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. snowboarder

    heaven and hell are human constructs created out of the human fear of death and the unknown.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  2. truth be trolled

    Lewis Black – "In God We Rust" ......

    September 24, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  3. Rahel Coulter

    There may be some doubt about hell beyond the grave but there is no doubt about there being one on this side of it. [Ed Howe]

    September 24, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  4. cantilever

    Seriously, though. To preach that "all ye who do not join my Church/synagogue/mosque are going into a Lake of Fire" is to invite ridicule. Justifiably. The better form of faith is faith in reason and personal responsibility - both of which are gifts of God.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  5. hank

    This is an easy one; live your life not out of fear of hell, but out of love for God and neighbor with a heart full of forgiveness. Then you don't even need to worry.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      That's not what the Jehovah's Witnesses say

      September 24, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  6. truth be trolled

    Rationalism Breeds Atheism ......

    September 24, 2012 at 9:04 am |
  7. incredulous

    Mark Driscoll, you do a disservice to your parishoners; you contradict yourself, and you even contradict the entire old testament as if it were never written. First you write everyone is bodily resurrected, then you say Jesus alone was resurrected. You write that death is unnatural, but if death is unnatural to humans, why do animals die? You make no sense at all. And you fail at explaining why an all-loving god would require its creations to beg him for salvation or burn in hell; to require them to ask him to forgive them for creating them with the sin he gave them in the first place. It makes zero sense and makes your god look confused and well, not so godly.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:03 am |
    • David

      You need to read a little more closely, or be a little more honest in your criticism. You have distorted (unintentionally?) what was written in order to make it appear contradictory. For example, Jesus WAS bodily resurrected, everyone else WILL be bodily resurrected. That is not a contradiction. Also, God does not make you beg. He has offered salvation freely to you.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:24 am |
  8. truth be trolled

    George Carlin – Religion is bullsh it .....

    September 24, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  9. Dana

    Let's get rid of religion while we are at it. It is all absurd nonsense like this.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  10. truth be trolled

    "Why are you not a Christian?" (Bertrand Russell) .....

    September 24, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  11. Colin

    A few questions should help shed light on the relationship between religion and rational thought.

    The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:

    (a) Children’s fairytales;

    (b) Medieval mythology;

    (c) New age pseudo science; or

    (d) Christianity

    I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am

    (a) a delusional schizophrenic;

    (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly

    (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or

    (d) your average Christian

    Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:

    (a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;

    (b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;

    (c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or

    (d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.

    I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty". I am

    (a) A victim of child molestation

    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover

    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions

    (d) A Christian

    You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:

    (a) historian;

    (b) geologist;

    (c) NASA astronomer; or

    (d) Christian

    I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am

    (a) A failed psychologist

    (b) A fraudulent geneticist

    (c) A sociologist who never went to college; or

    (d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.

    The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:

    (a) Architecture;

    (b) Philosophy;

    (c) Archeology; or

    (d) Religion

    What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:

    (a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they must believe under threat of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;

    (b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is one god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;

    (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or

    (d) All of the above.

    If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:

    (a) a deep psychiatric issue;

    (b) an irrational fear or phobia;

    (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or

    (d) my religious belief.

    If I am worried that my children, who I love very much, will not believe something I tell them, such as "smoking is bad for you," I should:

    (a) have our family doctor explain to them the various ill effects of smoking.

    (b) show them a docu.mentary produced by the National Inst.itute for health on the topic.

    (c) set a good example for them by not smoking; or

    (d) refuse to give them any evidence of the ill effects of smoking, insist they rely on faith and then take them out into the backyard and burn them to death if I ever catch them smoking.

    September 24, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • bag o chips

      you write a 10 question multiple choice test to no one, you are:

      a) an idiot.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • mary

      Your arrogance is on full display.....this is a very shameful post

      September 24, 2012 at 9:26 am |
    • Kat

      I don't know what religion you have been exposed to, but it sounds awful. Surely it isn't a Church of God, but rather one that is a wolf in sheep's clothing. You need only ask yourself one thing...Why do I have a brain that allows me to rationalize, superior to any other living mammal on earth?

