There are four possible views on suffering in hell:
- Traditional View (TV): Some people have everlasting suffering in hell.
- Weak Universalism (WU): Everyone lives forever and nobody has everlasting suffering in hell.
- Annihilationism: Nobody has any suffering in hell but some are annihilated.
- Combination View (CV): Some suffer in hell and then are annihilated.
In principle, CV could be motivated over and against TV by claiming that TV is too lenient—hell is too good for some people. Such a view is rare, I think, and I won't argue against it. Instead, I want to argue against those versions of CV on which TV is too harsh.
Those who accept CV presumably think that punishment is primarily retributive in nature—otherwise it's hard to see why CV is more appealing than straight Annihilationism. For if punishment is there to protect the innocent, Annihilationism seems to work even better than CV. And if punishment is there to reform the wicked, then either all the wicked are reformed by the punishment, and hence should not be annihilated at the completion of it, or else some of the wicked are not reformed. If some of the wicked are not reformed by the punishment, why shouldn't God prolong it, hoping for results? (And if there must be a cut-off, then why shouldn't that cut-off be at death instead?)
So suppose that punishment is primarily retributive. But now I worry that WU is a better view than CV. The CVer thinks that everlasting suffering in hell is too harsh, but that nonetheless some people deserve some post-death suffering in hell. Well, wouldn't it be better for God to keep those people in hell until their total punishment is sufficient to pay the penalty, and then once their penalty has been paid, give them a life that is neither heavenly nor hellish? I suppose one could insist on this odd view: no finite amount of post-death suffering in hell is sufficient penalty but an infinite amount of post-death suffering in hell is too harsh a penalty, and CV manages to produce a punishment that is in between, but this just does not seem very plausible.
I expect that the motivation for CV is often a hybrid of theological and philosophical reasoning. For reasons of Scripture and Christian tradion, WU and Annihilationism are rejected, and I think rightly so. For philosophical reasons, however, TV is rejected. CV is not philosophically superior to WU and Annihilationism but maybe in terms of Scripture and tradition it is superior. Still, I think CV is not a stable position. And if one really thinks a finite amount of suffering in hell is better, why not just hold to the traditional Christian view that hell is forever, but tweak it so that the total amount of suffering is finite? I am not defending that modified view, but it seems superior to CV in terms of conformity to Scripture and tradition, and philosophically no worse.