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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. JohnV

    Annihilationism actually is what the Bible teaches. Yes, Jesus speaks of "eternal punishment." But 2 Thess. 1.9 describes that eternal punishment as "destruction." Jesus also states (Matt. 10:28) that Hell is where body and soul are "destroyed." Further, the Bible describes the ultimate fate of the wicked as "the second death" (Rev. 20:14). Destruction and death do not describe conscious torment.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Mitch

      C.S. Lewis describes this with great insight in clarity in his "The Great Divorce." I have read no human interpretation so insightful as his on the topic of Spirituality, the ultimate reality and Hell, the eternally damning state of mind.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  2. correctlycenter

    The book that atheists call a myth (the bible) predicted and Jesus fulfilled 108 specific prophecies that Christ fulfilled in His 1st appearance some 2,000 years ago. God also revealed to His prophets things that have not come to pass. Read Daniel and Revelation about the upcoming one world government and it's power consuming, people pleasing politician called the anti-christ.

    What about Isaiah 66:7-9 Has a nation been ever born in a single day? God revealed this about Israel. May 14, 1948 Israel became a nation again. Yeah, that book that thousands of years old is a myth all right. Tell me that was written after the fact too, right atheists!

    September 24, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Andrew Hess

      Tomorrow night, I will have a steak for dinner! It has been foretold!

      September 24, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Biff

      Please cite the 108 predicted prophesies of you are full of donkey dung.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • slupdawg

      The book that atheists call a myth (the bible) predicted and Jesus fulfilled 108 specific prophecies that Christ fulfilled in His 1st appearance some 2,000 years ago. Oh, were you there? You know this for a fact? Have evidence? I mean besides an ancient book so full of discrepancies it boggles the mind.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Diane

      Actually Mithra fulled many of those prophecies too. LOL! Which is why the pagan religions fulfilled them first.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  3. Tom

    CNN, did you just do a FOX News gimmick? It's shameful for a nationally-respected newspaper to include this opinion on their front homepage. FOX may have been the beginning of the end of respectable journalism, but CNN is following in their footsteps.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Dan

      Did you really use "CNN" and "nationally-respected newspaper" in the same sentence? Now that's funny!

      September 24, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  4. slupdawg

    I wonder what happens to all the poor wretched souls of all the people that were born and died before there was anything like Christianity and they didn't get a chance to be saved? Oh, I forgot, the Earth is only 4,00 years old or something. You guys think of everything, don't ya?

    September 24, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  5. Jokesterer

    Pain is simply nerve endings signalling the body to move away from danger. How do you feel pain when you're dead? Will God create some new pain mechanism that works on souls? Sounds kinda hokey to me.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  6. searchinmyroots

    Notice how the teachings of Judaism is missing? Why? Isn't that the "OT (Original Testament)" where it all starts from.

    A place of eternal damnation for not accepting what some believe to be G-d's son is no where to be found in the Hebrew Bible.

    Stick with the original.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  7. AbleWitness

    In this day and age, we have the benefit of life after death accounts. Medical science is yanking people back from the grave, as it were. What is reported is that those who turn toward "The Light" are rewarded for doing so, however the "soul" gets an in-depth review. The review is not composed of memories but of minute observations from an external point of view - one's personal actions towards others is of great importance. As to hell, can you live with what you've done, with what you've not accomplished, with never having turned towards "The Light"? Eternity (where time does not even exist) is pretty much up to you.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  8. CMW

    The second guy is full of hate and revenge - not unlike the Islamic jihadists with their car bombs and fury unleased on anyone and everyone. I don't want a god that inspires that kind of hate and anger. I won't worship a god whose sole purpose seems to be to punish or "reward" by allowing you to live in eternal worship. A god who demands either slavery or eternal pain - what is that? Sounds like something some very nasty people made up a long time ago. Obviously, the extremists in the Islamic faith follow that and so does what I have come to call the Christian Taliban in this country. They want to hurt people - just anyone - because they are so very empty, so very soulless.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  9. Ousal Dove

    Frank Schaeffer in my opinion is an ass.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • sam stone

      Good for you. I am sure that bit of news will shake him to his core

      September 24, 2012 at 10:26 am |
  10. palintwit

    A teabagger's idea of hell is when his sister tells him she's pregnant and that he's the father. Now they'll need a bigger trailer.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  11. charles_darwin

    Lets get with modern times and at least invent a modern god and hell.
    I am tired of reading about the old one invented by goat herders.

    The real hell is religion. It controls minds, bodies and spirits for no other purpose than a power trip.
    It is made up of twisted lies and made up stories. Wake up people!

