Questions about hell have permeated cultural discussions recently, primarily at the rise of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. I’m not going to look at Scriptural evidences or passages for hell; rather, I’m going to take concepts and allow them to develop on their own (I would argue that this is consistent with Scripture). For more on the Scriptural case for hell I would recommend Four Views on Hell. I’ll be working with an idea argued by William Lane Craig (here, here, and here).
Let’s start with God being a maximally perfect being, that which nothing greater can be conceived. He is perfect in every way and his perfections do not and cannot contradict. Humans freely do morally wrong actions. This would include not doing what we ought to do and doing what we ought not to do. These sins are wrongs against an ontologically perfect being. If God is just and justice is a moral principle to attain (such that being fair is a virtue), then God must compensate for the wrong. There must be atonement. There are consequences for every action, good and bad. Good actions are rewarded and bad actions are punished (what these rewards and punishments are don’t necessarily have to be defined, it’s just that there are consequences). Let’s modestly assume that sins require finite punishments. I will deny Thomas Aquinas’ position that one finite sin requires an infinite punishment because it was done against an infinite God. I’ll take a more modest approach (I’m not necessarily saying that Thomas is wrong either).
Based on experience, I believe there is sufficient warrant to believe that some people who have not had their sins atoned for by Jesus Christ die without atoning for their sins in this lifetime. In the afterlife, this person must atone for his own wrongs in order for God to be perfectly just. Each sin warrants a finite punishment; however, this person will not cease to sin in the afterlife since he has not had his sins atoned for by Christ. He will not be ushered into a state of beatitude (which can be warranted based on rewards and the concept of justice and the moral beatification of atonement). Because this person continues to sin he will always receive respective punishment for each sin and if there are a[n] [potential] infinite set of sins then the duration with last without end as well. Punishment without beatification (because this person chose to atone for his own sin) will be eternal by the successive addition of sins. Sins imply punishment, so an infinite duration of punishment is warranted as well.
I don’t believe this contradicts God’s love for this person either. I’m assuming that God genuinely desired this person to be atoned for by Christ but this person freely rejected the propitiatory substitutional atonement. By rejecting that loving offer, the only alternative, by the necessity of justice, is to atone for his own sins. Yes, love wins and Christ’s atonement is that love, but let’s not forget that justice win’s as well since God’s attributes are equally perfect.