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As Howe works through the matter, he determines that God, being wise, powerful, good and glorious cannot have possibly had no good reason for the vanity of man. Such a thing would not be possible or fit for God. Yes, we could conceive of God having the power to create and destroy randomly and pointlessly. Yet, God is not a God of only one attribute. Moreover, God does not exercise only a single attribute when he acts. Think of the absurdity of a God who exercised only mercy – his justice would be maligned.

And so Howe considers the question of the making man vain in light of God’s wisdom:

Let it be weighed, how it may square with the divine wisdom, to give being to a world of reasonable creatures, and, giving them only a short time of abode in being, to abandon them to a perpetual annihilation. Wisdom in any agent must needs suppose the intention of some valuable end of his action.

John Howe, The Works of the Reverend John Howe, Volume 2 (London: William Tegg and Co., 1848), 284. God’s wisdom must be such that it would “recommend” God to his creatures both in fear and love.

Here Howe considers the temporality of human life: does it square with divine wisdom that man only be temporary?  A life without eternal consequence would not tend toward the fear of God:

How little would it tend to the begetting and settling that fear of God in the hearts of men, that were necessary to preserve his authority and government from a profane contempt; whereas daily experience shows, that there is now no difference made between them that fear God and them that fear him not, unless wherein the former are worse dealt with and more exposed to sufferings and wrongs; that at least, it is often (yea for the most part) so, that to depart from iniquity is to make one’s self a prey; that those who profess and evidence the most entire devotedness to God, and pay the greatest observance and duty to him, become a common scorn upon this very account, and are in continual danger to be eaten up as bread by those that call not upon God; while in the meantime the tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure, are not plagued as other men, nor in trouble as other men, and judgment is not here executed for wicked works in this world:—if also nothing is to be expected, either of good or evil, in another, who is likely to be induced, in this case, to fear God, or to be subject to him?

John Howe, The Works of the Reverend John Howe, Volume 2 (London: William Tegg and Co., 1848), 284-85. If you’re going to die anyway, and if there are no immediate consequences to any sin, then why would anyone fear God? It would make little sense and gain little or no profit.

Moreover, it would expose God to ridicule to create a world which would a make a mockery of God (rather than instill the fear of God):[1]

And how unlike is this to the wisdom of the supreme Ruler, to expose his most rightful and sovereign authority to the fearless and insolent affronts of his own revolted creatures, without any design of future reparation to it; as if he had created them on purpose only to curse him and die!

John Howe, The Works of the Reverend John Howe, Volume 2 (London: William Tegg and Co., 1848), 285.


[1] This is a point raised constantly by Mark Twain. As for example,

But somehow nothing ever went right with the good little boy; nothing ever turned out with him the way it turned out with the good little boys in the books. They always had a good time, and the bad boys had the broken legs; but in his case there was a screw loose somewhere, and it all happened just the other way. When he found Jim Blake stealing apples, and went under the tree to read to him about the bad little boy who fell out of a neighbor’s apple tree and broke his arm, Jim fell out of the tree, too, but he fell on him and broke his arm, and Jim wasn’t hurt at all. Jacob couldn’t understand that. There wasn’t anything in the books like it.

And once, when some bad boys pushed a blind man over in the mud, and Jacob ran to help him up and receive his blessing, the blind man did not give him any blessing at all, but whacked him over the head with his stick and said he would like to catch him shoving him again, and then pretending to help him up. This was not in accordance with any of the books. Jacob looked them all over to see. …

Once, when he was on his way to Sunday-school, he saw some bad boys starting off pleasuring in a sailboat. He was filled with consternation, because he knew from his reading that boys who went sailing on Sunday invariably got drowned. So he ran out on a raft to warn them, but a log turned with him and slid him into the river. A man got him out pretty soon, and the doctor pumped the water out of him, and gave him a fresh start with his bellows, but he caught cold and lay sick abed nine weeks. But the most unaccountable thing about it was that the bad boys in the boat had a good time all day, and then reached home alive and well in the most surprising manner. Jacob Blivens said there was nothing like these things in the books. He was perfectly dumfounded.

“Story of the Good Little Boy.” Twain’s point, however, is not God, per se, but rather the moral and empirical nonsense of a jejune moralism.  It is unquestionably true that the evil often prosper. The Bible considers this point in great detail, see, e.g., Psalm 73. Those who apply a mechanical moralism into the world distort and misrepresent God in ways that are likely more harmful than those who deny God. The moralist creates a god of few attributes, justice and power and knowledge – but ignore the attribute of mercy and ignore the patience of God. God manifestly does not strike down all that sin at the moment of sin. Rather, it is kindness of God which is spread upon the world which leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Twain’s mockery of the silly moralism and hateful hypocrisy of professing Christians was and is often warranted. Moreover, the rejection of such a god is warranted – because the God of such silly moralism is no true god. He may be good for scaring little boys and girls, but he is of no true god. Such a god is mere inversion of Santa Clause – the de facto god of much of America.