    September 24, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • irunner

      Tell em Chuck!

      September 24, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  12. irunner

    Mark,
    Are you saying the majority of Earth's inhabitants will go to Hell because they are not Christians? You are saying there is no hope for the Muslims, Jews and countless other religions, so they may as well continue attacks on Christians and, by proxy, western society? I call that extreme ignorance on par with the extremists we all deplore.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  13. smart man

    Christards,

    God Is Imaginary dot com

    September 24, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  14. Abrasive Angel

    Out of all the deities in the world this is the only "god" with the generic textbook name "GOD". No Jehovah, Yahweh(although the bible mentions jehovah as not even being a god at all), EL, or anything just GOD and LORD which were purposely mistranslated and has not been corrected after all of these centuries.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:22 am |
  15. Cherries

    There is Hell when I come home from work and the chores are not done!!! Trust me, it does exsist.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  16. Meh

    Dont go hatin' the one guy who only wishes to give you everything you want in life.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Cecil NIxxon

      I do not hate Mitt Romney. Just pity him.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:50 am |
  17. Tim

    There is no god and no hell either.

    September 24, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Louis

      Hallelujah! :-)

      September 24, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  18. Ariana Hutchinson

    i believe that there is a god and that there is a hell, but i think in today's day and age, people think it is upon themselves to condem someone or they are quick to pin "eteranl damnation" on their enemies. it is neither a pastor or a simple church attender to say whether or not someone is worthy of going to hell. god is the higher power so why would he give humans the power to predict if someone is going to go to hell or not. it is simply not any of our places to judge someone for what they have done and automatically say they are damned. we do not know what goes on behind closed doors. god sees all, and we hardly see what is right in front of us..., so who in there right mind would trust us to be a judge to our fellow humans, on judgement day?

    September 24, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Matt

      Ariana, why are you so convinced that there will be a "judgement day"? Got anything other than your particular book of tales to support that? And why would an omnipotent "god" need to have such a day?

      Also sounds like you are heading into Pascal's Wager territory.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • Louis

      The people who do like to wave their Bibles and claim that it identifies their enemies as the ones going to hell and themselves as the "saved". Meanwhile, their enemies often claim the same thing about them. In a lot of ways Hell is a convenient way of condemning your enemies without actually having to demonstrate why they're in the wrong.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • BobbyD

      Ariana, you are correct. WE are not the judge, only God will judge!!!

      September 24, 2012 at 10:29 am |
    • Louis

      BobbyD
      God can judge us because he created us, right? Do parents all have the right to torture their disobedient children?

      September 24, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  19. BobbyD

    I love it when non-believers try to argue away God! Their only argument is "it's gibberish" or "how can you believe in something you can't see". Christians unfortunately are more known for what we are against rather than what we are for – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, gentleness, and faithfulness. These are the fruits of the Spirit and ALL Christians who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior should pray for these each and every day. Is there a hell? Yes, it is real. And it is NOT a place we wish to live there for our eternal life!!!

    September 24, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Anchorite

      You obviously haven't been listening, but instead making up arguments and putting them in our mouths. Christians are good at that. My argument is, "Prove it." If you can't do that, why should I care?

      September 24, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Matt in Oregon

      And the evidence that you use to substantiate this claim is...what exactly?

      September 24, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • J

      Well said!

      September 24, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • Matt

      Thanks, J.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • J

      Your presuppositions rule out the possibility of "proof" of the existence of a God or anything "super-natural".

      September 24, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • Brian

      Why is your God so small minded that it has to employ bribery and fear (heaven and hell) to convert people?

      September 24, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • MarylandBill

      anchorite: So why do you choose a name that by very definition is religious?

      September 24, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • BobbyD

      I knew when I posted that the flames would come. No worries. I am not attacking anyone for your beliefs. As far as "bribery", God doesn't bribe us. He gives us a choice. As humans, we have free will. We choose to believe or not. As far as proof, I need not other proof than the definition of faith. Faith defined is confidence is what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. IF God doesn't exist, He would be the greatest hoax perpetrated on mankind. I can only pray for those that do not believe and tell anyone who wants to know what God has done in my life. Are we perfect? Absolutely not. I am a sinner and do so EVERY day. I fall and my heavenly Father picks me up and forgives me.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • cedar rapids

      "God doesn't bribe us. He gives us a choice."

      Its a mafia choice. I have a loaded gun pointed at your head. You can either do as I say or I will shoot you in the head (send you to hell for an eternity of torment when you die). Its totally your choice though, you have the free will to decide. Its totally your choice.....do as I say or be shot in the head. See how loving and forgiving I am?

