The act of creating something largely consists in making distinctions. Whether we are painting, writing music, building a website, or designing a rocket, at a most basic level we use color, tone, material, layout, shape and so many other details to make our creation what it is rather than something else. You can’t just generically create – you have to create something in particular, and the process of creating involves distinguishing what your creation is from the infinitude of things it could have been but is not.
I’m writing this article in English, and I’m using a distinct series of words that makes this article the article that it is and not some other article. I do not intend for it to simply be an article; I as the author am writing my article, and it is a particular article with a particular meaning according to my intention.
The necessary distinctions of creating are not just between different creations, but within each creation itself. We compose our paintings with light and shadow, warm colors and cool colors, precise brush strokes and broader strokes. By distinguishing one part of the painting from another, the painter creates the effect that he wants. And so we are able to admire the smile of Mona Lisa because Da Vinci has carefully distinguished her mouth from her forehead. If I’m designing a house, I express my creativity by the distinctions I make – here is a wall to distinguish one room from another, here is a window because light should come in, but not people – they use the door which is over there. A house cannot be all one thing – all space or all wall, all door or all roof. A house is a house only when all its diverse parts can be distinguished one from another.
In order to properly understand, appreciate, and use anything that has been created, we must observe the distinctions that the creator has made. If you cannot distinguish the letter A from the other 25 letters, you will not understand or appreciate Wordsworth, and if you have no ear for the difference between a flute and a trumpet, the beauty of the symphony will be lost on you. And although the gas pedal and the brake pedal have a great many important similarities, no state will issue you a driver’s license if you can’t distinguish one from the other.
All human creating is a weak echo of the original creation and the original Creator. He it was in the beginning who first distinguished matter from energy, space from time, living from nonliving. The Genesis account highlights this process of distinction as it proceeds through the creation week. First there is heaven and earth. Then light is separated from darkness, followed by water from sky and land from sea. The heavenly bodies are given as markers of the distinct seasons; a host of plants and animals are distinguished from their environments as well as each other, each one “according to its kind.” Last of all comes Man, set apart from everything that came before by being formed by God’s hands, having God’s breath breathed into his nostrils, and by being declared to have been made “after God’s likeness.” A sharp distinction is made between humankind and all the rest of God’s creation including animals, a distinction which is frankly obvious to anybody that has two eyes in his head.
In his final act of creation, God makes one more very important distinction – the distinction between the man and the woman. By himself, the man is incomplete – humanity cannot be just male, and so God forms another creature, different from and complementary to the man.
So God created man in his own image,
In the image of God created he him;
Male and female created he them.
Both of these distinctions, as well as the more fundamental one between man and God, are under attack today. We don’t believe Genesis anymore, and in its place we’ve put a creation myth of our own making in which the differences between human and animal, male and female, are mere accidents brought about by chance interactions of molecules millions of years ago. Rejecting God’s right to be the Creator, we try to erase the good distinctions that he made both for function and for beauty. Already we refuse God’s right to make a man a man, and not a woman, or his right to lay down any moral imperative for people to unite themselves to someone of the opposite gender. We refuse to distinguish between a human child growing in the womb and a cancer growing in the brain. How long before we can no longer see the difference between a zoo and a concentration camp, between refugees and invasive species, between lab animals and prisoners?
In order to understand, appreciate, and use anything that has been created, we must observe the distinctions that the Creator has made. If we erase the distinctions, we erase the creation itself, whether that creation be a painting, a house, or our very selves.