A common objection to the traditional view of Hell, according to which some persons will be eternally separated from God, is that such a punishment does not fit the crime. Whereas the crime (i.e., sinning) is finite, the punishment is infinite, which is unjust (so says the objector). A common reply to this common objection is that rejecting God’s infinite mercy, or affronting an infinite being, is a sin of infinite gravity. Another common reply is that the objection assumes that the denizens of Hell do not continue to sin for eternity; i.e., commit an infinite number of sins.
Common to both the common objection and the common responses is equivocation on the terms “infinite” and “eternal.” There are both qualitative and quantitative elements involved. Setting aside this equivocation for the moment, both replies to the objection are no good. This is because one (a universalist, say) could grant the replies but still reject the traditional view by maintaining that some persons justly receive (qualitatively and quantitatively) infinite punishment in Hell.
How could a universalist maintain this? First, they could maintain, with equal plausibility, that experiencing life separated from God is suffering, and hence punishment, of infinite gravity. Second, they could maintain that an infinite number of sins can be committed and punished in a finite duration of time (see supertasks).
Suppose the traditionalist responds by saying that “eternity” implies “an infinite duration of time.” In that case, the universalist could simply distinguish two different kinds of time—psychological from physical, or physical from metaphysical, or whatever—and say an infinite duration of one kind of time can be traversed in a finite duration of another kind.
Ok, ok, this is all great in the realm of highfalutin metaphysics. But how seriously can we entertain such possibilities? The answer is how seriously we can entertain the possibility of someone being eternally separated from God, in the traditionalist’s sense.