      September 24, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • BobbyD

      @cedar rapids – a mafia's choice? Not at all. If you choose to not believe, that is your choice. If I choose to believe, that is my choice. What consequence is there if you do not believe? You think none. That's OK by you! That is not forcing you to do anything but live your life and believe that there are no consequences. No worries. As a believing Christian, my choice is to believe. And I also pray for those that are non-believers to have the scales removed from their eyes and see where the true source of life comes from – our King of Kings and Lord of Lords!!! If someone came into my office right now and pointed a gun at my head and said, "Either tell me you are an Atheist or I blow your head off", then I die and go live with my Heavenly Father!!! I will praise Him ALL of the time – not just when it is convenient!!!

      September 24, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Louis

      BobbyD
      People all over the world, and from every faith and no faith at all, experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, gentleness, and faithfulness. It's really rather insulting for you to even imply that only Christians can experience these things.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • J

      Your example is a bit off.

      Its more like this: God, who is perfectly just, creates man and says: You're free to do anything but X - if you do X, you will surely die. Man does X. God could of justly destroyed man for doing X, but instead, the punishment due to man, He takes upon Himself, thereby remaining perfectly just, but also displaying His mercy and love. This is hardly "mob-like" as you described.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • Louis

      BobbyD
      We can either believe that the gun is loaded or not, that the mobster will indeed pull the trigger or not, but what kind of character makes a threat like that to begin with?

      If you want to say that we're all drowning in a pool and God is the life guard then why is he asking for something first instead of just saving us, you know, out of compassion?

      "Help, save me!"

      "Sure, but tell me I'm great first."

      September 24, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • grist

      One can't really "choose" to believe or not. You can't will yourself to believe in something.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • cedar rapids

      "BobbyD

      @cedar rapids – a mafia's choice? Not at all. If you choose to not believe, that is your choice. If I choose to believe, that is my choice. What consequence is there if you do not believe? You think none"

      whether i believe it or not it not the point, the point is that is the argument god is making. Do as I say or I will punish you for eternity, its your choice.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Bobby

      "Christians unfortunately are more known for what we are against rather than what we are for – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, gentleness, and faithfulness."

      Those would be nice things to be prevalent in the doctrine too. Unfortunately, they aren't, it's more along the lines of conversion, blind faith, unquestioning obedience, intolerance, and double standards.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • I wonder

      BobbyD,

      I do not believe your stories. Shall I PRETEND?

      It's just like telling you to BELIEVE in Islam or ancient Egyptology or Scientology, etc.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  20. glades2

    God permitted the creation of the Internet – but as mere mortals we do not have the authority or right to tell God what He should do, especially because had it not been for His Will we'd not even exist. Besides, how can a person's near-death experience be "shred", as you state – a person's near-death experience is experienced on a spiritual scale and cannot be denied, in the same way the courts always trust the testimony of a person near death, because their words are from their soul, not their mind. Funny, but atheists are often the ones who flock to the ghost and devil web sites – but on the other hand refuse to believe in God and Heaven, but ghosts only exist because they do not believe in God and when death comes because they cannot enter Heaven or Purgatory or spritual sleep they are left to roam the Earth until the final judgement and a time that only God knows...

    September 24, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • Anchorite

      Your information is wrong. It is Christians who are the vast majority of ghost and devil web site surfers. They love that stuff. Atheists don't believe in metaphysics and couldn't care less.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • Bob

      Too funny, glades. You claim to understand yourself what god does and wants, after saying that we cannot have such understanding. You stupid, arrogant tool.

      Get over your delusions. Your pathetic "god" can't even produce his own website.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • cedar rapids

      "Funny, but atheists are often the ones who flock to the ghost and devil web sites"

      you can cite the source for this claim right? I mean an atheist going to a devil website would just be silly because we dont believe the devil exists anymore than we believe god exists. Next you will be claiming we are the ones visiting the stigmata sites or 'Allah' was written on the side on a fish in arabic sites.

      September 24, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • glades2

      Ghosts sadly do exist as Jesus said to the Apostles in Luke 24:39, but as the Bible also states that does not mean ghosts are good, since they exist because they cannot enter Heaven are awaiting Judgement – as we all are. There have been rebellious times in my lfie when I tried very hard to live apart from God – and can tell you that especially when asleep I'd have some very frightening sensations – not nightmares as such, but experiences that definitely were not of God, and after returning to God in mind and spirit those frightening thoughts stopped – no coincidence, but as many say the devil also knows what we are doing, and waits for moments of rebellion to take after our soul...

      September 24, 2012 at 10:44 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.