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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 • My Faith • Opinion

soundoff (7,963 Responses)
  1. AvdBerg

    God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Heaven is a reference to the spiritual realm.

    The word ‘hell’ was translated in the Old Testament from the word ‘Sheol’ which comes from an Assyrian root meaning ‘chamber’. It was regarded as an underworld for the dead, often called the grave.

    Two words are translated in the New Testament by ‘hell’, namely ‘Hades’ and ‘Gehenna’.

    ‘Hades’ is the Latin translation of ‘Sheol’ and means literally ‘the unseen world’ or the ‘grave’.

    ‘Gehenna’ is however the word that is most often used. Originally the valley of Hinnom (Ge-Hinnom) was the area where Molech and Tammuz were worshipped and eventually became the place for burning the local refuse and was regarded as a fit symbol of the destruction of wicked souls.

    The words ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are symbolic in nature as are many other words in the Bible.

    At the return of Christ only those that are dead in Christ (referred to as asleep) will rise with him (1 Thess. 4:16). It is noteworthy that there are only few that are dead (asleep) in Christ (Matthew 7:14), as this whole world has been deceived (Rev. 12:9).

    At the final judgment, all those whosover was not found written in the book of life will be cast out into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

    The above mentioned article by Frank Schaeffer is a good example how distorted things have become in society with the media industry as the main culprit.

    He is spiritually blind as the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:15).

    In order for anyone to be able to understand the Word of God they must repent and turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18). Frank Schaeffer does not know what spirit he is off (Luke 9:55).

    The Word of God is not to be interpreted (2 Peter 1:20) and it is the discerner of every thought and intent of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

    The media does not provide accurate information on ‘Religion’ as it continues to ignore the truth and the history of deceptions (John 14:17). They only report how they want you to hear things. They have created the big chasm that now exists without offering any solutions.

    Consider the truth about Catholicism, Islam, Mormonism, Judaism, Evangelicals and Christianity and all other religions and ask yourself the following question.

    Are so-called Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, Israelites and Evangelicals and all those that call themselves ‘Christians’ followers of the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God, or do they follow after an image of a false god and a false Christ (Matthew 24:24; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Gal. 4:8)?

    For a better understanding of the history of Catholicism, Islam, Mormonism, Christianity, and Judaism and its spread throughout the world, we invite you to read the articles ‘The Mystery Babylon’, ‘Can Christianity or Any Other Religion Save You?’, ‘World History and Developments in the Middle East’ and ‘Clash of Civilizations’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    For a better understanding how and by whom this whole world has been deceived we invite you to read all the pages and articles of our website.

    Seek, and ye shall find (Matthew 7:7)

    September 23, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  2. Patrick

    Why are so many arguments against Jesus Christ immature?

    September 23, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • saggyroy

      Because it is like arguing who is better: Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  3. Jimbo Slice

    It's better to lead a good life because you respect people than to do so because you are afraid of being sent to hell.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  4. Andrew

    Mythology.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  5. LJD

    This is a very juvenile conception of hell presented here. Hell is the definitive decision to close oneself off from God. That possibility is real. It has nothing to do with revenge and everything to do with free will. The real danger is to believe that our free will does not matter. (Why does this guy write on religious matter? He knows so little. Anyone with any theological sense can immediately see how shallow his views are.)

    September 23, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  6. LWJR

    Consider Tyrone William's experience before you go UNIIVERSALIST. http://goo.gl/lBiyQ

    September 23, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  7. Rolick

    I wish we could live in a world where we I did not have to comment on peoples faith and let it be as they say and have respect for each others beliefs. But if you read the first part of this article, there is a real threat from those that want so desperately to be right that they are willing to end it all to prove it. And in a way, they force the rest of us to speak up, which has the effect of making them even more desperate and angry to control us.

    For me, I don't think about religion at all, that is until some extremist tries to legislate his beliefs and take away fundamental human rights in the name of it. Or tries to murder people in the name of it. Or even worse, bring on the end time, all in the name of being the true religion.