      Most of us uphold the same beliefs. Murder is so wrong and horrid. Lying only leads to more wrongs. Cheating on your spouse causes hurt and pain. Too much of anything is bad for your body, so why do it? Envy only leads to bitterness and can lead to dangerous thoughts. Hatred towards your fellow people is ignorant and selfish. Really, we are all on the same side. The side where we have a brain. The side where we have the right to make our own decisions. The side where we can all rationalize that some decisions are just wrong.

      I find it highly ironic that people who may think they are sinners in other people eyes say, "Don't judge me!" Then they turn right around and judge a Christian for believing in what they believe in. An atheist who is so sure they are right and condemn other people for their beliefs, are no better than any group of Christians who believe only they hold the key to the Kingdom of God. Don't shut your eyes yet my friend.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Meh

      I was never good on tests...I'll say the answer is 42

      September 24, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  12. Dan

    How are you going to get people to go to church if you don't scare them?

    September 24, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  13. truth be trolled

    The Problem With Miracles (Sam Harris) (corrected link)

    September 24, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  14. YYZ

    What is heaven supposed to be if there is no he11? Oh wait....GREAT IDEA! Lets just make sure everyone knows that its all imaginary – no sky-wizard and no fire-wizard. After thats out of the way, we can work on getting congress cleared out.

    September 24, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  15. Brian

    He is referring to the words of Jesus, even though the earliest of these scriptures were written many years after Jesus' death by people who didn't even know him! What a joke. I am not religious, but if Jesus were alive today he would be disgusted by the joke that is religion today

    September 24, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  16. Trago

    Why do they do this?

    September 24, 2012 at 8:58 am |
  17. wisdomVS

    Okay, think about this...

    John 9:3
    Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

    Okay... so this man's condition was not due to his parent's sin, nor his own. So, why does religion think we are held accountable for the sin of Adam and Eve. We had nothing to do with it, we can't undo it.

    This is not logical thinking. I would think God (having ultimate knowledge of the universe) would be logical above all things.

    Personnally, I think Constantine played around with the scriptures just as we all know King James did. Besides, just what makes rulers Bible scholars and interpreters? Again, not logical.

    September 24, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • Mark

      You need to read the verses before and after that to fully understand. Just reading that one verse gives a misunderstanding to the message.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:15 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      But Mark, why would that be the case if the bible were the perfect word of God? Why wouldn't it be clear and straightforward, as opposed to requiring careful – and counter-intuitive – interpretation?

      September 24, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Mark

      Jesus was talking that sin doesn't cause physical affliction (i.e. Blindness). Jesus was talking of a blind man passing by to his disciple.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:19 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Okay, so that verse has a specific context and specific meaning, but others are sweeping metaphors for all of humanity? How do you know the difference?

      September 24, 2012 at 9:21 am |
    • Mark

      Just like any book of instruction, you must read it thoroughly before you apply it. If you read a mechanic's book to fix the alternator and follow step 3, ignoring to unplug the device from electricity before testing it, you will be in for a big shock. The verses in the bible are to be read in segments.

      Every verse is written in groups of sentences usually starting as a short story starts. Those wanted to understand the Bible better should understand that. No one told me this, I had to learn myself by reading it and understanding its context.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:24 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      But when Jesus says you must hate your family to be his disciple, that's just a figure of speech, right? On what basis do you differentiate? Your own moral sense, of course. We innately know better than the actual "perfect word of God" and if you believe, you rationalize your way around the parts that are clearly wrong.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:30 am |
    • Mark

      That is a good question. I use a logical approach in determining the Bible. One rule I use is I consider the Bible, God's diary. I try to imagine if I could see the whole world and know all the innner thoughts of people, why would I write that specific passage(s). A second rule I use is that I read it like a Short Story with God as the narator, considering why God chose each piece to add to. Thrid rule, I accept it is inspired by God and that God would only put out a book if he intended it to be used for a specific reason (i.e. mechanic manual to help mechanics do their job, newspaper article to inform the reader, etc.).

