Months ago, with the trails of the Fort Lauderdale shooting and the Charleston church shooter, capital punishment was once again brought into the spotlight. Monday night brought it back as Arkansas executed two men. Despite this, the national trend shows that the death penalty is slowly waning. In fact, the more one goes to church, the less likely they are to support the death penalty. And this is a good thing for I’ve come to realize that wise Christians can never support the death penalty.

How can I make such a blanket statement? Here’s the thing: nobody knows what happens to us after we die. Atheists, of course, believe we die and that’s that. When your brain ceases to function, there’s nothing left but decay. Since atheists do not believe in a God, there’s no afterlife. There’s no soul, and thus no continuity. I find that rather dismal.

Imagine if they were wrong, though. Christian belief in the afterlife varies. While we all agree that whoever believes in God receives eternal life, our agreement stops there. Some think nonbelievers who are good will also spend eternity with God. Other’s do not. Still others believe it doesn’t matter how good your are; all that matters is whether you believe.

The Traditional View is that God will separate the “sheep and the goat.” This comes from biblical passages such as Matthew 25:31–46. In this view, only some will spend eternity in heaven. The rest spend eternity in hell. How one gets into heaven depends on who you ask as it combines faith and good works. But it’s agreed that those who end up on death row won’t make it to heaven.

Another view, called Annihilationism, indicates that those in hell will be completely destroyed. They will suffer a “second death” (see Revelation 21:8). Rather than spending eternity in some kind of torment, they die a second time, forever. There’s debate about their experience before this death, whether it’s torment or nothing all. In this view, death row inmates will likely face the end of their existence.

Clark Pinnock and others champion a third view called Universalism. They believe God will reconcile everyone to him. Everyone. Even those who have done horrible deeds or do not believe in him. It’s not known whether this reconciliation is immediate or takes time, though. If it takes time, there’s a possibility that some people may face an afterlife that doesn’t begin in a pleasant way. Either way, those on death row do find their way to God. Or rather, God brings them home.

Whatever your belief, it’s clear nobody knows what happens after this life. I believe God honors our choices, even if it breaks his heart. Some will not find their way to him because they chose a path away. But I don’t know for sure if this is true. My hope is that Pinnock is right and everyone finds reconciliation. My fear is that the Traditional view is right and many may find the afterlife to be quite horrible.

Regardless, consider something. Since we do not know what happens after life, should we be so quick to end life? tweet Lets assume the worst and that those who are not Christian spend eternity in torment. Executing anyone—regardless of the reason—may be sending them to hell. In this manner, we become the idols God warned us about for we play god with other’s lives.

Now, there are instances in the Bible of God commanding murderers be put to death. Leviticus 24:17 says, “Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death.” But keep in mind that a mere eight verses earlier God commands, “All who curse father or mother shall be put to death.” I’m pretty sure I’ve been guilty of that but I wasn’t sentenced to death for it. We need to be careful just how we quote laws from the Torah because we are all guilty of violating one law or another. Many of our own violations of the Mosaic Law should have resulted in our death. tweet

But what if an inmate becomes Christian? Wouldn’t that absolve us from this whole question of what happens when they die? Taken from the Texas Observer, Alex Hannaford did a small poll and found the following:

Forty-one inmates responded, about 14 percent of the total number of men on death row. Of those, 26—a little more than 63 percent—said they believed in God before they were sent to death row. Fifteen said they weren’t believers when they arrived at the Polunsky Unit. Three men—7 percent of those polled, including Whitaker—said they had lost their faith while awaiting execution. Another three said they had converted to Christianity. Two claimed to have discovered Judaism. None said they were Muslim.

Turns out, faith becomes exceedingly complex when behind bars.

What if we took a different approach: love. Love means caring for the victim. It also means caring for those who have committed murder. “For I was . . . in prison and you visited me . . . Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:35–40).

What if we took Jesus at his word and cared for those in prison? God knows the idea of stepping foot in one of those prisons scares the hell out of me. And yet, I found out that an old friend I haven’t spoken to in more than a decade killed his estranged wife. Would Jesus leave my old friend to his fate? Or would he visit him, love him? And maybe, just maybe, save him.