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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. Fuyuko

    Don't believe in hell. No good deity would create it or suffer his creations to go there. Sorry, just a boogeyman the early xtians borrowed from other religions to scare people into converting! And it still is. Christianity- scaring people with hell for centuries.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
  2. Sinfully Yours

    Let me see...
    I can have the option of either following Conservative Christians and have a chance on entering heaven or going to hell if I don't...
    OR
    I can follow radical Islam and have me some hot vlrgln @$$ and take out a few conservative Christians while I am at it?!

    Bring on the women!!!! :-P

    Religion is so f-ed up.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • Vik100

      That is only your half a$$$d perception. What others like you have told you. Nothing that you have trully experienced on your own. Your perception is really f'd up. God loves everyone, all sinners yet he does not like sin. He does not condemn you. You condem yourself.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Huebert

      Why would anyone want 72 virgins? Personally I would want 70 virgins and 2 Las Vegas dirty girls to show the others whats up.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • save the world and slap some sense into a christard today!

      Talk about fvcked up. lol Vik the Xtian prik i see. full of this xtian BS. HA HA HA.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Sinfully Yours

      LOL Huebert! Wanna trade a few of your "used" virgins for some of mine? ;-)

      September 24, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Huebert

      @SY

      Any time :D

      September 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • sam stone

      "That is only your half a$$$d perception. What others like you have told you"

      As opposed to the bible, or your pastor, Vik?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  3. John

    Then why did you bother to read the article mars? I think that you know the truth, but simply refuse to admit it.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  4. CGAW

    And the closet atheists appear in swarms. A useless forum to participate in.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • Randy Ape

      There is a hell its called marriage.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  5. TDJ

    Frank Schaeffer, the son of the esteemed, late evangelical theologian and philosopher, Francis Schaeffer, has fallen a long way from his father's stature, beliefs, and logical mind. Before becoming the sought-after dissident he has become, Frank Schaeffer dabbled in Eastern Orthodoxy which, apparently, didn't feed his rebellion enough to make a difference. This quote: "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" shows how oversimplification and generalizations lead to moronic statements, deprived of sober reasoning, laced as they are with Frank's all encompassing hatred of his past.

    As the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said: "Our modern minds deny hell because they deny sin. The punishment of hell consists of the pain of loss and the pain of sense. God does not sentence us to hell; we sentence ourselves."

    Mr. Schaeffer should relearn this lesson, soon I hope.

    +JMJ,
    ~Theo

    Blogmaster, http://www.vivificat.org

    September 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
    • snowboarder

      it's religion. it's middle name is moronic.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Madtown

      God does not sentence us to hell
      ----
      Certainly not, at least not for the "sin" of not following a human-crafted religion. There may indeed be penance in some form, but no human on earth now has any knowledge of the details, nor are the details contained in any book written by the hand of man.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • C

      This statement: "Why does our view of hell matter? Because believers in hell believe in revenge." – is illogical and dangerous and even libelous. What is it based on? Where are these vengeful Christians? All I see are vengeful anti-Christians increasingly taking their stance into the public arena.

      No there is a clear understanding that "vengeance is the Lord's" and that He is the only judge and that we are to turn the other cheek. And that is a fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity – Muslims are clearly told to kill on behalf of God.

      Their enemy is any kafir, and if I remember correctly bin Laden cited a 12th century Muslim defeat (which happened after they had invaded Europe – in the name of religion) to give justification for his grand plan, which was basically... revenge.

      It is important to understand the heart of "conservative" pro-Zionist Christians (and these don't just exist in the US) for people in the Muslim world, whether it be Palestine or Indonesia. There are many outreaches and charities and underground church movements. Plus the experience of many Muslims coming to know independently the only deity that promises unconditional love, and now serving him with amazing resolve. Arab-speaking Christians are some of the most fervent and easily the most persecuted.

      Also making a link between Israel and Hell also lacks any sense and is a kneejerk reaction to the sensibilities of an equally kneejerk anti-Zionist world. Any military strategy or political policy in support of Israel or for a free society is not one of vengeance, but of defense against attack and defense of life, and of the laws and systems that are necessary for life to thrive, and is not religiously motivated.

      There is no simple A + B = C logic in Frank's piece, but it is more like the conversations that might take place amongst a medieval lynchmob.

