Musings

The thoughts of one young developer

Definition vs Description

This is dedicated to my friend who has been supportive of me for years. As Psalms 139 says, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Please take what I say to heart.


I don’t care much about what describes you. I really don’t the majority of the time. And yet, I would love to get to know you better and discuss with you because I love doing so with everyone I meet.

How can this be? Isn’t caring about who a person is necessary for good conversation?

Absolutely! People, yourself included, are fascinating and unique and I care a whole lot about you. Going a step further, I love you as God does.

How can you care for me but not about what describes me?

Because I care much more about what defines you than what describes you. That which defines you influences all of the decisions you make, which lead to descriptions of you. Descriptions can change, definitions cannot without it becoming something entirely different.

When a thing is defined by something, that thing would not be said thing without that something, it would be a different thing. The something is completely vital to the thing’s being what it is. Should it should be taken away, the thing would no longer be the same thing.

Confused? Let’s look at some examples:

  • A table is a planar surface with legs to lift it off of the ground. If you take away the legs or the planar surface, it is no longer a table. Tables come in many sizes, shapes, color, textures, number of legs, and many other descriptions, but all tables fit the original definition.
  • A banana is by definition a curved fruit that grows in clusters and is soft, pulpy, and naturally yellow when ripe. There are different species, shapes, origins, etc. but all bananas are bananas.
  • A web developer is a programmer who specializes in, or primarily works with, a distributed network of applications (these days they primarily work with the World Wide Web). They can be male, female, black, hispanic, old, young, skilled, terrible, mean, fun, whatever. What makes them a web developer is not any of these things, it’s what they do in common – that which defines them as a web developer.

Get it?

Got it, but how does this apply to you talking to people?

Every person is defined in a similar manner, whether or not they know what that definition is. These definitions are the essence our individuality, which is what makes us human.

Since everyone is defined by something, what about you? What are you defined by?

For something as complex as a human, there are different levels of definition, and most all of those levels are debatable to some extent, depending on what a person sees the definition as.

Personally, on the deepest level of my definition, I am a follower and child of Christ. Living for Him affects every aspect of the way I live, from the way I do my work to how I talk to those around me. This is by far the most important definition of myself and, I argue, the most important definition for any human. This definition has the power to bring brotherhood to two otherwise completely different people and radically change the lives of those who believe.

Ultimately, all other definitions of me can be boiled down to this deepest definition. Nothing about me would be the same should this definition be removed (which I don’t believe is possible). It is integral to all part of who I am and how I act.

As I said before, description of a person pales in importance compared to definition. Whether or not I excel or fail at school, have a “good” job, am in good physical condition, am skilled at my job, have a girlfriend, or any other description does not give me any worth. My value is found in how Christ sees me, nothing else.

That’s the beautiful thing. Everything on this world could be taken away from me but I would lose no value. I can die right now knowing that regardless of what I do, God sees me the same way. How awesome is that? I’ll tell you, it’s incredible.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t care or don’t try my hardest at what I do, quite the opposite. Because of my definition in Christ, I want to gain the respect of others and be an example to people so that people are more apt to let me tell them about the reason why I do the things I do – so that I can point them to my creator and redeemer. That’s the reason behind my work ethic and treatment of people.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not perfect at living this way. I don’t always live in respect to this core definition. Failing at doing so is the human condition. But I believe that every year, every month, even most every day, I get a little bit better at doing so with God’s help. And not living perfectly is okay – my failures are a description of me, they are no longer what defines me.

How are you defined in respect to spirituality? Are you still living for descriptions, temporary things that we cannot hold onto after we die? Or are you living for something, someone who is the only person who lasts forever?

I’d love to talk to you about it.