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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. Jesuslovesyou

    Pay your tides to the church with your atm card, OR YOULL BE SENT TO HELL INTERNAL DAMNATION!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • Amniculi

      So you want us to somehow compensate the church with the fluctuating rise in sea level by using our bank cards to avoid being cast into the Hell inside ourselves?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  2. truth be trolled

    Why follow Jesus, when you can follow a king?? .,.,
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVkoQHCXSK8&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  3. Amniculi

    Posting videos is dumb.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  4. Kate

    The verses in the Bible talking about a Lake of Fire are not about Hell. If you take them all together in context, it's clear that the Bible doesn't say there's anything like the "Hell" people believe in. http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/origin-of-hell/41044.aspx

    September 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  5. Vance

    This article is way off the mark. Hell exists as a reason not to seek revenge, but rather to take satisfaction in the fact that if you TURN THE OTHER CHEEK you can still take solace in the fact that those who sin against you will meet an ultimate justice. Yes, there are calls for retribrution in the Bible, but humans wrote the Bible...the same breed of humans that illogically correspond belief in Hell with desire to seek revenge. Do not blame God for humanity's lack of reason. Instead, let's own up to our imperfections and seek ways to become better people. I'm tired of my spiritual beliefs getting a bad reputation for the mistakes of senseless individuals who believe in something similar.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  6. MJBillings

    Well, Mark; You laid it out almost word for word the way my earthly father believed it. The way one of my daughters believes it. and my mother as well. sigh... I,, on the other hand, (and according to all of you, there is an "on the other hand"), believes the concept of Hell was made up to scare people into being obedient to the local bishops. Period. I believe, after much lifelong study of many writings, that Jesus was a real person but His concept of how we need to live our lives is more important than all the dogma made up by mankind. I believe in re-incarnation for all people, not just Jesus (who is supposedly reincarnated of God) my faith vacilates on this point from decade to decade.... Re-incarnation explains to me why some people have to suffer more than others. Because we are punishing ourselves and being redeemed not just as a result of Jesus' death on the cross, but our own need to walk a mile in another person's shoes.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • jim

      " Re-incarnation explains to me why some people have to suffer more than others" All of your thinking is based on the flawed premise that life is fair or that there must be some sort of balance instead of the chaos we truly see.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  7. truth be trolled

    Irreducible complexity cut down to size
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W96AJ0ChboU&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  8. Barowner

    There is a basic failure of logic in this author's thinking. He states "Why does our view of hell matter? Because believers in hell believe in revenge." This is a complete perversion of the scripture. Believers in hell believe in justice, not revenge. Do you punish your children for revenge???? Of course not – they are punished to teach them right from wrong and to give them the knowledge of justice. The article is not totally without merit-if nothing else, it is an interesting discussion of the relationship between politics and religion.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • dsi

      How can there be justice without the possibility of redemption?

      September 24, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  9. truth be trolled

    George Carlin – Religion is bullsh it .,.,.,
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RT6rL2UroE&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Vance

      I love when people ridicule us spiritual folks following words of a priest or a rabbi...and they justify it with words they follow from a comedian. How about we try establishing our own ideas and beliefs based on life experiences and insight.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
    • KeiserSoze

      My experience and insight is that religious people are full of bulls&*t and are the most hypocritical beings on the planet. How's that for insight?

      Religion was created to control the weak minded.... like you.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  10. KingJC

    What an amazingly well written article about TRUTH. I once thought this was nonsense also. Never have I been so far from the TRUTH. These things are not easily understood, you have to be able to approach it with an open mind and heart to find if indeed it is true or not. Otherwise, as many comments are read here, it will seem complete idiodicy. But I tell you from being on both sides of the arguement that it is TRUTH.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  11. truth be trolled

    Welcome To This World .,.,.,
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Rwioe1SGkQ&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  12. Tim Limbert

    Wow. "My job is to tell the truth", and after that, a bunch of totally made-up stuff.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • KeiserSoze

      My thoughts exactly...

