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. MalcomR

    "Be excellent to each other". – Bill S. Preston

    September 23, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  2. Chris

    Believers are mentally ill. Every single one of them. No two ways about it. If you read a collection of nearly 2000 year old books and agree with the "scientific" explanations they purport, then you are absolutely bonkers.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I disagree. I have known many believers who are wonderful people. They aren't mentally ill; they aren't zealots. I have also known believers who are among the nastiest, cruelest and dumbest dolts I've ever met.

      Belief isn't the deciding factor.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  3. timothyclee

    The idea of hell could only have been cooked up by iron age sadists. To teach it to children is child abuse. To teach it to adults is a perversion of spiritual thinking.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Chris

      Religion is first rate child abuse. I mean, if you truly, unabashedly want to limit your child's ability to think rationally and become a 21st century leader, teach them religion.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • edweird69

      @Chris – AGREED ! I was brought up on hell, fire and brimstone. My mom thought she was doing the right thing. I don't have any anger or resentment toward her. But, it has taken many, many years, to rearrange my thought processes, and to become a normal thinking person.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  4. bwannabob

    Driscoll- you are delusional and your diatribe is criminal- go to hell

    September 23, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  5. Peter

    Just be nice to each ither and forgive those who might hurt you!

    September 23, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • edweird69

      Oh, but your goodness is "as filthy rags before the Lord". Xtians are out to recruit, and your wonderful slogan is never good enough for them. You must drink their koolaid.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • truth be trolled

      The forked tongue of the christard at work. ("Peter" / truth be told / captain america / Ronald Regonzo / just sayin / WOW / ! / etc. is such a ho mophobic little troll. See how it talks under the Osteen article.)

      September 23, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  6. Bibletruth

    I have never, ever found a professed christian that believes in an eternally burning hell (eternal torture chamber) and who has actually done a thorough bible study on the subject. And I do not believe there is such a thing (eternally burning hell as is commonly believed), as there are dozens of scriptures in context that do not permit of such an idea and those scriptures that are often used to support such an idea can be shown to not support such an idea at all. Cherry picking scriptures is not bible study and does not lead to bible truth. Every doctrinal beleif should be based on a thorough bible study as to what the word of God says about the subject (every instance of the subject) from Genesis through Revelation. Doing that not 1 of 100 who now believe in an eternally burning torture chamber for the lost will feel comfortable with that belief any further.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Kevin

      Well you haven't looked very hard, cause I know a lot of them and I am one! One day, you will believe!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:43 am |
    • edweird69

      @Kevin – since when is not beliving something, make one deserving of eternal punishment? How ludicrous!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Dman

      I am sorry but your thought process that we should go by sola scriptura is flawed. We cannot depend soley on the bible for interpretting the Bible. We have brains and are expected to use them as well. Clearly there were some things understood by the early Christians through Apostolic tradition as well. The bible for example does not use the word Holy Trinity yet Christianity accepts that there is one.

      Such doctrines do not come about merely by scriptural reasoning but rather through theological thinking as well.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  7. uswestons

    Interesting article. I think a better choice could have been made than Driscoll, but he did a good job. Your comment regarding God and His children, that He is a father "who loves all his children equally"... is certainly true. BUT, who does He say are His children? John 1:12 says, "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God"... You see, one is not born a "Child of God"... one must "become" as the Biblesays, a Child of God.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • edweird69

      Yes, you must drink the kool-aid, before being accepted. Who would want to be the child of anything, that would create such a place of torture for anyone? Since when does eternal punishment, fit a finite crime?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  8. TheDudeAbides

    The smaller the world gets, the less impact cultural mythology has on it.

    The idea that a billion Chinese will suffer eternal fire, for instance, becomes rather ludicrous once you realize there are more of them than there are of you.

    The more we learn and the more we interact with others, the more we realize our beliefs are self-reinforced.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • edweird69

      Gr8 post !!

      September 23, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Warning

      The 1 billion still have chance to convert. God may forgive some of them.

      Christianity is growing rapidly in China

      September 23, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • MalcomR

      @Warning: So is E. Coli.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • RP

      "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it" (Matthew 7:13).

      September 23, 2012 at 9:58 am |
    • cmcle

      Warning - What about the Chinese who live in the distant rural areas of China, who never during their brief lifetimes have the opportunity to learn of Christ, and thus never have the opportunity to accept him as their Savior. What will their fate be?