    I think we are locked not in a battle over faith, but over control of our hearts, minds and bodies. In the past, most of these extremists might have most of us scared enough to believe their ideology and threats of damnation. But now people are making other choices, through educating themselves and coming to their own determination of what they believe, not just by what one man that has figured god out tells them to think. So the guy in the pulpit or at the head of their whatever religion has a lot less power than they used to have, and less every day, and they know it.

    So the answer for the sake of control is to force their beliefs on us, either through legal means or through threats of violence. And make no mistake, telling me that I will go to hell is a threat of violence. It seems to me, that these guys want to make earth a living hell, just to prove that we are bad, and that they are right.

    It’s all about human power and dominion over other humans.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      Urim thumim dont lie hell is real

      September 23, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • Andrew

      @Rolick,
      You said, "I wish we could live in a world where we I did not have to comment on peoples faith and let it be as they say and have respect for each others beliefs."

      It sounds like you want a world where religious beliefs get a free ride – an exemption to all rules of evidence and reason. Well that is basically what we have now.

      The country is about to elect a President (when he cranks up the negative ads in the last couple of weeks of the campaign) who believes god protects him through his magic underwear. This should concern you. This should prompt you to ask tough questions of those religious beliefs.

      We need less respect for religious beliefs, not more. People need to speak out.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  8. Brooklyn Boy

    Here's a fresh approach to the question:
    Where is the evidence that hell exists?
    None. Zillch. Next case.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:53 am |
  9. GrampaSez

    Ho hum. CNN continues its war on religion. Take a CARTOON understanding of the Christian faith, void of theology or intelectual depth, and then examine it REALLY REALLY CAREFULLY for "flaws".

    The LIB ELITES are breathtaking in their hipocracy. "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."

    FALSE ASSERTION that "FUNDAMENTALISTS" are DANGEROUS, and are at the ROOT of a WAR between MUSLIMS and the US.

    HEY DISHONEST PEOPLE! ARE US FUNDAMENTALISTS THE REASON WE DISLIKE OUR BUILDING BEING BLOWN UP?

    September 23, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • LWJR

      U Right Gramps. CNN has been warring against conservative Christianity for years. Christine Amanpour did the most extreme hatchet jobs on the faith of the FOUNDING FATHERS. Unbelievable times we are living in.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • saggyroy

      Yes.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  10. Eddie Hurley

    if you don't believe in hell then you won't know for sure until you get there then you will know

    September 23, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  11. jonathan

    Do you noice that most of the religious folks (not all but most) are simple? They're afraid to admit there is nothing after this. It frightens them. If something bad happens, He was teaching them a lesson. If something good happens, He granted them a wish. What are we cavemen? It's rather sad how we cling to this idiodic belief.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Nathan Kavanaugh

      Nothing quite like when someone misspells "idiodic."

      September 23, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Eddie Hurley

      i was a sinner for 42 years i chewed tobacco done a lot of bad things the Lord started dealing with my heart delivered me from everything healed my back i have been in a battle every since but full of joy now i am 58 and my life is much more full now just look around you there you can c God in everything if you look

      September 23, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  12. Kevin

    People choose not to believe in God, so they can lead a life without consequence for their sins. They don't want to entertain the thought that God is judging them on their actions. Real, God-loving Christians don't hate atheists and we don't judge them. We love them and pray that God will speak to them once again. We are not all "Bible-nuts" or whatever. Some of us are very passionate about God and have a lot of Faith. If you are an atheist, then please, at least respect those of us who do believe. That is all I have to say.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • saggyroy

      Slight correction: "People choose not to believe in God, so they can lead a life without consequence for their sins. " should be read as "People choose believe in God, so they can lead a life without responsibility for their sins."

