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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. The Light Within

    The Bible is a manmade compilation of stories that attempt to describe the human soul's journey. The stories contain spiritual truths but they are by no means a literal or play-by-play account of creation. GOD is LOVE. Heaven and Hell are states of mind. You can choose Heaven or Hell in any given moment. Hell = drama; heaven is the absence of drama. The Ten Commandments are road signs; choose to 'break' one and you won't be in trouble with a boogieman waiting to send you a fire pit, but you will create drama for yourself and others and experience any number of negative emotions.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • gre

      just so you know, you really don't know. that goes for all of us. keep speculating, however :)

      September 24, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • BobbyG

      Good explination. The good or bad afterlife has been around a lot longer than the bible at 1AD. We are told to take the bible literaly for what gain? The world powers decisions are making hell on earth and will proceed until all is dead. We bring with us heaven or hell into our afterlife. Good ghost vs. bad ghost.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • thinkagain

      Oh ye of little faith. Like I said to an atheist, if I am wrong and there is no heaven or hell then no biggie but if you are wrong then sucks to be you.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
    • Jesus Doppelgänger

      @thinkagain: "if I am wrong and there is no heaven or hell then no biggie..."

      No biggie? You aren't considering the pervasive ways that religion distorts one's decision making processes and behaviors. Not to mention all the Sundays that you could have kicked back on the sofa with a coffee and the Sunday Times.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  2. Concerned in Cleveland

    Hell is real, it's where Democrats go when they die, after denying God 3 times.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Huebert

      God is involved in american politics? Try loosening your tinfoil hat.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • The Light Within

      You are a few french fries short of a Happy Meal.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:46 am |
  3. Jfruh

    How about the tooth fairy, the loch ness, santa clause, the boogey monster and neverland? Do they exist?

    Man... CNN has so many articles to look forward to!

    September 24, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • gre

      why, they do exist and i have temples to all of them too. :)

      September 24, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  4. gre

    Crazy people, each and every last one of ya!

    September 24, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  5. Mike

    Gee. Jesus only one back from the dead. really ? Sorry but I think I read somewhere that that same Jesus raised a guy named Job from the dead. Did not read that correctly ? How come no one ever asked Job what was on the other side ? Just askin' people....

    September 24, 2012 at 11:43 am |
  6. sp2011

    Look just pray and try to believe in God, Jesus, Muhammed's teachings. Believe because it is better to be safe than sorry ! If God exists, then you are safe. If he does not exist, then nothing lost.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Jfruh

      How about this situation:

      All these teachings are coming from a demonic figure that likes to pose as a god, scare people into doing stupid things (stone people for being gay, kill neighbours for not going to church on sundays etc..)
      If you buy into it, than you haven't really got a good "soul" and this demonic figure welcomes you into his ardent arms.

      If on the contrary, you refuse to follow such idiotic, hatefull scriptures, and rather risk eternal torture than be part of a hatefull flock... then oh wow, you've actually got a truly generous "soul", and yay you might get eternally rewarded.

      Oh dear... looks like the problem is tougher than expected!

      September 24, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • snowboarder

      the cowards reason for believing in god.

      i can't imagine living in fear of something that can not even be proven to exist.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  7. Eazy

    Heaven is @ 7/11

    September 24, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  8. Religiosity

    What a lot of crap.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  9. Rhubarb

    Mark Driscoll has spoken The Truth. Make your choice: If you choose Jesus and His eternal forgiveness, you have chosen LIFE. If you reject Jesus, you have chosen SPIRITUAL DEATH.

    NO MATTER WHAT YOU'VE DONE, IF YOU TRULY REPENT AND ASK HIS FORGIVENESS, JESUS WILL FORGIVE YOU. You will have eternal life. PLEASE CONSIDER THIS RIGHT NOW.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • gre

      My tooth fairy says the same thing! I'm in!

