Last week I read a review of the new biography of Steve Jobs. I know little of Jobs beyond the basics: He founded Apple computer and was on the leading edge of the revolution in the computing industry in the 70’s and 80’s; despite the innovations that came from his leadership Apple forced him out for perhaps 10 years; then they brought him back and he continued to lead Apple in ways that impacted not only his company but also both the computer industry and contemporary culture, so that his work truly was felt throughout the world. The iPod, iPhone, iPad, and mouse are among the most commonly known of his developments that have influenced the world.
It is my last impression of Jobs that appears to have loomed large in his own mind. According to the reviewer, Tim Challies, the central thing that drove Job’s life was a desire for immortality. Challies writes this: “Jobs was always convinced that he would die at a relatively young age—a premonition that proved true. This then drove him to create things that would outlast him. Though his body would die, he could leave behind a company. His greatest and proudest creation was not a gadget, but a corporation; he wanted to leave Apple—the essence of the company—as his legacy to future generations. That is what I found as the subtle and perhaps unwitting theme of this biography—Jobs’ knowledge that he was mortal and his desire to be immortal.”
Jobs knew he had cancer for the last several years of his life. He had pancreatic cancer, a particularly deadly illness that is often advanced at the time of diagnosis, an illness that abruptly confronts one with the issue of mortality. Treatment options are few. The one-year survival rate is 25% and at five years it is just 5-6%. According to the biography Jobs pursued several treatment options but eventually succumbed to his cancer, knowing that while his would body would die the legacy of his work would be lasting.
I don’t know if the desire for immortality is widespread but I do believe that the lack of desire in confronting our own mortality is. As a runner, one who is clearly middle-aged, I still long for the time when I could consistently run faster and I try to figure out ways to get a portion of that former speed and endurance back. In my mind I am continually grasping for the past and reluctant to accept what are clearly the facts of the present. More seriously, I have known people in their 80’s for whom the idea that one day would be their last on earth was something that had never, ever, seriously entered their minds. I never asked them about that but perhaps they really believed that they would go right on living without ever reaching the horizon, even though they had never known anyone who did the same thing. But as surely as the leaves on the tree outside my window were green in the spring and are now brown and falling off the tree, so too one day I will pass from life on this earth. As has everyone who ever lived before me and all who are to come.
But where will I pass to? Where will any one pass to? In chapter 6 of his letter to the Romans, Paul makes it crystal clear that life, both in the here-and-now and in the eternal sense, is an either/or proposition. People are either slaves to sin, and its consequences, or recipients of God’s gracious forgiveness and its benefits. He sums up this teaching in 6:23, writing “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The death that he writes of is not merely death of the physical body, but a never-ending isolation from the presence of God, something that the Bible clearly teaches in Luke 16:19-30. And the result of eternal life in Christ is the exact opposite. It is living in the never-ending presence of God. One of my favorite images of eternal life with God is from Revelation 21:3-4, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Eternal life is to live in the very presence of God, in a place where every imperfection is made new, where every bit of physical, emotional and spiritual brokenness is healed.
We can be like Steve Jobs and attempt to leave a mark in the world that may never be forgotten or we can take hold of the offer that God makes in Christ Jesus. While I believe that the first choice is an ultimately false one the second is unfailing, for it rests on the sure promise of God. And in receiving God’s promise we can pray with the psalmist to serve God today as we wait for his tomorrow, saying “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I left up my soul.” (Psalm 143:8 NIV)
Immortality does exist, but it is the gracious gift of God, to be spent with him, and for the purpose of his glory.