Steve Jobs: A Grief Deserved

Last night I was coloring (in the lines) with the kids I was watching at church. My wife walked in with her iPhone in hand and said, “Why didn’t you tell me Steve Jobs died?” I had not told her because I did not know. I was unaware that the man who has had a significant impact on how I connect with friends and family and the wider world had passed into eternity. And suddenly, inexplicably, I was sad. I only knew of him through his many “stevenotes” and anecdotes from the Apple blogs I follow. So my sadness surprised me. This was not the momentary sadness you feel when you hear about a tragic accident on the news. This was more personal. More real.

Earlier this summer, I had an imagined brush with death. Since then I have found myself pondering my mortality. I am truly a fragile creature. Humanity in general is quite fragile. We are dependent on forces greater than and outside of ourselves (both physical and spiritual forces). Despite what Western culture tells us, we are far from self-sufficient. This dependency can either be a great source of fear or comfort. We can fight against the dependency and live in fear, or accept it and live free. This is something I think Steve would have agreed with. His fragility, the certainty of his death, was a great motivator for him. He did not cower in fear at his dependent nature. It pushed him forward. In his well-documented commencement address to Stanford University in 2005, he said this:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

These are the words of a man who accepted his fate and is going to make the most of the time he had left. And there is some wisdom here. These words are Christ-haunted (to borrow a phrase of Flannery O’Connor). Yes, in the face of the death, all the frivolities of life fade away. Yet, what Steve says we are left with, the “truly important”, may be the death of us.

The “Follow Your Heart” mantra is nothing new. When there is no other standard by which to guide life, following our own heart is the logical end. And yet, this conclusion sours the wisdom we find here. For the human heart is deceptively wicked. As my pastor is fond of saying, if you got everything your heart desired, you would destroy your life and end up in hell. Remember, we are dependent creatures. Dependent to the point that we can not even trust the natural inclinations of our heart. For it seeks to destroy us.

So if Steve got the end wrong, what is left when death overshadows all our other fears and concerns? The answer to that question depends on how you answer another question. Who is Jesus? For those who say he is a good teacher or prophet or revolutionary on par with Gandhi or Buddha or Muhammad, there is nothing left. Death drowns it all and hope is lost. But if Jesus is Messiah King, Son of God, Son of Man, though death may weed out the frivolous, what’s left is the hope that death is not the end. Because Jesus conquered the grave, those who put their hope and trust in Him, will do likewise. Since new life is our promise, we are free to spend this life. And we follow not our heart in this life, but the heart of God. It’s a heart that is for the nations, that is on a rescue mission. A life spent following that heart will be far more adventurous and meaningful than anything we could do or achieve by following our own heart.

The good news that Steve gave those graduates that would seemingly free them from the power of death was a false hope. In the end, your accomplishments or lack thereof do not give or take away meaning. These realities we chase when we follow our own heart are but mists. They are as fleeting as the morning shadows. Eventually a high noon sun will burn them away.

Many, many people have rightly said that Steve Jobs changed the world. He did. But at what cost? Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’ biographer, relays this story which took place only a few weeks before Steve’s death.

A few weeks ago, I visited Jobs for the last time in his Palo Alto, Calif., home. He had moved to a downstairs bedroom because he was too weak to go up and down stairs. He was curled up in some pain, but his mind was still sharp and his humor vibrant. We talked about his childhood, and he gave me some pictures of his father and family to use in my biography. As a writer, I was used to being detached, but I was hit by a wave of sadness as I tried to say goodbye. In order to mask my emotion, I asked the one question that was still puzzling me: Why had he been so eager, during close to 50 interviews and conversations over the course of two years, to open up so much for a book when he was usually so private? “I wanted my kids to know me,” he said. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”

It appears that Steve was very much aware of at least one cost. My hope and prayer is that in the remaining days of his life, he realized that there was a greater cost still at stake.

I think this is where my sadness welled up from. A man who I admired for his tenacity and creativity and attention to detail, who imaged his Creator in ways I desire to do, slipped into eternity with questions surrounding his eternal state. I ought to feel sad. This moment deserves grief. For death has done what death does. It took.

But thanks be to God has the power to hold death at bay for those who trust in Him. For this is our only hope.


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