      September 24, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Madtown

      Mark Driscoll has spoken The Truth
      ----
      The truth according to who? Is it a universal truth, knowable and applicable to all humans on earth? Because that's the only way it could be called a "truth", if it applied equally to everyone. The fact is, many people on this earth will never even hear of christianity, simple because they were born into a place where it doesn't exist. That simple fact means that christianity cannot possibly be a universal truth.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Reggie

      Amen .. Jesus is Real . He is our savior . The only way to get to God is through Jesus Christ . Believe . Have Faith . Repent. Be Baptized In the name of the Father and of the son and the Holy Spirit . You will have Eternal Life .

      September 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • Madtown

      The only way to get to God is through Jesus Christ
      -----
      I guess human beings who live in a primitive society in the South American rain forest jungle are in trouble then. They will never even hear of Jesus, and not because of anything they did or a choice they made........God put them in the South American rain forest jungle, and they have no access to christianity. They will never know Jesus.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm |
    • thinkagain

      Many reject the notion of God an hell but whats the first thing we say when we are in real trouble with death knocking on the door? Oh God help me, save me I believe is what comes out of our mouths. I dont believe many say whoo hoo I am going to die and might be burned crispy critter for ever and ever, finally, its about time...... why is this?
      We dont like to think about religion because its about guilt (same with me, a preachers son who has seen them both) but when its time to die you will be thinking about where you are going whether you like it or not.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Jesus Doppelgänger

      @thinkagain: "whats the first thing we say when we are in real trouble with death knocking on the door?"

      Let's see.... "What's the diagnosis?" "Is the diagnosis correct?" "What are the treatment alternatives for this condition? What's the best available scientific evidence that supports these treatment alternatives?" "Who is the best specialist to treat this life-threatening condition?"

      September 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  10. keeroc15

    This article is insanity unleashed.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  11. geotbury

    Jesus, upon whom Christianity was founded, taughts many truths and life lessons by using parables. In not one story was there ever a hint of a punishment or sacriface in contrast to the religious culture in which he was raised and which later developed after he left this world. There is no hell or sacriface whithin the gospel he taught and lived.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Rhubarb

      Your statement is abjectly false. Here is a direct quote from Jesus, from the Bible:

      "For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." John 6: 26-29

      September 24, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  12. john Doughboy

    Does it really exist? I've not seen/heard any returnees testify to the experience as such. Figuratively or reality, I'd prefer not to make it my destiny in the hereafter. Being separated from the presence of God, to me, would be more severe than the physical description of hell/hades/gehenna/sheol/or any other name !!

    September 24, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  13. d

    My question is why would a merciful and loving God send someone to eternal punishment for something that may be out of their control? What happens if a child dies without knowing of Christianity? What if a fundamentally good person is born in a land where their parents are Muslim/Jewish, their friends are Muslim/Jewish, and they naturally become Muslim/Jewish? Even if they live a good life and never harm anyone, will they still be sent to hell for not believing in the Christian faith? That, to me, is absurd.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  14. James Romer

    I honestly believe hell is where we are now. i believe we have all sinned or have started in hell. And what we do with life in hell willl determine whether we stay here another life sentence or we ascend to heaven.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • Jfruh

      In a way, you are right....
      Just trying helping out a fellow stranger, and you'll see a small slice of heaven through his brightly lit eyes as he smiles at you.
      How about fighting for the causes of repressed minorities, you would then feel bathed in a warm heavenly flow of love.

      Just be generous to others, and other will be generous to you. And the hell you feel like you are living now, will gently turn into heaven.
      This has nothing to do with death or any imaginary life that could happen afterwards.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  15. Wholly Mary

    All the dogma of all religions, old & new, pagan & deist, monotheism and all are merely made in the minds of man.
    Humans need to start thinking on their own for a change and take responsibility for their actions.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  16. joeknockz

    With the thought that there is no God, it can never be proven. Even after death it cannot be proven because you would be experiencing nothing. With the belief in God – If there's a God it can be proven after death. Because there would be something at that point. It's obvious that you should believe for that simple reason. Even if your wrong you'll never be proven other wise. IF you're right though, you will be proven right. There is absolutely nothing to win in not believing in God. Literally there is NOTHING to win

    September 24, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • Huebert

      Pascal's wager is an awful, and erroneous, argument for belief. It as.sumes that the only options are no god exist or the Christian god exist, but what if it is the Norse gods who are in charge, or the Hindu pantheon?