      September 23, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • saggyroy

      Respect the person (if they deserve it), not the belief.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:05 am |
  13. Veritas

    Yes, abandon the idea of "hell"...it's a good start towards abandoning these bronze age myths altogether and let humanity evolve.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  14. lucidfinancial

    Hey

    September 23, 2012 at 8:52 am |
  15. brian

    I was in Hell for awhile. What makes Hell so tricky is that it never actually comes out and tells you it is Hell. It often does business under other names, such as West Virginia.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Just A John

      @brian
      Best not to stop, just drive straight through.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • TADA

      Nah West Virginia's elevation is too high to be hell think more like purgatory.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:45 am |
  16. Margret

    Who was the idiot for designed the Red with tiny white print? I hope they are fired.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  17. FifthApe

    Total delusion. Heaven and Hell are *human* creations. To think otherwise is to advertise your willingness to believe *anything* based on no evidence at all. Religion is a virus of the mind.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  18. Turk187

    I like the first guy. He seems to be thinking in the 21st century and is just as shocked by the nature of religious practices as i am. The nations with the most rampant violence seem to be degenerating toward protocols that were popular hundreds of years ago. The second guy sounds like an old fashioned fire and brimstone fear monger and clearly demonstrates that organized main stream religion is all about maintaining power over the lives of others by instilling fear. Fortunately, religious hierarchies have been seperated from most western forms of government but in other nations these counter productive hierarchies are attempting to re-insert themselves into secular government and it is causing unbelievable mayhem. The world, if we survive, has a very long way to go. It seems so bizarre to me that so many people all claim a god of peace while so easily pulling the trigger on their neighbors.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  19. Mike

    Error in the "facts" Born again Christians do not believe that God smiles upon them for sending their enemies to hell. God desires that all should be reconciled to Him and not suffer. Unfortunately some folks just can not or will not get it.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:50 am |
    • Anti-Violence

      If God exists and wants people to believe in him, just pop up in Times Square and create a chicken or something.

      Boom, 90%+ athiests now Christians, many moderates of other religions (really, anyone not in denial about the fact that God just appeared in Times Square) now Christians. No need for Hell.

      If you are a Christian, you do not believe in in the Hindu gods. Yet they have the same evidence as the Christian god does for existence; holy texts that hundreds of millions of people swear is true, along with having felt influence from the gods. If God really wants people to believe in him, he should give people a logical reason to; more evidence.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • CMDog

      Born Again Christians (my father and step mother were BAC's):

      -Mostly unimpressive lower income people who are uneducated
      -People who MUST have a concrete answer for everything they cannot tolerate ambiguity
      -Their religion imparts a sense of power to them, a people who are essentially powerless economically and socially. To me it seems less like a love of god than a smugness and self-satisfaction that they know something special and are part of a special club.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • CMDog

      Yes, electricity works on god's love. When there is a blackout god is angry. Are you a Born Again Christian? Perhape this will help:

      "I tell You once more that man has no more pressing, agonizing need than the need to find someone to whom he can hand over as quickly as possible the gift of freedom with which the poor wretch comes into the world. But only one who can appease a man’s conscience can take his freedom from him."

      Dostoevsky, Fyodor; Andrew R. MacAndrew; Konstantin Mochulsky (2003-11-04). Brothers Karamazov (p. 339). Bantam Classics. Kindle Edition.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • John Chapman

      It takes far more effort to deny God's existence than to accept it. That can be proven with one simple retort, that retort is -provide evidence of nonexistence. God reveals himself to us through nature for one. You can choose to believe that or not. Why doesn't he just pop in and say hello. I wrestled with that many years. Well if he did pop in would we say ooo thats not God it was an alien or make other excuses to deny his existence. Even after all the miracles done in the Bible people would not believe him anyway. God ask he be followed out of faith not hocus pocus or convincing us by some super natural act of his power. It's really simple either you believe it or you don't even God gives you that choice!

      September 23, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  20. 200 TON HAMMER

    earthquakes are real regional floods are real global poverty is real,global racism is real,economic collaps are real,man made religion is real man made,funeral homes are real,physical death are real,war is real,gravity is real even though you cant physical see it you feel its pull down,the wind is real but you cant see wind its invisable,the urim thumim are real,and hell is real,if world religion leaders are asking this question is because they know its true because they all have been scared in their whole life more then one time,from loseing a love one loseing a job,loseing money,been homeless,going without food,going without love,been sick
    etc

    September 23, 2012 at 8:49 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.