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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. xyx25

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

    September 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  2. achepotler

    I think you hillbillies should keep Hell..if it is the only thing keeping you from being totally horrible humans, it might have some value....leave advanced philosophy and ethics to edjumacated peoples.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  3. Sy2502

    The concept of hell was created by a very smart minority who wanted to take firm control over the majority. They succeeded.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  4. steve505

    I'm not going to heaven OR hell when I die. I have "faith" that CandyLand exists, and that is where I will go. I have "faith" that, upon my death, I will find myself living in a house made out of peanut brittle. Don't you dare question my faith!

    September 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  5. Squeezebox

    Hell is simply the absence of God. Without God, all dies.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Amniculi

      Nope. Been without "God" since 2003. Still alive.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Religion is Not Heathly for children or ANY living things

      Well Squeeze – According to YOUR definition, we are already living in HELL!...

      September 24, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Amniculi, You crack me up. You're not even without "God" in your sentence.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
    • Amniculi

      It's just a word, Bill. Just a word.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  6. xyx25

    listening to bunch of comedians instead of the Word of God, the Bible. how sad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Religion is Not Heathly for children or ANY living things

      xyx – The REAL TRADGEDY there is the fact that the comedians speak FAR MORE TRUTH!...

      September 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  7. Huebert

    I have a question for the believers on this blog. What is the purpose of hell?

    September 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      Hell was created to imprison fallen angels who defied God. Men choose Hell.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • Huebert

      A choice between paradise and eternal torture is not a choice.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Atheist Hunter

      The choice is choose Satan and sin and hell or choose Jesus and Heaven. Easy choice. Stubborn man who wants his way which is evil.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • hebrewseleven

      That is a good question. I simply do not know. If we ask what is the reason for the law of gravity we will we come up with all kinds of awesome reasons for gravity. Yet gravity will kill anyone who jumps off of a 100 story buliding. I bring up that law to speak of the law of sin. I believe Somewhere in the big scheme of life this law is in place for an eternal spiritual reason. Beyond living my life wondering if there is a hell after i die, or rather a hell according to what folks think hell is. I live my life fighting the hell i see around me every day.
      The only weapon that works is Love.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Huebert

      I simply want evidence before i believe in something. Only the dishonest become offended when asked for evidence.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Huebert, I take you at your word that you require evidence to believe. Your problem is you are asking the wrong people for evidence. I challenge you to an experiment. You can perform it all on your own and don't even have to acknowledge you are doing it. The conditions are simple. Pray to God every day for forty days. Ask Jesus to reveal Himself to you. That is it. Don't change anything else. Don't believe, don't go to church, don't make confessions. Keep an open mind or a closed one, doesn't matter. After 40 days, I'd be interested to see what you report. Do you accept?

      September 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  8. Bootyfunk

    hell is a disgusting concept promoting fear, guilt and ignorance. that a so called 'loving' god could create a place where people are tortured for all eternity shows what an evil, blood-thirsty god yahweh is.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • snowboarder

      or how much control the creators of god wished to exercise.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
    • Madtown

      Particularly when it's presented to children, in an effort to inspire belief in a certain line of thought.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • SouthernCelt

      Hell is not a concept, it is a physical reality, as the Fatima children could attest if they were still alive. They went there under the protection of the Holy Mother to see what awaits those that reject God. It is filled with people who have rejected God or thought they were equal to Him. The Fallen Angels that thought they were equal to God made the place what it is. Satan's greatest trick is convincing people he doesn't exists.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  9. truth be trolled

    Hitchens & Dawkins Expose Mormon Religion .,.,
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Etownp_Rmw&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  10. J Dawson

    Not sure what New-Age line of thinking the first writer has gotten himself into, but I disagree that hell is about revenge. No mature Christian wants anyone to goto hell...that's why we/they share the Gospel. I'm not sure how he's a published author AND claims to be Christians but is ignorant to this pretty obvious fact. Anyways, I liked Mark Driscoll's response. Strong yet loving.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • The Eternal Satyr

      There's no such thing as a "mature Christian". That is an oxymoron. It is precisely because the pistic faithist is spiritually immature that they are drawn to the Abrahamic religions.

      Religion is the retarded stepchild of philosophy. Remember this when you pray and, despite your faith, your prayers remain unanswered.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  11. Jamie

    To Mark Schaffer,
    Your points are well taken. But there is one thing that makes me wonder: Do you really believe that the hatred to others in Islam and Christianity are comparable? I've been in both sides of the spectrum and I've seen a very non forgiving, narrow minded Islamic mentality that anyone who's not Muslim is an infidel and it's OK to force people against their will in the name of Islam. On the other hand in Christianity most people I've met are more inline with Jesus' point of view, that God is forgiving, that we should inform others about Christianity, but it's up to them to select what works for them. We'd be happy if they chose Jesus as their savior, but we will not go out there and force them, or beat them, or kill them if they did not. The 2 religions are very different in their essence. I accept the fact that extremism is bad no matter what the religion is, but it's also important to see that extremism in Islam is way more prevalent than any other religion out there. The Islamic fundamentalism did not start with George W. Bush years, it existed for centuries and never changed, just check how they treat their own people...

    September 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
    • Amniculi

      Jamie, what you're failing to realize is that Islam is Christianity 600 years ago. You know, during the time of Inquisi'tions and witch trials? Imagine if there had been the technology and global society we have now back then. It would have been exponentially more horrendous than it already was.

