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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. Jon Matthew

    Hell is the separation from God the creator from his creation. Hell is a place where the created gets to choose by their own freewill. Mankind either chooses to be with the logos the Creator or in hell with those who despise God. One of the biggest misconceptions of hell is that God created hell. Hell was actually created by the fallen angels and the environment reflects their deep hatred for God and Man because they desire to be away from God forever. The fallen angels were given the freedom such as men to either reject their Creator or have communion with the Logos. In the end Mankind will have to choose their final destination and God desires that all men choose his love over death of the soul. In the end we’re all responsible for our own souls to either live or die. God is merciful and those who have not heard or understand the gospel of salvation can by God’s grace and mercy be saved if they lived a good life but this is the exception not the rule. Embrace the cross because it’s through God’s sacrifice of himself which gives life to the world. Amen.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Amniculi

      BS.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Louis

      We atheists don't feel any connection to God anyway, so what you're saying is that nothing will change when we die, right? Sorry to tell you this, but that's what we were expecting anyway.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  2. richunix

    HELL comes from the Greek/Roman belief in HADES, so it is logical for the early Christians to incorporate from the Pagan mythos and bring it into the Christian Mythos. Both are based on deities (GODs) belief.
    Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

    September 24, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  3. Living in Texas but trying to escape

    Does CNN have to much time on their hands? What with unrest in hte middle east, an election year and the Emmys to report on. What's next? A discussion about Hades or Valhalla? After all, they are concepts just as grounded in reality than the concept of hell.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Amniculi

      Yes, they do. Welcome to the Belief Blog.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Huebert

      This is belief blog. If you want election year coverage check the political section.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • John

      Figure out the root cause for unrest in the middle east and you'll understand the correlation between it, and this article.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  4. MT

    What worked for sheppards 2000 years ago will not work for people today. Oh Skycake...you're at it again.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  5. mlg4035

    Hell is other people...

    September 24, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Amniculi

      Hell is CNN's Belief Blog comment section.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  6. wisdomVS

    I guess we'll all know on December 21st, 2012. According to Mayan calendar regulated by the religious cult of their time and region.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • snowboarder

      what will we know on december 21st?

      September 24, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • wisdomVS

      Snowboarder... try using Google.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  7. vr

    'God smiles upon them when they send their enemies to hell"
    It is not Gods' will for anyone to perish. That is why He sent His Son to take the sins of HUmans on to Himself. So that no one will go to a place (called hell) which was meant primarily for the fallen angels who followed Lucifer.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Bob

      VR, seriously, Jesus is long dead and rotted away. Get over that delusion already. So much evil has been done within what your religion dictates that it is high time for the world to put it in the past and leave it behind. Seriously, think about it; the whole Jesus sacrifice and love thing is a big load of crap. The whole premise of Christianity that the death of the son of god would have been any kind of “sacrifice” and was required to deal with “sin” is utter nonsense. This is a supposed omnipotent being that we are talking about, and yet he can't get rid of "satan" in due course and is so needy that he demands "worship".

      Christians, think this through a bit: how come your ‘omnipotent’ creature couldn’t do all that supposed saving without the loony son sacrifice bit anyway? And for that matter, how was it a sacrifice at all, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time it wants with less than a snap of its fingers? Pretty feeble god it is that you’ve made for yourself there.

      Give that some thought and maybe it will help you leave your delusions behind. You will remain a laughingstock otherwise, and the more you dwell in your silly delusion and ancient myths, instead of keeping up with advances in medicine and technology, the more America slips downward relative to the rest of the world in science and other fields.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      September 24, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • sam stone

      vr: god is the one who set up "sin" as the default setting.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • J

      Read Gen. 3 - man chose to rebel against God with his own free will.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  8. Rudiger

    Hell is real and it is called Nebraska!

    September 24, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Dan

      Negative. Town in Michigan.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Which God?

      @Rudiger. I beg to differ. It's in OKC.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  9. theeveopener

    http://s1271.photobucket.com/albums/jj640/theeveopener/?albumview=slideshow

    copy and paste link into address bar, and click go.