      Most humans would probably act on an instinct of revenge in fact. So Christianity doesn't just satisfy the staus quo here it sets a new standard altogether.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
  6. snowboarder

    one thing is certain with the innumerable deities, religions and doctrines today and throughout history.

    man is very adept at creating god.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  7. Mike

    Is this article for real?

    September 24, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Walt

      Unbelievable.. The Left is so desperate to lump muslim extremists who go around killing innocent people in terror attacks with Christians, creating a moral equivalance straw man argument... It even compared President Bush with Osama Bin Laden on equal terms... Are you kidding me?!

      This article is nothing but a Liberal smear against God, Christians, and "conservatives". Obviously the "Tolerant Left" isn't very tolerant of Christianity.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • sam stone

      Unbelievable. Inbred fvcks make this about politics

      September 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  8. Jesus Doppelgänger

    Oh dear Christians, Muslims and other hell-believing people:

    If there's a hell, then where is it? Is it in our solar system, galaxy? Where? Enlighten us. And please offer objective proof of your answer.

    Until you can, then stop telling children and other innocent people threatening and frightening stories about fiery places, demons, monsters and hells. It's one thing to lie about benevolent Santa Claus. But it's frankly abusive to make up stories like this.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • BobbyG

      Hell and Heaven is in your soul. Even you have one. How do you make your soul live is where you will go. Heaven and hell is in each of us and we will go to the one we have trained our soul to know. Everyone has a second thought of right and wrong in the back of your mind. Thats your soul. Everyone has the second thought Sould I do this. You train your soul to pick the right or wrong.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • BobbyG

      Your soul goes into the air. Which makes up the energy of the universe. God is the one who made this revolving universe for us to continue or destroy. Our Choice

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

      Can you explain... do you even know what LIFE is!?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • Which God?

      @BobbyG. My gibberish translator is down. Could you please interpret?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      The Roman Catholic Church defines Hell as "a state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed." One finds themself in Hell as the result of dying in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love, becoming eternally separated from Him by one's own free choice

      September 24, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • sam stone

      Wow, you don't get anymore authoritative the RCC....

      September 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  9. Medulla

    I am not against religion. But I don't understand how people can believe so staunchly in fairly tales and magical creatures. Is it just because so many people believe in it that it justifies it as "truth"? Any time a discovery is made, it changes what used to exist as "truth" to varying degrees. So what is believed by the majority changes due to new discoveries which are at first believed by only a few. Religions which are based on mythology will follow a similar route over time. By the way, is cremating one's body a loophole to being judged on judgement day?

    September 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  10. Realist

    the bible, heaven, hell and god are all man made,, if these delusionalist want to believe in a hell , let them. But please stop these christians and muslims from making it hell for the rest of us.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  11. matt

    Hell is real. It's called The Midwest in the common vernacular.

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

      Actually, it isn't the Midwest, but it is in the Midwest. Hell is 3 miles southeast of Pickney, Michigan. It only has about 266 people in it, so the odds of you living in Hell are small. I bought a few candy bars there in their general store and then drove outta Hell. Employment options are limited, but the people are friendly.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • sam stone

      Milton: The Dam Site Inn? Had a hell of a sandwich there

      September 24, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  12. BobbyG

    Technology, Monetary Currency, and Electricity are sending us on the fast track to hell. The govt created all this. People are so focused on hell or heaven after you are dead. We bring heaven or hell with us into the afterlife on how you live your life on earth. The bible and other quorans are just made by a human and brain. The few will go to heaven the many sheeple will follow the devil to hell.

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

      Yeah especially the electricity and technology that helped you write your message to all these people. Come give me a break!

      September 24, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  13. History Bear

    Like Heaven, Hell is a construct used by "religious" leaders to beat people over the head with so you can force them to live by your dictates and hence control them. NO one KNOWS what's on the other side of life until they are there and no one comes back. Believe as you will, but keep it to your self and out of my life.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
    • Sinfully Yours

      Zombies know...

      September 24, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  14. sri

    Hell has fire and darkness? at once? That's illogical.
    Fire generates light and heat! no?

