18 November, 2016

Lamentations 3:31-33—“For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men”

For the Lord will not cast off for ever: But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies. For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men (Lam. 3:31-33).

This text is thought to teach that God has a will or desire distinct from His will of decree, which is sometimes in opposition to what He has decreed. God, so it is said, certainly decrees and brings about affliction and judgment upon sinners, but in His heart of hearts He really does not desire or delight in this event that He has determined to come upon them, but desires the complete opposite, namely, their salvation and well-being. Hence, the text is used to bolster the notion of two contradictory wills/desires in God.

This interpretation of Lamentations 3:31-33 and other similar passages is then built upon by some with a view to overthrowing the Reformed doctrine of sovereign reprobation.

The key phrase in question is: “he doth not afflict willingly.”

One interpretation of this phrase has been that God “dislikes” to cause suffering to come upon the wicked. After all, does it not say elsewhere that “He is not willing that ‘any’ should perish,” but on the contrary, “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”? 


Q. 1. “Does not this passage teach of a desire/delight/wish/will of God that is opposed to what He has decreed? It says, ‘He doth not afflict willingly’ (v. 33). God, is it asserted by some, brings decreed affliction upon men, but does not really ‘desire,’ ‘will,’ ‘wish,’ or ‘delight’ in that affliction, but, on the contrary, has a desire for the opposite (i.e. giving blessing, dispensing mercy, sending salvation etc., upon men). Is not this text an example of God decreeing something to happen that He does not necessarily desire? The Free Offer/Well-Meant Offer’ men subsequently build upon this interpretation of the text to overthrow the doctrine of sovereign reprobation: God, so it is said, doesn’t reprobate anybody unconditionally—since He earnestly desires all to be saved—but only does so judicially and in response to man’s sin.
What is understood by ‘the Lord will not cast off forever ...’? What is God’s ‘affliction’ spoken of? Who are the ‘children of men,’ and what is meant by ‘he doth not afflict willingly”?

(a) Prof. David Engelsma:

In his commentary on the passage, Calvin states more than once that the text applies to “his own Church” and “God’s children.”
There is certainly a main application to the people of God, as is evident from the fact that the book of Lamentations is addressed to the suffering people of God in Babylon.
Nevertheless, the text demands a wider application. It reveals something important about God Himself. He takes pleasure in blessing. Blessing lies upon His divine heart. Who He is comes out most fully and clearly in His blessing of humans—His elect church—in Jesus Christ.
Although He chastises His children deliberately with sore evils, this does not so much reveal His perfections as do His blessing and doing good to them. God is most glorious in His grace.
There is, to my mind, also an application to His dealings with the ungodly, as “children of men”—a broader reference than “His children”—demands. Although He punishes the wicked and severely, as is right, even necessary, given the righteousness of God, this punishment does not please Him as does His blessing of His children. He blesses His people with all His heart. He punishes the wicked, but in this punishment He does not take pleasure as He does in blessing the humans who are His people. He punishes, so to say, with His left hand, whereas He blesses with His right hand.
It is with God as with a godly magistrate. He executes the murderer without remorse, indeed purposefully, as a right and necessary deed. But he does not do so with the pleasure that he has in protecting and doing good to the upright citizen. God delights in heaven; He wills hell as a necessity.
Nothing in this explanation implies any love for the ungodly. The explanation finds itself in the differing natures of punishment and blessing.
Regarding the message of the passage in Lamentations, the thought is that if God’s very nature delights in blessing above all else, His suffering people who repent may be confident that God will leave off chastising and deliver.
In short, saving by grace in Christ is more revelatory of the goodness of God than damning outside of Christ, although both reveal the truth of God. Nothing of two contradictory wills is expressed or implied by this comparison. (DJE, 27/02/2018)

(b) Prof. Herman C. Hanko:

As far as Lamentations 3:33 is concerned, Jeremiah is weeping because the nation, taken organically as God’s people, was severely chastised by God. But the elect in the nation (as is clear from the two verses preceding verse 33) are here referred to and are comforted by the fact that God will have mercy upon them.
The text itself refers to the fact that, in and by itself, God has no pleasure in chastising His people, any more than a father takes pleasure in chastising his son. But the purpose is the salvation of the one being chastised. The expression “the children of men” in this context, does not mean all men in the world, but the elect in the nation. They are merely “children of men,” and God does not take pleasure in sending them to Babylon, but must do this in order to save them. Chastisement is not a goal in itself and for its own sake. (HH, 18/11/2016)

(c) John Owen (1616-1683):

Also, “he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” 2 Pet. iii. 9, even all those towards whom he exercises patience and long-suffering for that end; which, as the apostle there informs us, is “to us-ward,”— that is, to believers, of whom he is speaking. Of them [believers], also, it is said that he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men,” Lam. iii. 33, even his church, of which the prophet is speaking; although this also may be extended to all, God never afflicting or grieving men but it is for some other reason and cause than merely his own will, their destruction being of themselves.

(Source: John Owen, Vindiciæ Evangelicæ; or, The Mystery of the Gospel Vindicated and Socinianism Examined [Oxford, 1655] in William H. Goold [ed.], The Works of John Owen [1850-53; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1966], xii, 559-60. Emphasis added.)



More to come! (DV)

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