    On 09/15/2012, I was sitting outside of my grandbaby's place, and I looked up in the sky and saw these clouds.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:28 am |
  10. VR

    "God smiles upon them when they send their enemies to hell"

    It is not Gods' will for anyone to perish (in hell). That is why He sent His Son to take the sins of humans on to HImself, so that humans need not go to a place (which is called hell) that was meant primarily for the fallen angels who followed Lucifer.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • Huebert

      If god didn't want anyone to go to hell he would close it. If hell exist it is because god wants people to go there.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Amniculi

      Actually, Hell, God, His Son, and Lucifer don't exist. Just sayin'.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Bob

      VR, Jesus is long dead and rotted away. Get over that delusion already. So much evil has been done within what your religion dictates that it is high time for the world to put it in the past and leave it behind. Seriously, think about it; the whole Jesus sacrifice and love thing is a big load of crap. The whole premise of Christianity that the death of the son of god would have been any kind of “sacrifice” and was required to deal with “sin” is utter nonsense. This is a supposed omnipotent being that we are talking about, and yet he can't get rid of "satan" in due course and is so needy that he demands "worship".

      Christians, think this through a bit: how come your ‘omnipotent’ creature couldn’t do all that supposed saving without the loony son sacrifice bit anyway? And for that matter, how was it a sacrifice at all, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time it wants with less than a snap of its fingers? Pretty feeble god it is that you’ve made for yourself there.

      Give that some thought and maybe it will help you leave your delusions behind. You will remain a laughingstock otherwise, and the more you dwell in your silly delusion and ancient myths, instead of keeping up with advances in medicine and technology, the more America slips downward relative to the rest of the world in science and other fields.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      September 24, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  11. Rick

    Excellent post . I do believe there is a hell ....even though no one wants to really talk about it( which I don't understand) but hell is a real place and if you have not decided to let Christ in then the only option is Hell .... How can you believe the bible for heaven ... And not for Hell

    September 24, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Amniculi

      Hell IS a real place:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hell,_Michigan

      September 24, 2012 at 9:28 am |
    • pat carr

      Hell is having to live in a world infested with "Christ's" Insane followers

      September 24, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • sam stone

      I been to Hell, MI. Even had lunch at the Dam Site Inn

      Rick: Any being who would punish someone forever for disbelief is not worthy of worship, but ridicule

      September 24, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  12. Hayden71

    Mark is absolutely correct in stating that it matters not what any so-called theologians say when they deny Hell.

    The book of the Proverbs in the Bible states, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." Proverbs 14:12.

    There is only one way of being saved from the punishment of Hell and the Lake of Fire. Jesus Christ states that, ""I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

    September 24, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  13. Sue

    I don't know how anyone could claim to know what comes next. I think we're ALL in for a big surprise.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Debbie

      Sue, I hope what comes next for you is a BIG surprise...

      September 24, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  14. Ron from Jersey

    Of course Frank Schaeffer is going to write negative about God. God is against his being do as the Roman's do lifestyle, absent of standards unless they meet his own selfish and spoiled lifestyle. Obviously removing hell from the equation meets his needs.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Living in Texas but trying to escape

      Just as adding a concept of "You suffer forever if you don't to as your told" met the need of the authorities quite neicely at the time.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • sam stone

      Ron: Right.....those without (your version of) god have no standards.

      Your god is a vindictive, petty pr1ck, and those who kowtow before "him" are snivelling, begging sycophants

      September 24, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  15. Drewp

    Oh I love it when they use "facts" supported by the Bible. "As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth. ", no as a Pastor you job is to scare people into worshiping something that cannot be proven, just in case. All religion is crap, if there is no way to prove it (and dont use the bible unless you can prove that was written by god, and you cant) then it is not true. Stop holding onto your 3 rd century beliefs and get into the modern age of science and discovery. Also this line was hilarious... "But death is not normal or natural—it’s an enemy and the consequence of sin." You are seriously in need of help if you believe this.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Living in Texas but trying to escape

      My thoughts exactly when I got to "As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth."

