The October 5, 2011, passing of Steven P. Jobs, the 56-year-old co-founder of Apple Inc. (originally, Apple Computer) has unleashed the kind of admiration that usually attends the passing of rock stars or members of Britain’s Royal Family.
At both Apple’s corporate headquarters in Cupertino, California, and at Apple Store locations around the world, fans of Apple and its products are leaving flowers, notes, pictures, and other items in tribute to the man most commonly known as “Steve.”
What might Christians take away from the life and death of Steve Jobs? I’d like to suggest a few points.
First, Steve Jobs wasn’t conventional, at all. His “fashion sense” of a black turtleneck and blue jeans didn’t come from “Esquire” or “Gentleman’s Quarterly” magazines. His management style, which had him delve into some of the most granular parts of a new product’s design, could frustrate those accustomed to “running with the ball,” as sportswriters would say. And even his care about his own legacy was a bit counter-intuitive: Seven years before he died, when Mr. Jobs was not yet 50, he contacted former Time magazine editor-in-chief Walter Isaacson about writing his biography. And, Mr. Jobs hand-picked his top managers at Apple to make sure his vision would live on.
Second, Jobs was as concerned about aesthetics as he was about technology. This came from a class in calligraphy he audited after dropping out of Reed College, in Portland, Oregon. Learning about how typefaces and lettering work to create a finished product changed his view of how technology could and should be available to people.
Contrast – without disparagement, please – Jobs’ vision versus that of Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates. Gates and his team have produced incredible software found in almost every corner of the globe. But Microsoft Word is, frankly, a tool – and a very good one – for creating documents uses in corporate offices. By contrast, Apple’s “Pages” application, available for both Mac computer’s and the firm’s iPad tablets, is more oriented towards creating a great-looking page. And, I would assert that the iPad tablet computer and the iPod music player are much more elegant in design and operation than their equivalent products running Microsoft’s operating systems.
Third, Jobs knew his days were numbered. He very directly confronted this in a June, 2005 commencement address at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. After disclosing that he'd been diagnosed with a "treatable" form of pancreatic cancer, he said that diagnosis was as close to death as he had come up to that time.
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there,” Mr. Jobs wryly noted. “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 is 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 is quite true,” he said.
Jobs then offered a thought of great wisdom: “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.” Saying this, he paralleled the Apostle Paul, who told a band of Christians in what is now southwestern Turkey they should set about “redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16, KJV).
It must be said here that Steve Jobs never publicly professed Christianity. His Wikipedia biography lists his religion as Buddhist. And, in this appraisal, it’s not appropriate, I believe, to speculate about his spiritual choices and ultimate destiny. God is the One who knows, and the One who decides: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” was Abraham’s question in Genesis 18:25 (KJV).
Whether or not he intended it, Steve Jobs invented and marketed tools that have changed the way the Gospel can be shared and published around the world, in print, online and via broadcasting and podcasting. Whatever his spiritual beliefs, Jobs' accomplishments are helping spread the Christian faith and the message of eternal life. For this, Christians can - and, in my view, should - be grateful.