This is part of my ongoing Exegetical Compilation.
Lamentations 3: the whole chapter, which features famous sayings such as in the hymn “Great is Thy faithfulness”, “Thy compassions they fail not, they are new every morning”, is Jeremiah’s reassurance that God does not cast off forever those whom He has punished (3:31) but though He causes grief He will yet have compassion according to the abundance of his mercies (v.32) – a declaration so important the prophet repeats it for emphasis!
For God does not willingly grieve or afflict the children of men (v.33): God does it because the children of men insist on crushing all the prisoners of the earth beneath their feet, turning aside the right of a man before the face of the Most High, and subverting a man in his cause – these are things YHWH does not approve!
A Calvinist might reply that God’s purpose for the non-elect was and always will be to be hopelessly punished (by eternal conscious torment or by annihilation), therefore such a result would not involve God subverting a man in his cause. But Arminians who acknowledge the active punishment of God post-mortem must therefore be saying that God subverts His own purpose for such persons; whereas those Arms (and the occasional Calv) who disassociate sinners from God’s active punishment for sin must once again work their way around yet another testimony (of hundreds) that God does in fact actively and authoritatively punish sinners.
And while the Calvinist might be able to reckon God’s purpose for a person in hopeless punishment, it still remains true that any notion of God’s punishment of sinners which involves such things as God does not approve and reckons as sin, should be rejected, which is much the point of Jeremiah’s reassurance here: sinners hopelessly crush under their feet all the prisoners of the earth, and so are punished by God by being crushed as prisoners for a while but not hopelessly so; sinners turn aside the right of a man before the face of the Most High, therefore the Most High does not forever turn aside the rights He has given to men from before His face. The Calvinistic notion of God’s purposes for the non-elect thus fail those two criteria. Nor can the Calvs reply with a blunt disassociation of our notions of morality from God, or with an opaque assertion that what would be wrong for a creature would not be wrong for God – not unless they want to oppose the prophet’s whole basis for hope in salvation, which is that God will do better than what He is punishing created persons for doing. “This I will recall to mind, therefore I will have hope!”
Because of YHWH’s compassions, those whom He punishes are not consumed, even though He afflicts them with the rod of His wrath and leads them into darkness and not into light, heavily chaining them and shutting out their prayers, and putting them in dark places as those who are dead into the eon! (3:1-8ff) Jeremiah isn’t dead yet but he is comparing his fate (though a righteous prophet) along with his people as those who are dead and in sheol for punishment.
If God so punishes people and they are not annihilated (as even annihilationsts tend to admit for initial post-mortem punishment), that is because He intends them to repent and be restored, once they are humbled and have drunk of the wormwood and eaten the dust. It may be in context of this prophecy that Christ in the Sermon on the Mount commands that a person (specifically Israel being punished by having Roman occupiers) should give his cheek to the one who smites him: such a person thus enacts their penitent humility to God Who is smiting them for injustice. (3:25-30)
It is true that Jeremiah qualifies this with “Why does a living man complain for the punishment of his sins?” (v.39), but this would apply at least to the resurrection of the wicked, too: those who have transgressed and rebelled and have not been pardoned, whom God has slain (whose life has been cut off in the dungeon and a stone cast upon them v.53) and covered with anger and has not pitied nor listened to their prayers, making them the offscouring and refuse (thus an abhorrence) in the midst of the people. (3:42-47)
But such people are still exhorted to search and test their ways and turn again to YHWH and lift up their hearts with their hands unto God in the heavens (3:40-41), calling out to YHWH even from the crypt of nether parts. (v.55)
Meanwhile, those who reproach such punished sinners and revenge against them, are besought by the prophet to be repaid by YHWH according to the work of their hands – in blessing and reward? No, YHWH should give them sorrow of heart, and persecute and curse and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of YHWH! At the very least this means those who are punished by God should not be regarded by others as hopelessly lost with an attitude of disdain and hostility, on pain of being punished the same way themselves.
Members are encouraged to add further discussion of these verses below, along with collecting links to discussion about them elsewhere.
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