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

    George Carlin – Religion is bullshi t [HQ

    September 23, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  2. diana

    Hell is right here on earth. Ask any survivor of the holocaust. Ask any parent of a murdered child. Ask anyone who is starving. The biblical hell is something only a moron would believe.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  3. Earthling

    "Is hell real?"

    Short answer: no. Just like everything else about religion, it's a fantasy. A way for those in power to maintain control over the ignorant masses. Religion is a thousands of years old hoax. Wake up, people.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  4. rasko41

    To hell with hell. It's the dumbest idea in the world. Those who fear it deserve to. Fortunately, my mother pulled me aside when I was 4 and said "don't believe that".

    September 23, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  5. truth be trolled

    Lewis Black on Evolution and Creationism

    September 23, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  6. truth be trolled

    funny Lewis Black Religion, Creationism and the Old Testament

    September 23, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  7. Anonymous

    The caption in the article got it right. "Belief". There's absolutely no evidence that Hell or Heaven exist after death. It's a belief...an intellectual discussion...nothing more. There is evil and good in our world, but it's only a psychological "desire" for us to believe in a life after death. A desire that our lives actually have more meaning than they do. The purpose of our lives is to live them. And its purpose is that which we give it. Nothing more...nothing less.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  8. Cathy

    Nice of Mark Driscoll to simply cut and paste a bunch of nonsense from his previous publications. At least Schaeffer wrote an original piece. I'm surprised CNN allowed Driscoll to post this rehash of his previous work on their site.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  9. AvdBerg

    God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Heaven is a reference to the spiritual realm.

    The word ‘hell’ was translated in the Old Testament from the word ‘Sheol’ which comes from an Assyrian root meaning ‘chamber’. It was regarded as an underworld for the dead, often called the grave.

    Two words are translated in the New Testament by ‘hell’, namely ‘Hades’ and ‘Gehenna’.

    ‘Hades’ is the Latin translation of ‘Sheol’ and means literally ‘the unseen world’ or the ‘grave’.

    ‘Gehenna’ is however the word that is most often used. Originally the valley of Hinnom (Ge-Hinnom) was the area where Molech and Tammuz were worshipped and eventually became the place for burning the local refuse and was regarded as a fit symbol of the destruction of wicked souls.

    The words ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are symbolic in nature as are many other words in the Bible.

    At the return of Christ only those that are dead in Christ (referred to as asleep) will rise with him (1 Thess. 4:16). It is noteworthy that there are only few that are dead (asleep) in Christ (Matthew 7:14), as this whole world has been deceived (Rev. 12:9).

    At the final judgment, all those whosover was not found written in the book of life will be cast out into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

    The above mentioned article by Frank Schaeffer is a good example how distorted things have become in society with the media industry as the main culprit.

    He is spiritually blind as the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:15).

    In order for anyone to be able to understand the Word of God they must repent and turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God (Acts 26:18). Frank Schaeffer does not know what spirit he is off (Luke 9:55).

    The Word of God is not to be interpreted (2 Peter 1:20) and it is the discerner of every thought and intent of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

    For a better understanding of all of the above we invite you to read all the pages and articles of our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    Seek, and ye shall find (Matthew 7:7)

    September 23, 2012 at 8:21 am |
    • Rudnim

      Well said. The so called expert in the film-clip never read the Bible. He states there is no mention of hell from Genesis to Malachi. He is probably mistaking the Bible for the Monthly Missalette found in the pews of the Catholic Church. I am no better. I had the same mindset until I read the Bible for myself.

      Let's us pray for those who persecute us and spitefully use us. Also, Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Aestherus

      @ Rudnim. Oh boo hoo hoo... christians are SOOOOO persecuted. Nevermind that there is no bigger group of persecutors on the planet than christians themselves.

      October 8, 2012 at 6:21 am |
  10. Patrick

    "Do not seek vision through your eyes, for you made your way of seeing that you might see in darkness, and in this you are deceived. Beyond this darkness, and yet still within you, is the vision of Christ, Who looks on all in light. Your "vision" comes from fear, as His from love. And He sees for you, as your witness to the real world." – A Course in Miracles

    September 23, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  11. Bunsen Honeydew

    What is "derp"?

    September 23, 2012 at 8:20 am |
  12. Zeke2112

    Even if hell does exist, it's not that bad a place. Look how many people Satan killed versus how many God killed. It's not even close. Satan has maybe a handful. God has millions dead on his hands from the Flood alone. Who would you rather hang out with? A tempting fallen angel or a homicidal madman who demands your love lest he kill you?

    September 23, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  13. Science Prevails

    Do what I say no matter how weird or I'll send you to the scream room. Oh and worship me. Makes god sound like a mideast dictator.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  14. O83

    Christ is not god .. period.
    Jesus is just a human being who had a message from god exactly like Abraham and Mohammed
    the message is to worship god (and admit that there is no god only him ) and avoid evil and sins
    if you do so you will not go to hell for your evil acts or sins.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  15. Brian Hartman

    This article is kind of bizarre. It starts off saying how bad an idea it is that people believe in Hell (Bush and Bin Laden, specifically) but then goes to great length to convince us Hell is real and we should repent.


    September 23, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  16. cnow1963

    hell is real....its in Michigan. google it

    September 23, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • Just A John

      Funny thing about that is the kichen is in NY, NY.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:17 am |
    • rick

      been there. had lunch at the dam site inn

      September 23, 2012 at 8:19 am |
  17. Andrew

    There is no such thing a God. This is all made up to keep you in line and line the pockets of organized religions and thieves who run them!! Wake up and smell the coffee!! Note to People of the future: I can't believe I live in a time with such vulnerable weak idiots who cannot think for themselves. Please go back in time and save me!!

    September 23, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • Elliot Carlin

      Who or what endows men with certain inaliable rights? This is assuming you are an American and know better.

      September 23, 2012 at 8:15 am |
    • yang

      you are trying to use the declaration of independence as proof of god? i just don't even know what to say about that....

      September 23, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  18. Elliot Carlin

    Looking forward to CNN's hard hitting pieces next Sabbath on orthodox jews segregating worship by gender, or the one during Ramadan discussing Mohammed's history. Thanks.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:13 am |
  19. mvb

    This is a ridiculous article, representing two ultra biased extremes, neither of which is fully embraced by even a reasonably large minority in American politics, media, and daily life.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  20. max_headroom

    Sure it is. The devil wears a red suit and has a pointy tail and carries a pitchfork and stuff. And I saw something in a movie about Hitler and a pineapple.

    September 23, 2012 at 8:11 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.