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

    Is this article for real? Who believes this crap? Any normal thinking person knows that religion is BS. If I went walking around and stating that the Lorax is real and that there is a place called Whoville, I would be locked up in a padded room. But it is OK to speak to imaginary gods and believe there is a real place called heaven and hell and you can walk this Earth without any kind of psychiatric evalution, then I am missing something.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • Allie

      Unfortunately you are missing a lot

      September 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • marsmotel

      Gee, please enlighten me. I am sure my 4 years of study in Theology has taught me nothing and you know it all. So, I ask, please enlighten me!

      September 24, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Allie

      Marc Driscoll presented it pretty well. Have you read the Bible?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  16. william

    I'm far from an expert, but just read that there is no mention, none, of hell in the old testament. What in the world do you so-called "Christians" make of this? That it took the Bible, written hundreds of years after the death of Jesus, to come up with hell? WTH?

    September 24, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Huebert

      Jesus had to be able to save humanity from something, so the early church invented hell. After all, what is the point of a savior if their is nothing to be saved from?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      The word "hell" occurs 31 times in the Old Testament. All 31 of those times, the word translated "hell" is the Hebrew word "sheol." While the English word "hell" has connotations as a place of punishment for the condemned, sheol does not have such connotations. Sheol simply refers to the abode of the dead in general, not particularly the place of the punishment for the wicked. In fact, sheol was divided into two compartments, one for the righteous dead and one for the wicked dead. And, more specifically, the Jewish concept of sheol was the "underworld," or in other words, a place within the earth, underneath the surface world.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • marsmotel

      Jesus hated organized religion himself. He also was a troublemaker. Sounds like the perfect savior to me moron!

      September 24, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Eric

      Nice cut+paste job, Bill Deacon. However, cutting and pasting from a website doesn't make something true.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • I wonder

      william,

      The idea of hell was not originated by the ancient Hebrews. Many religions predating it had good and bad scenarios for the afterlife, and quite a varied array of things that got you to one or the other.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  17. searchingbeyond

    Reblogged this on Ramblings of an every day joe and commented:
    I am almost shocked by this article is on CNN. It is a great article about Hell and if it is a real place or not and some information about it. Check it out! I don't want to be the one that scares with Hell and then says come to Christ, but this is a great article that is worth a read and the reality is Hell is real.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  18. Genie

    If there's a hell, then why bother trying to send anyone there? Why go to war over religious values? If there's a hell, then your religious enemies are bound there anyway? Why be so arrogant as to think your god needs you to smack down those people on top of the "fact" that they're already going to hell? If you believe in hell, and if you believe in redemption, doesn't it make more sense NOT to smite the infidels so they have a chance to repent before something/someone else takes their life? "Accept our god or DIE" makes no sense whatsoever–isn't it enough to leave it at, "Accept our god or you'll go to hell!"? If a group feels it must take on the responsibility of punishing the infidels (like anything said group could do would be worse than everlasting torture), isn't that group taking on rather a lot of responsibility? If people think they need to act on their god's behalf here on earth–their god must not be all that powerful in the first place and, personally, I think it shows a lack of faith.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • xyx25

      People who go to war in the name of Christ are blinded.

      Romans 12:16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.
      17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
      18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
      19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
      20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
      21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  19. Elias

    There is no eternal hell because you don't possess an immortal soul. God alone has immortality – 1 Tim 6:16. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul crept into Christianity through the combination of Catholicism and paganism.
    God will destroy the wicked at the end – they perish – they are destroyed – 2 Thes 1:9, John 3:16. God is not a sadist. He isn't going to torture people forever for the sins of a brief lifetime. This is a sick, twisted doctrine that most Christians believe in. But its simply not true, nor is it Biblical.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • Genie

      Yup, that one verse obliterates all the other mentions of eternal and everlasting hell. Or do all the mentions of eternal punishment eclipse this verse? That's the great thing about scripture, you can cherry pick to your heart's content.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:14 pm |
    • Elias

      There are hundreds of verses that show there is no hell – I only put two in because this is a CNN blog, not an article on how big a lie eternal hell is. See, for more – 2 Pet 2:6, Jude 7, 2 Pet 3:9, Ecclesiastes 9:5, Romans 6:23 – wages of sin is death, not eternal burning. Lots and lots of verses. There is no eternal hell – it's a lie by oppressive statesmen to help ensure compliance.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  20. sam

    This Driscoll guy is a crazy fundie jackass. Wouldn't expect much better from any of the Mars Hill folks, though. Whew.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
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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.