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If you have been paying even moderate attention to the media of late, then you know the huge amount of attention that has been paid to Steve Jobs since his untimely death. Some of the attention has gone to Walter Isaacson, whose authorized biography of Mr. Jobs was ready to come out remarkably close to Jobs’ death in early October. On several of the interviews of Isaacson that I have heard, the author included this snippet, which if you have likewise heard these interviews, then you know how striking this is.
Near as I can tell, Steve Jobs was not what you’d call a religious man in any traditional sense. His proclivities were decidedly Eastern but even then not straight-up one tradition or another. I am not aware of his ever having had much to do with any offshoot of the Christian tradition. According to Isaacson, Jobs did not have much to say about an afterlife. But not too long before he died, he did muse with his biographer on the idea that maybe–just maybe–something of the essence of a person could survive death. Maybe our wisdom or something about us goes on. But then, Jobs went on to say, at other times he thinks that perhaps life and death are more or less like an “On/Off” switch–you’re On for a time and then . . . you’re Off.
Stunningly, however, he then indicated his dislike of that thought. “Maybe that’s why I never put an On/Off switch on Apple devices.”
Something there is in the human heart that resists extinction and the attendant meaninglessness such a prospect could well introduce for us. Each of us human beings is unique. Each of us contributes something to our families, our co-workers, our society, our world. We are quite wonderful creatures, we human beings. We’re the only creatures we know of who are uniquely aware of our surroundings, of our mortality. We are, as someone once observed, greater than even all the stars that shine in outer space for they are aware neither of us nor of themselves. We are aware of both.
And so surely something survives. Maybe everything survives. Maybe we in all our uniqueness and in everything that makes me different from you and from anyone else who has ever lived or who ever will live–maybe it can and should and must go on.
Few parts of the Bible ponder human fleetingness and mortality better than Ecclessiastes. But plunked down in the middle of that somewhat bleak, altogether too-honest little volume is this: “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of people” (Eccl. 3:11). We are temporal creatures but we’re able to reach beyond temporality to grasp something more, something grander, something beyond the bounds that otherwise constrain us. We cannot quite see beyond the lip of eternity, perhaps, but we know that lip is there and we sense that maybe, just maybe, there’s something for us there. Maybe there is a place for us there such that all that we are, all that we know, all that makes us unique can and will go on (and on).
Those of you who have seen Terrence Malick’s stunning film The Tree of Life know how majestically Malick was able to locate the mundane inside a context of such cosmic grandeur as to take your breath away. Yet for all the ways by which we could feel dwarfed and insigificant in the midst of the cosmic vastness, Malick captures the central surprise of the Gospel: small though we humans are, God knows we exist, God calls us by name, and he draws us toward a Light that shines in the darkness and that will not be overcome.
If my life or your life or anyone’s life is just a matter of an On/Off switch, life can feel pretty pointless pretty fast. But even people who all in all seem to have no ear for a religious tune sense that something of eternity may just have been set inside their hearts and it makes all of us long for . . . for more than we see around us in the short years that get allotted to us on this planet.
But if, like Steve Jobs, we find ourselves resisting the On/Off scenario, there is probably a reason. As a Christian, I am glad that I have a very good idea on what that reason is through Christ Jesus the Lord. Because that reason is radiant with hope, and this hope will not disappoint.