CeltcFire

      Total moron.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:55 am |
    • nope

      @celt...
      nope

      September 24, 2012 at 5:57 am |
    • ron

      Niether is stupidity and ignorance.

      September 24, 2012 at 5:59 am |
    • Scott

      It's doing a great job for both you and your Islamist brothers.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:01 am |
    • truth be told

      Islam does not pray to God, allah is an idol.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:03 am |
    • sam stone

      "allah" is the arabic word for god, inbred cvnt

      September 24, 2012 at 6:25 am |
  17. gliese42

    The difference is that a Christian heaven is a place of worship to Lord and a place full of joy according to my pastor but for muslims ...it a place to get your 72 virgins and heaven but I don't think women will fit in here especially the educated liberal ones. Hell is hell no doubt about that

    September 24, 2012 at 5:18 am |
  18. truth be told

    islam is a deception of the devil. allah is not God and mohammed was a false prophet

    September 24, 2012 at 5:15 am |
    • Muslim

      then who is God and who is Tha last messenger...you are leck of knowledge ,have you realized, why Islam Spread Faster then any Religion...Becuse islam is Truth....and We Proud that we are Muslim...i suggest you Compare Islam With ur religion you will see how wrong you are .....

      Read Quran authentic Book...

      September 24, 2012 at 5:46 am |
    • sam stone

      tbt is an inbred gash who thinks he or she speaks for god

      September 24, 2012 at 6:27 am |
  19. Hassan

    There is no such thing as god, because if there was such thing. he would at least consider controlling his own creation in worshiping him only...

    September 24, 2012 at 5:14 am |
    • nope

      @hassan
      nope

      September 24, 2012 at 5:15 am |
    • Hamid

      Yes, you are an atheist then go to
      http://irf.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=212&Itemid=186
      and do a careful reading.
      YOU WILL HAVE YOUR ANSWER.

      September 24, 2012 at 6:23 am |
  20. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 24, 2012 at 5:13 am |
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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.