      I tend to think that if there is an omniscient God, He will understand the impossible task imposed upon such people and invite them to enjoy eternal glory with Him in heaven. Is it possible that your God has a greater understanding of human behavior than you do?

      September 23, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  9. G. Zeus Kreiszchte

    My religion says there will be 69 virgins waiting for me when I die because my name is 15 letters long. The proof for this claim is that the words are written down (see! they're written on this page!). I am SAVED!

    September 23, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      I believe it's 70. Now we have to kill each other.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  10. Luis Wu

    Why does CNN feel the need to pander to ignorant people that believe ancient mythology is real and modern science is not????

    September 23, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      Because cnn is kool

      September 23, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • MalcomR

      Because they are being manipulated by a race of two-headed, highly intelligent, xenophobes into orchestrating our own self destruction?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  11. smartaz

    This guy has a very distorted view of Christianity. The majority are not like the Westboro Baptists relishing in people burning for eternity. The majority of Christians actually try to prevent that from happening to people.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      It's stupid to worship disgusting gods–such as ones who would build and sustain eternal torture pits.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  12. awasis

    "As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth. " Truth according to what? A book that was written 2000 years ago about a man for which there is NO unbiased evidence that he even existed. Sorry but you believe in a fairy tale, a story, a untruth. You have no proof at all for Hell or Heaven or anything else. So without real proof you have nothing, zero, zilch. Please go away with your holier than thou BS religion that is no different than Islam. You're belief promotes hate and divisiveness. Humanity deserves better.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • mcohen

      yep, a fairy tale, and they always close with " and if you do not accept Jesus, ie become born again, then you are hellbound." You know what, screw you and your god and your fake Jesus. If you believe that crap, you are a fool. Give me a break.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  13. truth be trolled

    Check this out:
    List of atheists in science and technology (natural scientists):
    (The number of Nobel laureates listed are astounding.)

    List (social sciences):

    September 23, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Warning

      LOL Wikipedia.... anyone could edit/erase anything your moro.n

      September 23, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • Moby Schtick


      But the facts are correct as you can determine for yourself

      September 23, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  14. Warning

    Taken from the book; "Slavery, Terrorism and Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat" of Dr. Peter Hammond

    As long as the Muslim population remains around or under 2% in any given country, they will for the most part be regarded as a "peace-loving" minority, and not as a threat to other citizens. This is the case in:
    the U.S. — 0.6%; Australia — 1.5%; Canada – 1.9%; China — 1.8%; Italy — 1.5%; Norway — 1.8%.

    At 2% – 5%, they begin to proselytize from other ethnic minorities and disaffected groups, often with major recruiting from the jails and among street gangs. This is happening in:
    Denmark — 2%; Germany — 3.7%; the UK — 2.7%; Spain — 4%; Thailand — 4.6%.

    From 5% +, they exercise an inordinate influence in proportion to their percentage of the population. For example, they will push for the introduction of halal (clean by Islamic standards) food, thereby securing food preparation jobs for Muslims. They will increase pressure on supermarket chains to feature halal on their shelves – along with threats for failure to comply. This is occurring in:
    France — 8%;Philippines — 5%; Sweden — 5%; Switzerland — 4.3%;The Netherlands — 5.5%; Trinidad & Tobago — 5.8%.

    At this point, they will work to get the ruling government to allow them to rule themselves (within their ghettos) under Sharia, the Islamic Law. The ultimate goal of Islamists is to establish Sharia law over the entire world.
    When Muslims approach 10% + of the population, they tend to increase lawlessness as a means of complaint about their conditions. In Paris, we are already seeing car-burnings. Any non-Muslim action offends Islam, and results in uprisings and threats, such as in Amsterdam, with opposition to Mohammed cartoons and films about Islam. Such tensions are seen daily, particularly in Muslim sections in:
    Guyana — 10%;India — 13.4%;Israel — 16%;Kenya — 10%;Russia — 15%.

    After reaching 20% +, nations can expect hair-trigger rioting, jihad militia formations, sporadic killings, and the burnings of Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, such as in:
    Ethiopia — 32.8%.

    At 40% +, nations experience widespread massacres, chronic terror attacks, and ongoing militia warfare, such as in:
    Bosnia — 40%;Chad — 53.1%;Lebanon — 59.7%.

