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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. Scott

    Frank's statement here is based on a flawed premise:
    "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."

    Believers in hell don't believe in or thirst for vengeance, they believe in and hope for justice. Our God is a just and righteous God. Yes, He is merciful, but He is also just. Any kind and loving parent treats their children justly and fairly – a parent who practices "fluffy love" all of the time soon finds his or her family is completely out of control.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Madtown

      He is merciful, but He is also just
      ----
      Would a "just" God send a person to eternal damnation for not following a particular religion? That's what we're told, hell for not following the teachings of Jesus. The problem with this is the millions of people who will never hear of Jesus, 'cuz they have no access to christianity. You do realize that your religion simply isn't available to many, many people on this earth? Are you special, relative to them because God has allowed you to know this great secret? Seems to me a just God would treat all his individual human creations exactly the same. That means, that he wouldn't judge anyone on the basis of religion, for the simple fact that not all human beings have access to all religions.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Scott

      ...and here you have to have read your Bible to know that God said (through Paul) that those who sin under the law are judged by the law while those who sin apart from the law are judged apart from the law in Romans 2:4-16. He explains in verse 15 that folks who never had a chance to hear the Word of God will be judged according to the requirements of the law that are shown to be written on their hearts,

      September 24, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Madtown

      ...and here you have to have read your Bible
      ----
      Scott, your brain and intellect are a gift from God......use it. I just said, that so many people have no access to christianity, and that a just God wouldn't judge his creations based on the lack of availability of christian doctrine. Your response is to tell me that one needs to read the bible?!?!? Again, what if someone has no bible, because they were born into a part of the world where christianity doesn't exist? Are you just not able to recognize that your statements make no sense?

      September 24, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  2. Darrell

    Frank Schaeffer.( the first author in this presentation ) told a straight forward message that is based to a large degree on the morality of logic, reason, and tangible evidence.

    Mark Driscoll is founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle told a series of opinions that ultimately represent the expression of passive agressive self hate and the hate of others clothed in a religious fairy tale. Mark Driscoll and other "christian" clergy make up their own version of this religious fairy tale to support their own preferred form of passive aggression / self hate / and hate of others and call it religion.

    The first author in this presentation tells a logical story of how to have peace on earth, the second author wants us to live a life in hell, and then die in hell.

    Both of these men represent themselves as "christians", the first appears to be a kind, thoughtful person, the second represents as a passive aggressive hater. Why bother with religion at all when both of these men tell us they are from the same religion?

    September 24, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Louis

      Jesus apparently said that there would come false teachers so, maybe, he had this Mark guy in mind?

      September 24, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  3. Zeppelin

    Look at all these delicious page views!

    September 24, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  4. Celeste

    i love the saying about God He designed it He defines it. Hell was designed for Satan and his followers...if you are not a Christ follower then you are a Satan follower and sorry your life may not look like a Satan worshipper but by not accepting Christ's provision to not go to hell, which is His dying on cross 2,000 years ago and coming back to life, paying the required payment for sin you will go to hell. Yes Adam and Eve back in the Garden of Eden, made the choice but the consequence is on all humanity, and the way out of personally paying the price we can accept what Christ did and not go to hell but go to heaven ... and each are for eternity. You may not have been informed that the Bible is the most reliable history text, as well as, the inspired word of God... but don't forget what you have heard already that this is a love story...God made a way of escape are you ready to take His way? Loving you for His Sake

    September 24, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • ME II

      @Celeste,
      "if you are not a Christ follower then you are a Satan follower"
      I doubt that either exists, what does that make me? A neither follower?

      September 24, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Huebert

      The cognitive gymnastics required to believe this are simply astounding.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • myweightinwords

      i love the saying about God He designed it He defines it. Hell was designed for Satan and his followers...if you are not a Christ follower then you are a Satan follower and sorry your life may not look like a Satan worshipper but by not accepting Christ's provision to not go to hell, which is His dying on cross 2,000 years ago and coming back to life, paying the required payment for sin you will go to hell.

      Satan is a Christian construct, formed largely on concepts from Pagan and Jewish religions and imbued with supernatural powers by those who believe in him.

      Yes Adam and Eve back in the Garden of Eden, made the choice but the consequence is on all humanity, and the way out of personally paying the price we can accept what Christ did and not go to hell but go to heaven ... and each are for eternity.

      1) Any god who is going to judge ME for the "sin" of two people I have never met is not a god worthy of my attention.
      2) Any god who expects me to allow him to punish another for any "sin" I may have committed in my life is not a god worthy of my attention.

