There are four views typically found in Christian circles concerning the state of souls who die without being regenerate. For this section, we are precluding those who do not believe in a literal Hell. Again, we understand and recognize that some well intended people, even those who hold a classical view of Christianity, do not always hold to a literal place of after-life judgment. Some believe that Hell is here, now, and that in this life we make our own Heaven or Hell. Some are annihilists that believe that when we die we cease to exist. Others, of course, simply cannot reconcile God's love and a place of eternal punishment.
The first of these views is the more classical, or Orthodox, view that the wicked souls are in Hell for an everlasting period of time, and that it is punitive, not redemptive. This would be the view that we hold. It makes the most sense in any straight forward exegesis of the Scriptures. Both Old and New Testaments make many references to the eternality of both heavenly bliss and perpetual agony. And it is hard to justify everlasting heaven while simultaneously denying everlasting Hell. As we shall see.
Another view could be called Metaphorical. In other words, while the Bible does represent wicked souls going to a place of everlasting judgment, it is to be taken as a metaphor at best, or not-quite-so-literal at worst. It is most certainly acknowledged; however, that Hell is not redemptive, and so, if there was such a place, no one would return or be saved from it.
The third view in our discussion would be what I would call Purgatorial. This would be the Roman Catholic view and quite possibly the most accepted by nominal "Christians." This view would make Hell redemptive as well as punitive. The idea sees Hell as a holding cell where sins could be purged. After a prescribe time, the wicked soul would be "purged" of their sin and restored to grace. Although, most holding this view should not be classified as universalist. (That everyone will be saved.) Instead they understand that some will be eternally damned for having committed mortal sins and/or unbelief. Think Adolph Hitler, Osama, Stalin, etc.
Lastly, there is the view we call Conditional. In this view the wicked are punished conditional to the level of their sin. Our resident example of Hitler for instance, would be punished longer and more severely than, say, a woman from Timbuktu who never heard the Gospel. Eventually, all conditionalists hold to either a redemptive pardoning work for Hell, or else annihilation of the soul after some period of punishment. Interestingly, there may be some merit to the conditional argument, but only as to severity, not to length. There may indeed be greater punishments for Hitler than our Timbuktuiam woman. Nevertheless, the Bible is clear that Hell is a separation that will never end.
We will argue, Scripturally, of course, that the Orthodox view is correct. By doing this we will refute the other views' claims, but not individually. We will win our argument of the merits of our view, and that will eliminate the possibility of these others.
Now before I close this particular post, an issue must/should be addressed. If, as we suppose, Hell is a punishment that lasts forever, then is that an appropriate response from God, considering His love and grace? In-other-words, if God is Just and Loving, wouldn't He punish for a while, and then forgive. It is seen, by some, like the justice system sending a man to the electric chair for stealing a loaf of bread, or spitting on the sidewalk. The problem with this dilemma is that it is possible to see theology separate from exegesis. When one does this, it becomes quite simple to say, "Theologically, I see God as a God of Love and Mercy. Therefore, I can separate my theology about God, with His revelation of Himself in His word. The Bible speaks of Hell, but my theology does not allow me to believe it." However, when we properly exegete the Scripture, we are left with the understanding that the Scripture can then dictate to us our theology. Any theological system not concretely grounded in the Biblical text will never hold water. God reveled Himself in the Bible for this purpose.
And if we understand this, then we can understand that God is merciful, and gracious, and loving, and dear friends, just. If we can conceive of sin, even the smallest of sins, as rebellion against God's righteousness, then we can see that sin must be infinite. And God's righteousness, therefore, must demand an infinite punishment.
Next post will concentrate (finally) on the Scripture in both Testaments on this intriguing and sad subject.