Suppose Hitler and Stalin merit millions of lifetimes worth of suffering given the number of people they killed, and that this punishment ought to be inflicted simply for the sake of retributive justice, since deterrence, rehabilitation, and protection are purposes of punishment that no longer apply after death. Wouldn’t a punishment of many millions of years suffice? Why would it have to go on forever? Why not a prolonged period of great misery following by nothingness?
On reflection, however, this annihilationist position doesn’t make sense, for several reasons. Begin with a consideration that does involve deterrence. In The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life, Fr. Charles Arminjon argues that if the sufferings of hell were temporary, they would be insufficient to deter at least some wrongdoing. At least some people might judge certain sins to be so attractive that they would be willing to suffer temporarily, even if horribly and for a long time, for the sake of committing them. They might even thumb their noses at God, knowing that however grave are the evils they commit, they will only ever have to suffer finitely for them. They will see their eventual annihilation as a means of ultimately escaping divine justice and “getting away with” doing what they wanted to do.