Of all the stories about Steve Jobs in the recent Walter Isaacson biography
, this one seems to capture his essence. In the hospital near the end of his life, Jobs was heavily sedated. The pulmonologist tried to put a mask over his face. Isaacson writes:
Jobs ripped it off and mumbled that he hated the design and refused to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he ordered them to bring five different options for the mask and he would pick a design he liked … He also hated the oxygen monitor they put on his finger. He told them it was ugly and too complex.
It’s somehow not hard to imagine Jobs at an Apple keynote introducing “one more thing” – a “revolutionary” and “magical” mask. I’d probably buy it too.
The Best of Humanity
Reading Isaacson’s biography made me appreciate Jobs even more. Whatever you think of him, he clearly brought out the best in many of the people who worked with him. Jobs transformed entire industries: personal computers, digital animations, music, consumer electronics, and more. He had incredible focus and an ability to lead where many others failed. He’s one of those rare people who really did change the world, and not just once either.
His life reminds me of the doctrine of common grace. Wayne Grudem explains:
…all science and technology carried out by non-Christians is a result of common grace allowing them to make incredible discoveries and inventions, to develop the earth’s resources into many material goods, to produce and distribute those resources, and to have skill in their productive work. In a practical sense this means that every time we walk into a grocery store or ride in an automobile or enter a house we should remember that we are experiencing the results of the abundant common grace of God poured out so richly on all mankind. (Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine
I’m typing on my MacBook Pro, with an iPhone and iPad a few feet away. These are part of my life. I could live without them (really!), but overall they are blessings in my life that I’ve enjoyed and used as tools for God’s glory. I’m amazed at the ingenuity that went into these products.
Jobs represents some of the best of what humans were created to be. It’s hard not to be amazed at what he accomplished. But that’s not the entire picture.
The Worst of Humanity
I found myself sad as I read Isaacson’s biography. Jobs wasn’t a happy man. He left a wake of destruction and hurt. He sometimes made very unethical decisions. He could be callous to those who were closest to him. And he misunderstood and rejected Christianity.
It was tough slugging getting through parts of the book. I kept waiting for Jobs to become a sympathetic character. To say that Jobs had his flaws would be a massive understatement. Jobs really did represent both the best and the worst of humanity.
Just Like Us
It could just be that Jobs is a picture of all of us, except magnified. I see flashes of brilliance and evil in almost everyone I meet, including me. Everywhere I look, I see great ability and depressing wickedness, often in the same person.
I preached on Abraham yesterday. He’s a man of faith. I marvel at his ability to leave home and to move into the unknown with his wife at God’s beckoning. I am stunned every time I think of his obedience when asked to sacrifice Isaac. And I’m disgusted every time I read that he passed his wife off as his sister, and by the way he treated Hagar and his son Ishmael — which is not too different from the way Jobs treated his own daughter, by the way.
This is where I’m reminded of who we are apart from Christ. At our best, we are very good. Brilliant, actually. But at our best we are still hopelessly lost apart from Christ. There are no great men or great women; there are only great men who are also tragically sinful and who are in desparate need of the transformation promised in the gospel.
Steve Jobs reminds me that there is so much evidence of God’s image in people who don’t even know him. “It would be good for us to reflect on our likeness to God more often,” Grudem writes. But he also reminds me of our need for transformation. And he makes me look forward to that day when we will be fully transformed, and that we will be all that we were made to be in the first place.
In a strange way, Steve Jobs makes me grateful for the dignity of humanity and the image of God. And he also reminds me of how bad we truly are, and how good the gospel sounds to brilliant, broken people like Jobs, and like you and me.