Why Christians Often Don’t Like the Death Penalty

If you as a Christian don’t like the death penalty, it may just mean your heart is near to your Lord’s.

We’ve looked at the clear Scriptural teaching on capital punishment, the safeguards God intended, and His stated purposes for the death penalty.  There’s really no question of what the Bible says, and yet many Christians don’t like it, and find it hard to accept.  In this final post on the death penalty, we’ll look at the reasons for this — there are aspects of God’s work in us that make it difficult for us to feel happy about the death penalty.

Previous posts on capital punishment:
Commanded by God (Old and New Testaments)
Supported, not undermined, by the account of the woman taken in adultery
Not abolished in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5)
Safeguards to Prevent Injustice
Civic Purposes for the Death Penalty
Redemptive Purpose for the Death Penalty

God Loves Mercy

Psalm 145:8

The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.

Micah 6:8

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

God loves mercy, and teaches His people to love mercy.  As we’ve seen, the death penalty is merciful to victims and to society for various reasons, including reducing crime.  But it is hard to see capital punishment as merciful to the criminal.  For those who are learning to love mercy and to leave vengeance to God, it is hard to feel happy about a punishment that seems to be unmerciful.

While God teaches us to love mercy, it has no place in a penal system.  We show mercy at our own expense, not at the expense of others.  We can show mercy as crime victims, to the extent law permits.  But it would be unjust for a government to show mercy at the expense of those it should protect.  God’s love for mercy did not negate justice — He provided mercy by fully serving justice.  Our love for mercy may make it hard to feel happy about capital punishment, but it does not really apply to what a just government should do.

A New Start

II Corinthians 5:17

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

God has taught us to love the “second chance,” for He has given us a second chance, a new life in Him.  We don’t believe anyone is past redemption.  This makes it hard for us to appreciate the death penalty.  It seems as if we are saying that a person is past redemption.

This also is a good attitude to have, but it is not in conflict with capital punishment.  Our citizenship is in Heaven, not on earth.  A “second chance” is a spiritual question of eternal life, not criminal justice.  A condemned murderer can still be saved, forgiven of his sins before God, still have eternal life, whether he faces the death penalty or not.  Whether the face death or prison, we should give the Gospel to those who commit such crimes.

Many criminals have been saved, whether facing the death penalty or not.  However one understands the working of election, those “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) will be saved, death penalty or not.  Our love for redemption, for new life, makes it hard for us to like the death penalty, but a sovereign God is able to redeem for all eternity even when the death penalty that He commands is used.

Loving Life, Loving Neighbours

I Corinthians 15:26

1Co 15:26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

God calls death an enemy.  He has put within us an awareness of its enmity.  Sometimes in unbelievers that awareness is diminished by the hardening effects of sin, but as we grow closer to the Lord, our appreciation of life increases.  We realise life is not something to be grasped, rather it is something we may lay down for our Lord, but that does not lessen its value to us.  We see death as an enemy, and we love life.

Matthew 22:37-39

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

God has taught us to love Him, and to love our neighbours.  Because He also teaches us to love life and see death as an enemy, love for our neighbour keeps us from wanting to give him over to an enemy like death, whatever crime he may have committed.

God has also taught us to hate sin, and to love justice.  We have a hard time combining a proper love of life and our neighbour with a proper hatred of the sin and crimes that our neighbours may commit.  That can make it very hard for us to love the death penalty, but it does not mean it is wrong.

It’s Not Surprising….

It is hardly surprising that we don’t like the death penalty — we aren’t supposed to like it.  I said in my last post on this topic that every Christian should support capital punishment, but supporting it is not the same as liking it.  Since God Himself doesn’t like it, we shouldn’t like it, either.

Ezekiel 33:11

Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

God takes no pleasure in the death penalty, either, whether in this life or in the spiritual death penalty that brings eternal punishment for the wicked.

Our heart desire should not be for vengeance.  God does not rejoice in the death penalty. Neither should we.  Christians should support the death penalty, not because we like it, but because God commands it, it is necessary for justice, and it helps teach the magnitude of God’s love.

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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