Monday, March 27, 2017

The Creator-creature Distinction

The Creator-creature distinction (also known as the Infinite-qualitative distinction) is the theological teaching that God and creation are qualitatively different. The Creator-creature distinction is basic to the Bible view of God’s lordship in providence and grace, and indeed to all true thought about God and man. That is why, for example, it is in the Apostle's Creed. Its importance is at least threefold.

First, it stops misunderstanding of God. God made us in his image, but we tend to think of him in ours! (“Man made God in his own image” was a crack by Voltaire, rather too true to be good.) But the Creator-creature distinction reminds us that God does not depend on us as we depend on him, nor does he exist by our will and for our pleasure, nor may we think of his personal life as being just like ours. 

As creatures we are limited; we cannot know everything at once, nor be present everywhere, nor do all we should like to do, nor continue unchanged through the years. But the Creator is not limited in these ways. Therefore we find him incomprehensible—by which I mean, not making no sense, but exceeding our grasp. We can no more take his measure than our dogs and cats can take our measure. When Luther told Erasmus that his thoughts of God were too human, he was uprooting in principle all the rationalistic religion that has ever infected the church—and rightly too! We must learn to be self-critical in our thinking about God.

Second, this distinction stops misunderstanding of the world. The world exists in its present stable state by the will and power of its Maker. Since it is His world, we are not its owners, free to do as we like with it, but its stewards, answerable to him for the way we handle its resources. And since it is his world, we must not depreciate it. Much religion has built on the idea that the material order—reality as experienced through the body, along with the body that experiences it—is evil, and therefore to be refused and ignored as far as possible. This view, which dehumanizes its devotees, has sometimes called itself Christian, but it is really as un-Christian as can be. For matter, being made by God, was and is good in his eyes (Genesis 1:31), and so should be so in ours (1 Timothy 4:4). 

We serve God by using and enjoying temporal things gratefully, with a sense of their value to him, their Maker, and of his generosity in giving them to us. It is an ungodly and, indeed, inhuman super-spirituality which seeks to serve the Creator by depreciating any part of his creation.

Third, this distinction stops misunderstanding of ourselves. As man is not his own maker, so he may not think of himself as his own master. “God made me for himself, to serve him here.” God’s claim upon us is the first fact of life that we must face, and we need a healthy sense of our creaturehood to keep us facing it.