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. Mark9988

    How did Frank Schaeffer become regarded as 'a prominent Christian'? He's an author who write about his own ideas of God worshipped by Christians. Not the same thing.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  2. myway

    The Christian version of hell was created to scare sinning believers onto the righteous path. The Roman Catholic church used it to encourage donations by promising absolution in exchange, a major reason why the reformation occurred. In reality hell is a version of Karma. If you commit bad deeds you'll suffer psychologically until you face your "sin(s)" and somehow find forgivness. Until then your soul is tortured by the guilt you heaped upon yourself. How to get rid of hell? Go and see a shrink if you don't know.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:10 am |
  3. serdich

    As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth.
    The church actually manged to convince people that there is and invisible men in the sky, who watching you and has 10 things that he does no want you to do. And if you do you will be burn in hell for eternity, but he love you...and he needs money.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • MaryM

      serdich, lol that was always my favorite of Georges

      September 23, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  4. Amelia

    I agree with Iris DeMent–"Let the Mystery Be." Listen to the song sometime. No one actually know if there's an afterlife, or what it's like. You can listen to these folks who are claiming with such certainty that this or that is true, hell is real or not real, but they don't know. That's just what they're choosing to believe. Personally, I don't believe in a literal hell. I'm still getting ready for church this morning, and I go most Sundays, and my faith is important to me. I just don't feel a need to have everything all figured out, and I'm content to let that mystery be. I'm not too worried about the "lake of fire," though. That's not a good reason to be a Christian, in my opinion. Mark Driscolll can believe and preach whatever he likes, but don't make the mistake of mistaking his own intellectual certainty as some kind of fact. It is his opinion, and it is his interpretation of the Bible. He doesn't really know any more than you do about it.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:09 am |
    • rick

      good song

      September 23, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • Rob

      Good post Amelia. I am torn right now about my belief in God. I am leaning more to the side of there isnt a God but still not 100% desided. You are correct in your thinking though, if it makes you comfortable in believing in God, do it and dont worry about what anybody tells you.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  5. Lord Zedd

    Hell does not exist, it is an invention of religion, which is an invention of the human mind. When you die, you die. Doesn't matter how you die or what you did in life, you're just plain dead.
    Fact of life; EVERYTHING dies. Doesn't matter if its one day for a mayfly or 4600 years for a bristlecone pine.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  6. Matt

    The only hells that exist are the ones that we create. God did not create hell.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • Jt_flyer

      Well said.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:08 am |
  7. snowboarder

    Hell is an imaginary place with which to scare the children.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  8. Jt_flyer

    Hell and religion in general exists for 2 maim reasons:

    1). To control the masses

    2). As a narcotic to deal with the pain of the moment .

    September 23, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Just A John

      3. And a lot of the hustlers make a good dollar off of the sheepies.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  9. albert

    The Bible uses a lot of symbolism. The Greek and Hebrew words for Hell literally translate into "mans grave". Back in Bible times, cities had burning trash bins out side of the city where trash was destroyed. People understood that when things burned, they were destroyed forever (not tormented). The Bible does not teach that "bad" people are tormented forever in fire. It is simply giving a choice of life or death. God is a God of love. What parent reading this would entertain the idea of taking their child's hand and holding it over a fire for even a few seconds as punishment? The bottom line is that we need to read and study the Bible to find its real meaning. Preachers/ministers, etc. of the so-called "Christian" faith have been using Hellfire as a control mechanism for centuries. The irony is that eternal torment in hell is not a Bible teaching.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  10. Tombstone

    Of course its real, go meet my Mother in Law.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • Rob

      I can relate to that Hell, that is for sure. LOL

      September 23, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  11. SixDegrees

    Jesus loves you so much that he'll condemn you to an ETERNITY of gruesome torture for even the smallest slight taking place during your lifetime, which is an infinitesimal blip in comparison. And the slights have more to do with worshiping him than with bad behavior, which gets forgiven without a glance if you toss some adoration his way.

    Yeah, that's totally reconcilable with an all-loving, all-forgiving god's treatment of his own creation.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  12. Chedar

    What you have in this material world is your consciousness. All realms if existence, Heaven, Hell and purgatory all exist in ones consciousness. What you do that is good or bad leaves an imprint into your consciousness. The trick here is if you believe in the existence of consciousness and the afterlife, whatever imprints you have will take you to what realms you will be when you die. No God will judge you except your consciousness. You and your merits and demerits in your conscious mind will take you to where you belong after dead. And for those Atheist that don't believe in afterlife, then when you leave this material world, you desire to be nowhere, you conscious mind ceases?? That is a big question mark to me?????

    September 23, 2012 at 8:03 am |
  13. Kishna

    IHell is real, but not the way it is imagined to be. When you live you life as a human, you make the choices of good and bad..what is good and what is bad is defined by the destiny you want choose for your soul. These choices will shape the further evolution of human race..either a super human with good characteristic or a bad human race underling each other...remember the evolution theory, we are like we are because of the choices that were made by our soul since the big bang while going through the life of veriety of pre-human era of species. Somewhere, Hinduism make sense!!!

    September 23, 2012 at 8:02 am |
  14. doctore0

    The only hell one can ever have is right here on earth, same goes for heaven. This is it, there is nothing more.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  15. Kisha

    Hell is real, but not the way it is imagined to be. When you live you life as a human, you make the choices of good and bad..what is good and what is bad is defined by the destiny you want choose for your soul. These choices will shape the further evolution of human race..either a super human with good characteristic or a bad human race underling each other...remember the evolution theory, we are like we are because of the choices that were made by our soul since the big bang while going through the life of veriety of pre-human era of species. Somewhere, Hinduism make sense!!!

    September 23, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 23, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  17. JohnT

    Would a loving God allow torture for eternity? I believe in everlasting punishment but not everlasting punishing. The Bible states that the righteous will walk on the ASHES of the wicked. Malachi 4 1-3. Satan would have been telling the truth to Eve in the garden for to suffer for eternity you must be immortal for you could not die. Check out Helltruth.com

    September 23, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  18. John Chapman

    It appears a key element has been overlooked by those denying the existence of hell and by those defending it. That element being faith. Many are looking for tangible proof in order to validate it's existence. Why would one look for tangible evidence for something that is not tangible? Just because Hell is not tangible in this life does not mean it does not exist. Why then ask believers that are of a tangible world to do something they can not. I would say to those in denial prove to me hell does not exist and factual evidence for which you base you conclusion. You can not. Hence we arrive at the true essence of faith.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • Just A John

      Brainwashing=Faith, which can be overcome in a tangible world with knowledge and reason for those with an open mind. Many have lost their faith over time, thank the gods.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  19. Randy

    From the Pastor: "As a pastor, my job is to tell the truth." That's correct. However, he then goes on to make a bunch of declarative and authoritative statements about God and humanity's relationship with God for which there is no evidence other than the claims made in the Bible. What would have been truthful is saying "The Bible teaches us that..." The format the pastor used created the clear message that anybody who says something contrary to what he says is lying. That is dishonest, unless he can prove his statements to be true. Until he can do that (and he'd be the first in the history of mankind to do so), his is nothing more than an appeal to authority.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  20. dragonfire77

    Those who seek consolation in existing churches often pay for that peace of mind with a tacit agreement to ignore a good deal about what is known about the way the world works.

    September 23, 2012 at 7:57 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.