      September 24, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • MB

      The truth will be known when you die or when Christ returns.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • pat carr

      Well said. "truth" put together with christianity is the ultimate oxymoron. this book has talking snakes and donkeys, floating axe heads, the sun stands still, color of animals change, and other ridiculous absurdities. If i'm correct, even light was created before the sun. it is the most silly book ever. his job is to spread a time wasting, life sucking cult.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • pat carr

      "when Christ returns."

      LMAO. that brings up another point. when christ returns.....when is that exactly? i've been hearing that christ is returning soon my entire life. maybe another 3 or 4 lifetimes will pass before Christjobs will realize they've been scammed

      September 24, 2012 at 9:48 am |
    • rock-a-fella

      Thank you–my sentiments exactly on the 2nd commentary...unfortunately so many people have this absolute belief in something that is so subjective (no offense, I love the Bible but you have to remember it was passed on by word of mouth and then written down by men and men alone). Historically, the Roman Empire used Christianity and Jesus' teachings to control those within the empire by fear...men have always and continue to distort the means to justify the ends.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:51 am |
  16. WVLady63

    Why don't you ask the rich man in the Bible that question? Remember, he asked that a finger be dipped in water and put on his tongue. He WAS in Hell.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Pamela

      Let's use the bible as a reference for itself for itself for itself for itself for itself for itself for itself for itself for itself for itself for itself for itself for itself for itself for itself...

      Dancing in circles...

      September 24, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • rock-a-fella

      The Rich Man will argue that God must of meant for him to be rich so it's not his fault he is...which it may not be.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  17. William Demuth

    What a bigoted piece of crap

    Christians need to be expunged from our society ASAP

    Their illness is a plauge on modernity and rationality.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Timothy Tebow - God's OTHER son

      Uh, you might want to take all the Jews and Muslims as well as all the major religions have some form of hell imagined to keep the flock in line. Don't be so bigoted as to single out one bunch of fools when there are many.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Amniculi

      Jews don't believe in Hell. the closest thing they have is a giant waiting room. Probably with old magazines with all the crosswords done.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  18. Top Secret

    Like adam and eve story for 1st human.
    i said NO...
    its top secret.
    Have Nice day.
    Like Genesis in bible says: make full this earth by pregnant ^___________________________________^
    Upsize ur flag from.
    ok Jesus was exist.
    Hell No...
    thanks
    Buddha Love u!
    Its Carma ANd reincarnation!

    September 24, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Amniculi

      Now, Top, I told you that you need to take your pills. Just sit here calmly and the nice men in the white suits will be along shortly to help you back to your padded cell.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:25 am |
  19. Timothy Tebow - God's OTHER son

    I just spoke to Dad; he said you're all nuts and your silly religious fervor has gotten COMPLETELY out of hand.
    -Tim

    September 24, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  20. darrenhankins

    Their is and hell.......don't let the devil fool you...I have been their....Died in 1999. Had major leg trauma and bled out , my heart had to be restarted twice was dead for over 5 minutes. Their is and hell and it worst than you can ever imagine in the darkness part of your mind...May god be with all of you..

    September 24, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      darren...evidently you had major head trauma as well because your spelling and grammar are just atrocious!

      September 24, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • Amniculi

      Apparently there was no book on English grammar in hell...

      September 24, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Timothy Tebow - God's OTHER son

      Reading your poorly spelled "woe is me" story was as close to hell as most of us will ever get. May Dad bless you.
      -Tim

      September 24, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • wisdomVS

      Medication, chemical imbalance of the brain during death, last thought you had before loosing conscienness, many things can explains what you think you experianced.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:25 am |
    • Pamela

      Your anecdotal evidence doesn't pass the smell test. Lots of people experience "visions" of all kinds of events when in pain or going in/out of anaesthesia, or even in normal sleep. None of that is evidence for god, but it is evidence that your brain is functioning at least a little. So use it, read up on modern brain science, and try to understand why your tale is not proof for god or hell.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:26 am |
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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.