    From 60% +, nations experience unfettered persecution of non-believers of all other religions (including non-conforming Muslims), sporadic ethnic cleansing (genocide), use of Sharia Law as a weapon, and Jizya, the tax placed on infidels, such as in:
    Albania — 70%;Malaysia — 60.4%;Qatar — 77.5%;Sudan — 70%.

    After 80% +, expect daily intimidation and violent jihad, some State-run ethnic cleansing, and even some genocide, as these nations drive out the infidels, and move toward 100% Muslim, such as has been experienced and in some ways is on-going in:
    Bangladesh — 83%;Egypt — 90%;Gaza — 98.7%;Indonesia — 86.1%;Iran — 98%;Iraq — 97%;Jordan — 92%;Morocco — 98.7%;Pakistan — 97%;Palestine — 99%;Syria — 90%;Tajikistan — 90%;Turkey — 99.8%;UAE — 96%.

    100% will usher in the peace of ‘Dar-es-Salaam’ — the Islamic House of Peace. Here there’s supposed to be peace, because everybody is a Muslim, the Madrasses are the only schools, and Quran is the only word, such as in:
    Afghanistan — 100%;Saudi Arabia — 100%;Somalia — 100%;Yemen — 100%.

    Unfortunately, peace is never achieved, as in these 100% Muslim states the most radical Muslims intimidate and spew hatred, and satisfy their blood lust by killing less radical Muslims, for a variety of reasons.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • 200 TON HAMMER

      Christians are linked too the messianic kingdom
      of jesus who wants christians too bring jewish people
      back too isreal in these last days

      September 23, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  15. save the planet and slap some sense into a Libtard today


    September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • libtards are brain damaged and they...

      ..just can't be sensible

      September 23, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • awasis

      Typical Republitard reaction to what they don't like – violence.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • truth be trolled

      "libtards are brain damaged and they...
      ..just can't be sensible"

      See – that's why they let you go from the Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  16. 200 TON HAMMER

    christianity is linked too the messianic kingdom of jesus christ of isreal

    September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  17. solowd

    I hope people are beginning to realize that none of this crap is real.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      The vast majority of humans know it's not real .. they're just afraid to admit it .. even to themselves. Hence the real intent of the hell concept.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Dan W

      There is a G-d and He is awesome.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:41 am |
  18. Kenny

    If I tell God that I can communicate with another human being from the other of the world that he'd created with just a wire, or even wireless now it would be a problem. I also wanted to tell him that I can also fly and be in any parts of the world, or even to the moon and now we're working on Mars. I wondered who's their Gods, maybe those 9-feet tall blue people that looked 3-dimensional?

    September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  19. Peter

    This world is our hell or heaven, there is NOTHING else. Don't be fooled, religion wants your money, your allegiance, your children and your fears. Live like you have none and see how much better off you are......more later

    September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • nope

      nope @jim

      September 23, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      jim, you haven't explained what atheists are doing to infringe on your right to worship as you see fit. Why is that?

      September 23, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      jim111506 .. and the reality of varifiable religious indoctrination has yours

      September 23, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Here's what you said, jim:
      I respect anyone's desire to believe or not, but I just wish the zealots would leave the rest of us alone.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:10 am | Report abuse | Reply
      I feel the same way about the "new" atheists.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No apology is required. I made no error, jimmy.

      You did.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      For what? You're the one who can't write coherently. If you can't make a clear statement, it's your problem, not mine.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      If anyone should apologize, it's you, jimmy dear. I didn't say atheists were infringing on your right to worship. I asked you what atheists were doing to you and gave you several possible answers. If none of them fit, then perhaps you can enlighten everyone as to what it is that 'annoys' you so.

      September 23, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Go back and read, jimmy. I'm not "backtracking" at all. You said atheists annoyed you. I asked how and gave you several possible reasons. Too bad you have to lie about your failings.

      And I'm female.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Poor baby. Take your balls and go home, honey. How often do you need to change your moniker? You're still quite recognizable. Don't apply for the Mission Impossible team, sweetcheeks.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why would I be angry? I'm having fun poking the bear.

      And you rise to the bait every time.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Come on, jimmy. Hurry up. Here, fishy, fishy, fishy.

      September 23, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You can take it anyway you want if it makes you feel better about yourself, honey. That low self-esteem of yours must be more annoying to you than atheists!

      September 23, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  20. Moby Schtick

    It's stupid to worship disgusting gods–such as ones who would build and sustain eternal torture pits.

    September 23, 2012 at 9:33 am |
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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.