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. truth be trolled

    Why the Bible is Essentially Useless and Irrelevant
    (music by Randy Newman)

    September 23, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  2. Lizzy10

    What is Hell? Having your retirement age recede further and further away, until you will be so old when you can retire, you will die the next day. Oh, wait-that's what the Republican's want us to do. So yeah, hell.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  3. thecollegeadmissionsguru

    Let me take that back, I DID GO TO HELL! My first marriage was hell...

    September 23, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      For you? Or for your spouse? I'll bet it wasn't a picnic for him/her, either, dear.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      Well, since you don't know me, I'm unsure how you can make such a statement. I've never once claimed that I am perfect or that SHE was perfect, I just know it was HELL. I've never put blame on either, just a statement.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
  4. Kendall Simpson

    "Hell is God's last mercy to the one who will allow Him to do no other." C.S. Lewis
    (The worst thing God could do to the one who has no love for Him is to force that one to live forever in heaven.)

    September 23, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      How does one have love for someone or something that does not exist, and if he does, he does not have enough power to speak to anyone...

      September 23, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  5. thecollegeadmissionsguru

    "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."

    This quote says ALL anyone needs to know about the Crazy Bat Shat that comes from the Christian FAR Right. Thanks, author, for using your position to spread this filth and for scaring how many children in your congregation.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
  6. Tom Shafer

    From a song by the Limeliters:

    Singing hey ho, oh well, don’t ask for who tolls the bell
    Even if we go to hell, we’re back tomorrow night
    I’m here, you’re here, soon we’re gone but never fear
    We’ll reappear upon this sphere until we get it right.


    September 23, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  7. czar33

    I am not going to He--ll because I want Satans job and he knows it!

    September 23, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  8. czar33

    I know that I am not going to H-E-LL WHY?? Because I want Satans job and he knows it!
    So you Republicans be far warned! I will get even with you all! Romney's and the Bushes are first in line!

    September 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
  9. truth be trolled

    Lewis Black – The Old Testament . . . . .

    September 23, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  10. SATAN

    Of course Hell exists!!!!!

    I live here!!!!!! And I'll be waiting for you,Mitt Romeny!!!

    September 23, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
  11. truth be trolled

    George Carlin – Religion is Bullsh it . . . . .

    September 23, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  12. Mr. Cruise

    I guess I don't really need to comment

    September 23, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  13. thecollegeadmissionsguru

    Let me start thusly, there is NO heaven nor hell. There is simply NO evidence of either, other than some book written by barely out of the stoneage men, whose culture was one of kill and torture, so that was all they knew.

    The very idea that a god can be both omnipotent and omniscient, both good and evil, and able to send his own creation to eternal damnation even though HE created both mankind and that damnation. Don't start with the whole free will thing, either, there is NO free will if god is to be both omnipotent and omniscient, it simply can't be both. Further, I'll take my chances on living a good life without god...

    September 23, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  14. Ggdebgg

    Organized religion, esp ones requiring "confirmation" that you believe exactly what they believe...doesnt that imply "end of story, end of discussion, learning, discovery, potential – just repeat 'i believe' once a week and youre good." doesnt it seem silly? organized religion is mans attempt to control, and serves mainly to divide us imho.
    It should be look IN, not out. Its inside us.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  15. truth be trolled

    Bill Mahr – All Religion is Nuts!

    September 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  16. Child Of Gaia

    death is the separation from life/Gaia is the only real death, its baptism; it separates you from you mortal life so you can live for ever in heaven located some were out side of Gaia(this is death). i think ill pass. we already have eternal life matte never really vanishes when we parish we become something new inside of Gaia she is the creation and the created and only death is living away from her. God lies get over it. Gaia mad all worlds, all gods and all, all. this truth is what your ancestors knew what all indigenous people knew. until God said other wise.come home to Gaia and stop this nonsense

    the real creator is all around us, inside each of us, be it plant, animal or stone
    Gaia "Is"

    September 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Child Of Gaia

      everything was born from her womb, she bore this earth. this divine world; a virgin. and yet Christians the enemy of Life, subjugates her. she is Gaia divine first born; named after Gaia her self; she is just as much god as Gaia is. in your ego you cannot see he in her children; no more then you can see he in you. let go of your arrogance and be at awe with the glory of Gaia around you.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      hinduism, absurdity of hindu santans, filthy goons. If you have no clue what the hell you are spewing your hinduism, absurdity about, hindu, ignorant. SHUT UP.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
    • hinduism source of hindufilthyracism.

      Here comeshindu absurd with stories of hinduism, ignorance, nothing but hinduism, absurdities of pot head hindu santans, filthy goons, man god's of hindu's, ignorants.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      although your right, no ones listening.

      Christians think your an evil Pagan
      Atheist think your a religious freak
      Muslims cant read
      Jews wont care unless you show them something shiny
      and every one else is has better things to do

      September 23, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • old ben

      Isn't Gaia one of those places that tries to sell you coffee through the mail?

      September 23, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Child Of Gaia

      no Gaia/life is the first mother, the Mem Alpha; Gaia is; Gaia is the creator and the created she created all gods even the Christian God.

      Gaia is

      September 24, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  17. truth be trolled

    Penn Jillette on God, No!, Atheism, Libertarianism, & More . . . . . .

    September 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  18. Muslim

    This explains it all:


    September 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  19. Observer

    The Bible tells us that God torturously murdered every child, baby and fetus on the face of the earth at one time.

    Christians shouldn't talk about atrocities committed by atheists after that.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
    • thecollegeadmissionsguru

      Good point, thanks for pointing that out to everyone.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • falcon

      Ah, yes! The all-loving all powerful god!

      September 23, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
    • vwickert

      Where does the Bible say this???, put the passage down or quit making foolish comments

      September 24, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  20. Mason

    Why does this country keep pandering to jesus-clowns? Severely delusional people aren't allowed to operate heavy machinery, vote, or manage their own legal affairs. There is ZERO conceptual difference between those unfortunates and your average middle-american religitard.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:01 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.