      September 24, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  12. truth be trolled

    Why the Bible is Essentially Useless and Irrelevant .,.,
    (music by Randy Newman)
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1AAsUU9x4k&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  13. truth be trolled

    Ricky Gervais – Losing Religion and Becoming An Atheist .,.,
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAfuKfmE1Tc&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  14. Broc Nor

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/1999/07/29/nf_nohell990729.htm

    "No Hell": Pope
    Last Updated: Thursday, July 29, 1999 | 5:52 PM ET
    CBC News

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    A hell without fire and brimstone. That's the Roman Catholic Church's latest view on what life in the hereafter might be like. And it comes straight from the Pope.

    The Pope made the statement yesterday in the Vatican City.

    At this morning's mass at the basilica of St. John's, news of the Pope's statement caught most of the people completely by surprise. "The Pope said what?" asked one man. "I'd have to see it before I believe it."

    The Pope said WHAT?
    The Pope said WHAT?

    For centuries the popular image of the wrath of God has been fire, brimstone, and every imaginable – and unimaginable – horror. The modern teaching of the Catholic church does not refer to hell as a place.

    So, for many practicing Catholics, like Frank O'Leary, the Pope has simply confirmed what they believe anyway. "A lot of these things are metaphorical," he says. "I never really thought of heaven as a physical place. It is not surprising to me that the Holy Father would point out that hell is not physical in the sense of this physical plane that we're on right now."

    The Pope isn't saying there's no hell at all. He's saying that hell is the state of eternal torment a soul ends up in when it cuts itself off from God.

    No fire. No brimstone.
    No fire. No brimstone.

    And so another piece of religious folklore gives way to the rational mood of our times. It was only last year that Catholics heard from their Pope about the need to build more bridges between faith and reason. And just last week he set the record straight about heaven. Not as a place in the clouds but as a state of eternal union with God.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  15. truth be trolled

    ...And What If I'm Wrong? .,.,
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iClejS8vWjo&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Darren

      Amen!

      Sorry I couldn't help myself... Well said.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
  16. Evie

    Well said, Pastor Mark. Im surprised and saddened with some of these comments. There are so many spiritually blind people. May God have mercy on them and open their eyes to the truth before its too late.

    September 24, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Amniculi

      When, exactly, is too late? I need to know so I can schedule. Tomorrow? Next week? Five minutes from now? Oh, whatever is a poor, blind, misguided heathen such as myself to do?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
    • Chr

      Yeah because if they don't your god will send them to hell. In fact he's willing to allow me to burn for all eternity...just because I disagree with him. That to me...is evil. You don't need god to be good. Remember that...

      We aren't blind. You are. You look at one side of the coin. I've looked at all sides and decided what makes more sense. You've devoted and involved your entire life and being into it. Sorry, but you are the one that's wrong. Grow up

      September 24, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Yes, there are indeed many spiritually blind people. About 7 billion of them. That's because SPIRITUALITY DOESN'T EXIST, and so it can't possibly see anything.

      But if you don't believe me, head out to the nearest busy highway, stuff wax in your ears, put on a blindfold (both to protect yourself from worldly influences), and wait for the spirit to tell you when it's safe to cross. Find out whether you believe YOURSELF about how reliable spirituality is.

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

      How sad and ignorant you are Evie. I pity you.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  17. truth be trolled

    Christian Bullsh it Nailed by Bill Maher
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjxOVOLKkdQ&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
  18. Fallen Angel

    richunix What I mean by seeing the light= understanding life and making the right choices in your life that are beneficial to you and other's as we all have to live with each other.That's what I mean

    September 24, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  19. truth be trolled

    The Problem With Miracles (Sam Harris) .,.,
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JI-0py-YQY&w=640&h=390]

    September 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  20. Johnny_to_hell

    So am I to understand that if I live a good life, help people, and love my neighbors I can still go to hell and suffer for all of eternity just because I don't believe in grown-up fairy tales? It all just sounds like a really good way to scare the crap out of people and turn us into mindless sheep. Didn't Jesus even call us his flock and call himself the shepherd? I guess religious people actually want to be sheep.

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

      So what do you believe happens after you die?

      September 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Matt

      Says in the bible that our "good works" are like filthy rags. We do what in our head is good deeds and live "good" lives but none of us are perfect we all still sin and become selfish at times! and no matter how good lives we live no matter how many charities you give to we all deserve eternal punishment in hell cuz we are full of sin and selfish gain. The best part is that their is a savior named Jesus who has died for our sins and forgiven us! Believe in Him and be forgiven of your evil sins. We can get self righteous and think in our heads that were good ppl but it does no good. It all comes down to whether a person wants to believe or doesnt. If someone is so stubborn its not even worth fighting for. When something bad happens like really bad. do you pray to God? do you ask for Gods help? why do ppl act like they dont believe in God but when it comes down to it they run to Him! just shows we have a heavenly Father who loves and cares for us.

      September 24, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Verimius

      @KingJC

      "So what do you believe happens after you die?"

      Where does the light go when you turn off the switch?

      September 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm |
    • Madtown

      The best part is that their is a savior named Jesus who has died for our sins and forgiven us! Believe in Him
      -------
      What if I've never heard of him? What if I was born to a part of the world where christianity wasn't prevalent, and my parents exposed me to the teachings of a different religion, unlike your parents did? Am I not forgiven? Am I not saved? I didn't do anything wrong! I can't accept Jesus if I've never heard of him.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:18 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.