      September 24, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Chris

      Wonderfully put Joe, I cannot be sure it will have an impact on non-believers or not. But put that way it should have as much as Mr. Driscoll's words!

      September 24, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • TrueBlue42

      Actually, joeknockz, there is a LOT to win by not believing in "god", like being able to live this life free of the guilt, shame, self-loathing, intolerance, and hatred taught by religion, especially Christianity. One of the happiest days of my life was the day I finally embraced my Atheism and stopped pretending to be a Christian (out of fear of retribution from the other so-called "Christians" surrounding me); it allows me to be self-honest, thus I can be more honest with others. Turns out quite a few of my "Christian" friends also felt the same way; I've helped them escape their indoctrination just like I've escaped mine. So much for "nothing" to win!

      September 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
      • joeknockz

        I'm sorry but you're not helping your friends. Please stop what you're doing. You're doing the devils work. Jesus does not want you to burn in hell. He sends multiple people to you to try to convince you of the danger you're in. Even me being sent to you is a sign. IF you chose to ignore the danger of forever burning in hell because you refuse to repent for your sins then I'm sorry but you've made your choice and will have to pay consequence for that later. There are countless people who wish they would have just repented to Jesus for what they've done wrong. That feeling you have of feeling free and happy that you have no one to answer to.... I'm begging you... feel bad for what you do wrong. If you don't you will burn later and me saying "Told you so" will not feel good. I do not want that for you. I hope you find a way to feel good and happy while still feeling regretful for things you've done wrong. Have a good day.

        December 12, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  17. Fahad

    Please killed all those black hearted who took part in making a blasphemy movie on our beloved Prophet HAZRAT MUHAMMAD (S.A.W.W). If not then we Muslims are ready to kill them. We are coming....!!

    September 24, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • TROLL ALERT

      Please don't feed it

      September 24, 2012 at 11:39 am |
  18. Athiest

    @j

    'believe in God and His son Jesus Christ and do His will on this earth or don't believe in God and live after your own will and then when you die your soul goes to hell, where it will be tortured for billions and billions of years, with no end in sight'

    Brilliant, simply brilliant. So you're only doing this jesus thing because you're scared.

    There it is people, believe in god or you will be tortured forever.

    You'd think god would be a pretty secure guy, and wouldn't need to threaten people into worshipping him but alas he is so insecure he has to frighten people into following him.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  19. ANDREW.PETER

    Wow! Mark Driscoll did a geat job of articulating the doctrine of hell for publi discourse. It's always so easy to lose focus on things that matter.

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

      If Driscoll's words are an accurate reflection of the modern churches' hell theology then y'all are far crazier than I imagined.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Madtown

      Too bad that there are so many people on this earth who would never hear of the doctrines that Driscoll leans on to support his supposed "truth". The idea that a particular message comes directly from God, but isn't available to all God's human creations, is ludicrous. He's simply trying to justify his own way of thinking. He doesn't speak the universal truth, just the "truth" as he accepts it.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:42 am |
  20. hmm

    I don't believe in any of that. I feel like being dead will be a lot like being unborn. For some people, though, a lack of belief is dangerous. If one is not afrad of a hell, then they might figure that it's ok to do whatever the hell they want when they're alive. I fthey don't believe in judgment day, then hurting others might seem ok. A man who does not fear death is a man to be feared!

    September 24, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • snowboarder

      that is the most bazaar illogic.

      September 24, 2012 at 11:38 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.