Over at the Wall Street Journal today, Andy Crouch said what needs to be said about Steve Jobs, who died October 5th. Crouch, an editor-at-large for Christianity Today, said Jobs was a prophet.
But a totally secular one.
An innovative entrepreneur, certainly. I’ve said my good by and expressed my thanks. But Jobs was no messiah, for all the hope he preached or all the tools he created.
As Crouch points out, the Apple logo itself signifies the fall, the apple of Eden. It promises us we can still take a bite out of the tree of knowledge. But of course we can’t.
Any technology “implicitly promises to reverse the curse, easing the burden of creaturely existence.” And Jobs made the symbol of the fall itself into a symbol of promise and progress. He made a “ding in the universe,” as he wished to, but he never believed there was anything beyond this life.
Such a man can be celebrated for his achievements, but pitied for his world view. He believed in the “magical, revolutionary power of Apple precisely because he believed in no higher power at all,” Crouch notes.
A secular gospel like this “promises nothing it can not deliver since all it promises is the opportunity to live your own, unique life.” Jobs’ genius was to make “your own, unique life” easier, not more important.
Crouch notes Job’s famous Standford speech:
No one has ever escaped [death]. 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……
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. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
Such self-serving vision is sad. It offers no hope for us or glory for God. Technology embraces neither difficulty or danger, yet it is in those moments that our service to others is great and our dependence on God is greater. This is the great commandment.
So as cool or as magical as an iPad might be, it changes nothing about who we are. The tools will bend toward our will, for good or for ill. Even with a personal assistant on our iPhone 4S.
Crouch puts it this way:
[Jobs’] gospel offers no hope that you cannot generate yourself and only the comfort of having been true to yourself. In the face of tragedy and evil—the kind of tragedy that cuts off lives not just at 56 years old but at 5 or 6, the kind of evil bent on eradicating whole tribes and nations from the earth—it is strangely inert.
Perhaps every human system of meaning fails or at least falls silent in the face of these harsh realities, but the gospel of self-fulfillment does require an extra helping of stability and privilege to be plausible.
Amen. Even the plausible is impossible outside of grace. Our best hope lies outside ourselves.
And vanity is only idolatry in the end.