In a previous post, I described six purposes of the justice system:
2. Public Protection
On a meta-level, you could say these purposes follow a progression from “preventive” to “curative.” That is, the first three purposes seek to prevent or deter future offenses by punishing the offender and/or removing the offender from the community for a period of time–or permanently, in the case of capital punishment. Under this rubric, protection of the community is paramount. And for the community to survive, the individual must suffer. This is important not just in a practical sense but on a psychological level as well. We all have a deep need to see the moral books balanced.
The latter three purposes seek to prevent future offenses by “curing” or transforming the offender and then restoring his or her relationship with the community. This may involve a period of incarceration. But even if it does, the primary purpose will be to provide time and space for the offender to reconsider the error of his or her ways, reflect on what led to the offending behavior and then learn new coping strategies that will prevent a relapse.
So how do we connect this to hell? It you favor preventive measures of justice, you probably fall into the eternal torment or Annihilationist camp. If you gravitate toward curative measures, you are likely a Universalist. Or a hippie.
To my way of thinking, a form of justice that comes at the expense of neither the community or the individual is the highest good imaginable. Even if we can’t always achieve this goal, we can at least conceive of it. Therefore, why would we expect anything less of God?