      You may not have been informed that the Bible is the most reliable history text, as well as, the inspired word of God...

      You might want to do a little research, a little study of history and archaeology. The bible is filled with historical inconsistencies.

      but don't forget what you have heard already that this is a love story...God made a way of escape are you ready to take His way? Loving you for His Sake

      Escape? Escape from what? From his asinine rules? From his deluded need to be worshiped? From his murderous rampage? That's no love story, my dear, it's the story of an ego-maniac with an over developed need for attention.

      Have you ever actually felt what real love is like? True, unconditional, overwhelming love? If you had, you would know that your god doesn't begin to know love.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  5. BobbyG

    Society makes heaven or hell and we bring it to the afterlife with us. We are in pergatory or whatever you want to call it. Afterlife has been around a lot longer than the bible.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  6. amazeballs

    Excellent, Marc comes off like a complete raving loon.
    ahahaha

    September 24, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  7. carroll poovey

    No belief system which has its basis in fear is worthy of one second of anyone's time.
    Those religious among you who believe that God is Love, and who practice their beliefs thusly, are following a beautiful and praiseworthy goal, which also happens to be unprovable and unfalsifiable (ie. you believe because you want to believe not because you must).
    Those who join a church because they are afraid of hell, have given themselves over to the darkest portion of human nature. The fear of hell and the fear of being wrong compels them to destroy those people and practices which contradict them.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  8. AK47blazer

    Is there a hell? Is there an actual Santa's workshop? These are the tough issues of the day that CNN has a story on. Why not do a story on "Is the earth flat?".

    September 24, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Louis

      Actually, there are still people who do believe that the world is flat. As you can tell by reading the posts here, old superst.itions die hard.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  9. Buddha2112

    Tax all Religions!

    September 24, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Cora Grace

      Then goodbye free services to the public.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  10. faith

    God is our maker, creator, redeamer, and it is He who sets the standards. We are all fallen sinners who rebelled aginst Him, who reject Him as our maker, and we all deserve nothink but eternal hell. In His mercy and grace and infinite love He sacrificed His son Jesus to take the punishment that we all deserve . All we have to do to avoid hell is to accept His free gift of salvation, love Him and worship Him. The eternal joy and reword for those who accept Him will be living eternaly in His presence. For those who hate Jesus, they would not want to be eternally with Him, s owhy would God receive them in His glorious presence?
    In the end , we are only His creation, He is the Maker, and it is rediculous to think that we can tell God what to do and what not to do. God id just in His essence and He never does anything that is unjust.

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

      Apparently God isn't an English teacher...

      September 24, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • snowboarder

      that really doesn't sound insane to you?

      September 24, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Louis

      I never rebelled against him. How can I rebel against something I don't think exists? If you're talking about the whole original sin idea then why am I responsible for something one of my ancestors did? If somebody brought you an IOU that your great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather made out would you feel compelled to pay it?

      September 24, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Madtown

      There are millions of humans on earth today, who will never hear of Jesus. God put them in an area of the world, through birth, where christianity doesn't exist and isn't practiced. They'll never read the bible, or know the first thing about the tenants of christianity. Yet, they are equal in terms of human value to any christian. So, basic logic tells us that there's no way a loving God would deny these people entry into the heavenly kingdom, simply for not following the teachings of Jesus. They've never heard of Jesus!!! The conclusion is that there is no 1 "right" form of religion. We're all the same in God's eyes. Think outside the box every once in awhile.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • AK47blazer

      what a brainwashed idiot you are -

      September 24, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  11. Rynomite

    If the god depicted in the bible is real, and Satan opposes him, then I can only deduce that hell is a place of rebellion against the evil despot yahweh and his boring, hypocritical, lifeless followers. Hell is not a place of torture, but a place where all the interesting people have gone. Would I rather hang out with the people going to a fundamentalist church or guys like Franklin, Jefferson, Paine, Steven Hawking, and others who would not qualify to get into Yahweh's heaven.

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

      According to the bible, the original sin is man gaining knowledge, so your position has theological backing.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:18 am |
  12. BU2B

    These statements are very similar:

    You better believe in the bible and accept Jesus as your savior, or you are going to hell.
    You better be good or Santa will not bring you any presents.

    The only difference is we eventually tell our kids that Santa is not real when they figure it out.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Greg s

      Our grasp of our world and the Universe could be compared to a 3 years old's grasp of trigonometry. So what the heck do I know!! And for that matter what the heck does the author know!!