      September 24, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  13. truth be trolled

    Lewis Black – The Old Testament .,.,.,
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGrlWOhtj3g&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  14. RGOne

    You create your own heaven and hell on earth by how you live your life.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  15. rrmon

    Ask a Marine who has died where they go to re-group??

    September 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Huebert

      They go to one of their respawn points. Haven't you ever played Call of Duty?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  16. jay

    There is no hell, hell is a meaning of death period. GOD is love, so its impossible for a loving God to allow human to suffer either temporary or permanent.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Amniculi

      And that, my friends, is why there is no suffering in the world. Oh, wait...

      September 24, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • KingJC

      You sir, must be using a New World Translation bible. I am sorry to inform you that you have been misled as you whole-heartly seek the truth. Grab a real Bible and you will see hell is very real, created not originally for man, but for Satan and his angels who rebelled agaisnt God.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Amniculi

      The only real Hell is in Michigan. Prove to me otherwise without using the Bible.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • KingJC

      LOL. I would suggest you move if you actually live there.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Matt

      Yes Jay God is an all loving God. He cares for us and wants the best for us because He is our Father and Creator. God has given us all a choice to choose what is good or what is evil. God didnt make evil cuz He is a all powerful perfect God. Evil is just the absence of Good. So without God we choose to live our lives to our own wishes and how we want things so he lets us do what we want on earth. but since he lets us do what we want on earth He says after we have died that if a person has lived their live for themself then he has enjoyed his own rewards on earth but now is apart from God and has eternal punishment. But those who live their lives for God not for themselves, have to go through more trials and tribulation but eventually and eternally get to live forever and ever with their creator who is God. So just to sum things up, their is a God, heaven, and a hell. If a person doesnt believe their is a hell then that person doesnt believe in the bible cuz it clearly talks about a hell, and if a person doesnt believe in the bible then they arent a christian or a follower of the word of God. So if a person is a christian then they believe Gods word. that simple. People have always tried to make things sound better and more comfortable in their heads then it actually is. just like a kid thinking his/her parents wont punish them as harshly as it was said they would. we just are just lieing to ourselves. I hope this helps in your understanding. and if u have more questions please just talk to me and i would be glad to answer! Thank you! and God bless.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  17. PCM

    If heaven means spending the rest of time with the majority of christians or muslims...then PLEASE send me to hell !!

    September 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  18. truth be trolled

    "Why are you not a Christian?" (Bertrand Russell) .,.,.,
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsSCyNpo__I&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  19. nonBelieverOne

    Religious folks can't defend their own position in a debate like this without relying on their own notion of "truth." So, how can you expect to have a rational, real world discussion of these matters with them? Faith is the noose with which they follow their shepards to the hell of being bound to an un-Truth. Religion needs a total, archetypal negative or opposite as a means to convince followers to follow, no matter how unreal that archetype is. So, how real can their heaven, paradise, savior, and even their faith be?

    September 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Jonathan Burton

      The reason is that ultimately faith in their beliefs are what fuels their perceptions. I am a Christian, and I do not claim to understand the logic or the reasoning of a large percentage of people, born into their own beliefs, culture and religion simply being dammed at birth to hell just because they were born on the wrong continent and to the wrong family? It appears to be a cruel joke on a large swath of humanity. I do not focus on this because I find it confusing and contrary to my beliefs about God and Jesus. Nevertheless it is writing in the Bible that Jesus said these things about our potential one way ticket to the hot place if we do not receive this gift. And so I receive it and feel comforted that when I die, that I am ensured not to end up in hell, but to be in heaven. I really hope that there is something other than hell awaiting people not Christian. I am not entirely content to be in a group that is lucky enough to have the right beliefs to not be dammed for eternity. But then again it is not my will, but God's will that takes precedent and is ultimately going to prevail.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  20. truth be trolled

    Christopher Hitchens Destroys The Catholic Church. .,.,.,
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3766TOukRo&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
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About this blog

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.