Steve Jobs is an icon. He has (almost) single-handedly transformed personal computing, revolutionized smart phones, created an intense market desire for the tablet computer, and changed how we shop for electronics. Few people have had the colossal business and cultural impact over the past three decades as Steve Jobs. I will never forget when my family got our first desktop Mac in 1984, and I am now looking forward to the iPhone 5 (this September…please!). I have an iPhone, iPad, and a MacBook Pro. Yes, I’m a Mac-geek. But at least I’m cool!
And I am also an evangelical Christian. You might be thinking, “So what! What on earth does being a Christian have to do with Apple computers or Steve Jobs?” More than you may think. I write books, speak publicly, and teach classes on philosophy and theology, which means I love motivating people to think deeply about the important issues of life. And Steve Jobs, one of the most powerful people of our day, has offered a secular “gospel” to our culture. My goal in this post is not to criticize Jobs (that would be foolish!), or to promote Christianity, but to contrast their respective worldviews so you, the reader, can decide what you think is true.
There has been much focus on Steve Jobs’ influence since his recent announcement that he is stepping down as CEO from Apple for health reasons. Commenting on his impact, not just in the realm of technology, but in the larger culture, journalist Andy Crouch noted,
As remarkable as Steve Jobs is in countless ways—as a designer, an innovator, a (ruthless and demanding) leader—his most singular quality has been his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope. Nothing exemplifies that ability more than Apple’s early logo, which slapped a rainbow on the very archetype of human fallenness and failure—the bitten fruit—and made it a sign of promise and progress.
Crouch refers to Jobs as an “evangelist” of this kind of progress. In fact, he refers to Jobs as “the perfect evangelist, because he had no competing source of hope.” Every time there was a major crisis, such as 9/11 or the economic fallout of 2008, Jobs swooped on stage with a technological miracle in his pocket to save the day. What message of hope lies behind his efforts? His own words explain it best. At a 2005 commencement address at Stanford University after his initial cancer diagnosis, Jobs offered thoughts on life and death:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it’s quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition.
Crouch says this amounts to “the gospel of the secular age” as well because it does not rely on an established set of teachings from a religion, nor does it rest in revelation. Essentially the gospel according to Jobs is, “Death is coming. We all face it and none can escape. Make a difference while you can. Follow your heart and do something great before it is all over.” This is the same existentialist theme that frequently shows up in movies such as Dead Poet’s Society, Titanic, Yes Man!, and more recently in The Adjustment Bureau.
There is nothing really new about this “gospel.” After observing that death means the extinction of all desires and loves, hopes and fears, atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell said, “Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.” If there is no God, says Russell, then recognizing the implications that “Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins,” is the beginning of courageous and meaningful living.
I understand the lure and power of this worldview. Some portion of the human heart yearns for greatness, glory, and freedom. And without God or life after death, then such fulfillment can only be found in the here-and-now. Carpe diem! Say yes! Follow your heart, Rose! Steve Jobs would be proud.
Does Jobs, “the perfect evangelist” promote true hope? How does his hope differ from that of Christianity? Jesus espoused a very different viewpoint from the secular gospel of Jobs. He believes each person’s “inner voice, heart and intuition” should be trusted and venerated. Jesus, on the other hand, believed the inner heart of man was the root of the problem. “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed…evil thoughts,” (Mark 7:20-21).
Jesus maintained that something in human nature had gone fundamentally wrong and needed transformation from the inside out. In contrast to Jobs’ existential gospel, the Christian gospel requires an acknowledgement of the flawed condition of the human heart and a means for repair through a relationship with God. While Jobs places confidence in temporary human ingenuity and resourcefulness, Jesus places his faith in the eternal God who offers a relationship with Him through the person and work of Jesus Christ. For the record, I am not implying that technological creativity is opposed to the Christian worldview. Quite the contrary, I believe the elegant design of the iPad, for example, is a testament to human creativity as image-bearers of God. While Jobs relies only on himself who will “gradually become the old and be cleared away” Jesus depends on the everlasting Biblical God who wants to connect with His creatures and offers a way to get things right for those willing to humbly accept His offer of grace.
Jobs and Jesus may have widely different worldviews, but they agree on one central point—death changes everything. Steve Jobs believes death is the end and we must follow our hearts and live to the fullest now. Jesus believed that death is a gateway to another world and that our decisions in this life have eternal consequences. They can’t both be right.
How do we know which worldview to follow? It seems to me we ought to ask two basic questions. First, which one most deeply satisfies the human heart? St. Augustine famously wrote in The Confessions, “My hearts is restless until it finds rest in you.” Some of my atheist friends tell me their non-belief in God is more fulfilling to them than embracing God. We each must ask, which philosophy most deeply fulfills the longing in the human heart?
Second, which is true? This is where we must examine the evidence. Does life end at the grave? Is Jesus really the “first fruits” of the resurrection, as the Bible claims? If so, we have an answer to the question both Jobs and Jesus agree on—whether or not there is life after death. If Jesus did not rise, then as the Apostle Paul said, Christians are to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). But if He did rise, then it is confirmation of his deity. So, why not examine the claims of Christ? Whether it is true or false, as both Jobs and Jesus agree, everything changes.