      It comes down to a personnel decision when it comes to a Hell. So My view On hell is no better or worse then the man who wrote this article, I think Im right, He thinks hes right. I believe there is a Hell, not the fiery one depicted by the Catholics, But a hell, A place for the worst the world has to offer, I don't know what it is, all I know Is I don't want to end up there. It goes against my religious teaching but I feel its not permanent, I believe the Lord just off's those who cant be redeemed, Poof, gone, just like a atheist believes will happen when they die, So they will get what there hoping for...Good for them! I hope for some there is a second chance....The Bible says no, But I hope its keeping mum on that...if a man knows he might get a second chance then he will bank on that second chance. Its our nature.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  13. Fallen Angel

    Hey Colin:The next time you're in a near miss of a tragedy rememeber who's name you call out when you think your about to die and then you survive.OH MY GOD or OH NO GOD PLEASE does any of this ring a bell???

    September 24, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Colin

      Sorry FA, I haven't needed invisible friends since I was 10.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Huebert

      Generally when I'm in a near miss or an actual tragedy is say "Oh Sh!t" or something similar.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • BU2B

      Simple figure of speech, nothing more. You are really grasping at straws if you think this proves anything.

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

      And during $ex, my partner and I yell, "Oh Darwin, oh Darwin"..............

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

      I say "Oh my god!" all the time – usually in response to some theistic blather. It doesn't mean anything. Just another euphemism. I could just as easily say "Oh my cheese toast!"

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

      I only say that in bed.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:12 am |
    • Amniculi

      You say "Oh my cheese toast!" in bed?

      September 24, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • Cora Grace

      Colin, guys like you really get me. Why are you blogging on this site? Why not go to I hate God and everyone who believes in him.com? Really, if God doesn't exist than what do you have to worry about? Are you living in Pakistan. NO. Get over your hate dude.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • TransHuman

      So, when I was lost in the woods last fall, and I was praying to my GPS that it would work "Please, c'mon, _please get a signal_", that's a sure sign that I worship... a GPS? What a depressing way to look at life. No wonder you're looking forward to the next one.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Cora Grace

      And that goes to the rest of you guys. What a bunch of trolls. Get lost.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Amniculi

      What, Cora? U mad?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  14. Newtonslaw

    Mark is a delusional, brainwashed believer of myths, who should not be in front of any congregation of sane individuals. That being said, about 2500 years ago in what is now Italy, was a region that was so vile and poor and decrepid, no one wanted to venture there. The area was called Hel. Most myths started using a term similar to keep the minions in line or they would end up there. Not a big jump to put this in the propoganda writings to scare followers and keep them in line. As science grows(if we let our children learn) the myth makers will find themselves out of jobs and power and the world will be a saner place.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  15. Amniculi

    We should abandon all ideas of Hell, Heaven, angels, demons, gods, demi-gods, sons of gods, prophets and apocalypses. It's time for the world to grow up and set aside these childish Bronze Age mythologies. Once we do that humanity can focus on bettering the here and now rather than waiting for the end of days.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • Greg s

      Thats a good Idea except that pesky fairy tale concerning Israel, Its thousands of years old and it came true, Now all those other fairy tales concerning Israels future are just on the verge of coming true, Kinda waiting on those pesky Iranians to see if they can make it happen, Ya know I would think this is something you could bet on in Vegas!

      You Know the Lord said it would use the Jew to prove his existence. That was 4 thousand years ago, There still here, no one else is but they are! And just like the Lord said everyone would hate them, Especially now, And they do. Amazing, Next thing on the agenda is that Israel will stand alone against the world, We arnt there yet, But with Obamas help America will be against them soon enough then they will be alone!!!! That was a good guess by those men who wrote the bible so long ago!!

      September 24, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  16. American Airman 125

    wow , CNN what in the world are you doing hell real what a fairytale , and for such a highly esteemed news corporation to publish a religious bias atricle on their front page . just wow thought you guys were better than that

    September 24, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  17. H

    Is hell real? Ever been to Fresno?

    September 24, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  18. Jessica

    The whole idea of Jesus coming to Earth to reconcile man to God infers that God was out of touch. He needed a 99%er (Jesus) to do the work that a 1%er (God) could not do. If Jesus had to die for our sins, then the Jews did their part by killing him. If Jesus truly reigns over Hell, then isn't he the anit-Christ?

    September 24, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  19. Jeff

    no one will ever settle this issue here on earth. Hopefully neither hell nor heaven exist, so we can live our pathetic 70 years, die and get this over with.. if not, well.. that would suck forever..

    September 24, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  20. Shawn

    It just shows you can make people believe anything.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:06 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.