As the Church developed its beliefs in regards to Hell, the East generally preferred to link Hell with the presence of God and the West favored the view of Hell as the absence of God. I do not think the two views are contradictory but rather that they are complementary. Hell is generally used in our modern times to warn others of their impending doom if they do not trust in God. Usually directed at outsiders of the faith. Yet not once, in scriptures did the Apostles use Hell as a fear tactic to convert others. Rather, they met others where they were (Acts 17:23-24).
Annihilation? Some think that God will annihilate all who reject him. I used to hold to an annihilationist view myself. I would cite Is. 25:8, Rev. 7:17, and Rev. 21:4 in order to show that as God is going to wipe away all tears from our eyes, then our loved ones who reject him will be annihilated because my loved ones will not suffer. Thinking and reflecting on this, I realize this may actually have been an erroneous presumption. God will wipe away all tears from they eyes of the saints for certain but it says nothing about the tears of those who choose to reject him. I’m not entirely certain how annihilationism presents God as more “loving” than the eternal torment view which has dominated throughout much of Christian history. It simply just re-applies torment and turns God into the vanquisher rather than actually making God more merciful. St Thomas Aquinas writes concerning the subject of suicide that “[it] is contrary to the inclination of nature, and to charity whereby every man should love himself” (Summa Theologica, 2.2, Q. 64, A. 5). If willing oneself to die is therefore contrary to the nature of the man in his true state, then wanting to be annihilated must also be seen as a distorted desire. Thus, annihilationism seems to be a greater punishment. It is rational as many who reject God believe they shall become non-existent but it does not make God any more loving than the alternative it seeks to replace.
Annihilationists focus on the passages which speak of “death” in the scriptures and refer to these texts to show conditional immortality is true. “the wages of sin is death”, “Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death”, “you shall surely die”. St Paul teaches us though that prior to our restoration to new life with Christ, we were dead (Rom. 6:13). It would seem therefore that the two deaths referred to in Rev. 20:14 are two different types of spiritual deaths. What does “wages” of sin mean?
Baptist theologian John Gill speaks of sin in the following way:
Sin is represented as a king, a mighty monarch, a tyrannical prince; sinners are his subjects and vassals, his servants and soldiers, who fight under him, and for him, and all the wages they must expect from him is death. So the word is interpreted in the Glossary, , “soldiers’ wages”; and so it is used by the Jewish writers, being adopted into their language; of a king, they say (a), that he should not multiply to himself gold and silver more than to pay which they (b) interpret by , “the hire of armies”, or the wages of soldiers for a whole year, who go in and out with him all the year; so that it denotes wages due, and paid after a campaign is ended, and service is over; and, as here used, suggests, that when men have been all their days in the service of sin, and have fought under the banners of it, the wages they will earn, and the reward that will be given them, will be death: and it is frequently observed by the Jewish doctors (c), that , “there is no death without sin”: sin is the cause of death, and death the fruit and effect of sin: (Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, Rom. 6:23)
Sin is a tyrant. A landlord. A slave-owner over those who embrace it. Sin gives no gifts. Sin makes workers pay wages and unfair wages and these wages are death. Sin’s end result is only death. To live in sin is to be dead. Completely dead. St Paul does not condemn the sinners but rather pleads for them that he may be accursed so that his fallen countrymen may be redeemed instead of him (Rom 9:1-5). Many think Christ died to take the punishment for our sins which was death. However, when we understand rightly that sin is the tyrant holding us in bondage, we see a different image of such atonement. Christ died for us that we may become dead to sin and raised to new life in him (Rom. 6:3-4, Rom. 8:1-3, 31-39).
Are all to be saved? Some hold the view that all will be saved. There is scriptural evidence for a strong hope in this and it certainly is not in contradiction with the will of God that all shall be saved (1 Tim. 2:4, 1 Cor. 10:33). In fact, we are supposed to unite our wills to God’s will so that we too must hope for the salvation of all men. Even further, in this context, we are supposed to join Christ in his condemnation unto death (Matt. 27:46) enduring separation from God while we further hope for the salvation of all men. The essence of love is to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15:13). We were at enmity with God when he did this for us (1 John 4:9-10, 1 John 3:16).
I have pondered this view myself and in regard to this view I think that all can be said with certainty is that we do not know but can hope. Matt. 25:31-46 speaks of Hell as “the fire prepared for the Devil and his angels” and further, only the supernatural beings are actually cast into the lake of fire in the end it would seem (Rev. 20:10-15) but this is all it says. It does not state that they cannot escape from this fire though it would seem so and it seems to me that scriptures speak clearly on the issue that Satan will not be saved in the end but I think the rest relies on philosophy. Philosophers of God have spoken that “no one in their right mind would, given the opportunity, reject God” and that rejection of God must be based on full knowledge of God and right-mindedness. But these same philosophers also say that Satan, in his fullest glory, knew quite well of God and yet he and his angels still choose to reject God in his fullness. What causes them pain and anguish though is merely being in the presence of God. “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19)
We are not taught to fear God but a distorted view on who God is causes much pain and anguish because we become spiritually blind to him who is all loving. God himself is the Hell-fire (Heb. 12:29, Ex. 24:17, Deut. 9:3). St Paul teaches us about a spiritual blindness (2 Cor. 3:14, 2 Cor. 4:3-4) and even more so importantly how those who are lost remain blindfolded to the goodness which is God, the fragrance to the saved (2 Cor. 2:15). God is everywhere present meaning that he is in fact in Hell (Ps. 139:8). I cannot know for certain but it seems to me that Heaven and Hell are two different perceived states in the New Earth promised in the Revelation of St John the Divine. One perceives incorrectly that God is completely absent and has abandoned them for though our Lord felt abandoned by God on the cross, this truly was not the case (Acts 2:27). Hell is a perception of spiritual blindness and a convincing of our own selves that we are severed from God. Heaven is to perceive the reality of God in the beatific vision. God’s ultimate punishment on the damned is to allow them to continue to dwell in their sins (Rom. 1:22-25).
I really do not know for certain but it seems to me that this view is the most scriptural. Philosophers of course love to debate all the intricacies of the various positions explaining why the other views fail and their view is correct. I intend not to get tied up in that. We do not know for certain. All we know is what the Church has historically taught on these issues. For Catholics, they will be the ones among us who say that Hell is eternal torment. For myself as a High Anglican, I go by the councils from Nicaea I to Nicaea II and there is much controversy on the fifth ecumenical council. God is love. We are told to love in the way Christ loved us–by becoming damned for others. We are not told to turn this into a philosophical debate of the afterlife. I ultimately see Hell as much more of an applied theology and its partaking in philosophical theology has become a sincere travesty of the Christian faith which has removed all meaning of Hell from the faith of the Christian religion. One may perceive themselves as absent from the love of God wrongly presuming the fire is insufferable torture and the attributes of the fire thereof as wrath directed at them–their spiritual blindness is ultimately manifested in this way. But ultimately, they are not actually disconnected from God or the participation in the New Earth but are rather experiencing the “outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12).