      September 24, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      When one truly applies logic, one inevitably reasons himself out of believing the whole tangled mess.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      That is, quite honestly, my personal testimony.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • Mark

      Although I respect your view on logical thinking. I have yet to reach that point, and probably never will. Most people cannot think logically, they think using their own personal opinions. People tend to think about Good and Bad in the sense of pain and pleasure. They cannot believe it is Good for a person to die. They cannot believe it is Good to allow someone who is cruel to live and prosper. To most of us, that seems evil. But if you look at the whole grand design, it makes sense.

      A person must die for several reasons. First it allows future generations to have resources. Second it allows them to help give the resources.

      As for an cruel person to exist. God is trying to get all of us with him. He will try his best to convince these types of people to come closer. He doesn't want to lose any of us if he can help it. However, he made us with free will. We choose what we want to do. We must be responsible for the results of our action, and God cannot interfere with that. However, God can give us a better way to look at the universe , if we accept God in our lives. God can only help us if we really want him to help us. And like an eager parent, he is ready as soon as he has a "go". God wants each of us to help the others get closer to him so that we as a society can become so much more than if we do it without him.

      Look at all the people who do not believe in God, look at what they have done to this earth? Everything man does to nature without being inspired with God has come to ruin. We poison our water supplies, kill nature, destroy the landscape, kill each other, and do so much more destruction.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • Mark

      I did leave out one other aspect that must be folllowed to understand the Bible. You must believe in God. If you do not actually believe in him, you will not see him in your life. Even if you follow all the versus perfectly, but not accept God you will be left in the cold. For those of us who are not Isrealites, it requires us to also believe Jesus is our sacrificial lamb and give Jesus acknowledgement for this and nothing more (i.e. Jesus is not God, he never claimed to be).

      September 24, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Rufus T. Firefly

      "If you do not actually believe in him, you will not see him in your life."

      That is called the placebo effect. Things that are real work whether you believe in them or not. You don't have to believe in medicine for antibiotics to work. You don't have to accept DNA in order to have children that look like you. Things that require you to believe first and ask questions later are asking you to suspend your judgement and to disregard logic.

      September 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  18. SB1790

    What a bunch of wasted lives, time, money and resources for the biggest hoax in world, a god. There IS NO GOD controlling anything. We are no different today than the Egyptians who believed in a sun god for thousands of years or the Greeks, Romans, Druids, etc. You'd be much happier if you forgot the whole idiotic notion and stopped wasting time and energy on it. I will say that religion can have some good civic lessons, but over all you end up with nut jobs who take the whole thing too seriously.

    September 24, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • Mark

      Even the greatest Athesis (mispelled I know) thought the same thing until their dying day. Each of them, in their own way, prayed to a God. Even the belief in Science or Technology is making Science or Technology your God. Kinda odd that every human has a need to believe in something. I cannot believe if we were made with a big bang that it would install that into us. But again, maybe I am fool. I am okay with that.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Mark

      I will add one other note to your comment. I have yet to see Science prove the universe wasn't created by God. Even the big-band theory still allows a God to exist. Who made the big-bang happen? Who put the materials there to allow the big-band to exist? Science cannot explain it.

      Why do I believe there is a God? Answer is very simple, because I know how hard it is to put a computer program together. I am a Information Technology Specialist. A computer program is simplistic compared to anything in nature, and yet if one thing is wrong in it the whole thing collapses. Imagine the odd that every little aspect of life simply came to be. What are the odds? Now what are the odds that an extra-dimensional being (God) intentionally creating this universe as a computer programmer creates a program?

      I believe the odds are in favor of God by a factor of 1 million. And as any physics student knows, chance always takes the easier path. Even the laws of nature do the same. Besides, it is hard to believe that each piece of the Bible was not written in one sitting. It was written over centuries. Although I do conceed that it was an oral tradition, and in that humans could have slighted the meanings when they passed it down to future generations.

      September 24, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  19. truth be trolled

    Bill Maher – Atheism Not a Religion .....

    September 24, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  20. Bee

    Hell is hot too

    September 24, 2012 at 8:57 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.