Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Grief That's Rightside Up

Creative genius Steve Jobs has died. If you're reading this right now, you likely already knew that.

My family made the switch to Apple computers about 5 years ago and we have no plans to switch back. I know Apple products are considered the talisman of the hipster, but we use them because they're easy to use. The PC-related headaches are gone. We don't have iPhones (and don't really need them in rural Vermont ;-), but we have iPods. In addition, I was impressed and heartened by Jobs's refusal to allow the download or use of p()rnography apps on Apple devices. (I hope those who've inherited the reigns of the company will maintain this policy.)

In any event, Jobs's unique blend of visionary leadership and ferocious creativity undoubtedly towers over not just the technological landscape but the cultural landscape of the 21st century.

There have been some excellent tributes within the evangelical blogosphere today. Greg Thornbury's elegy is excellent, as is Al Mohler's reflection. My personal favorite thus far, however, is this piece at The Resurgence by Mike Anderson titled "Dear Steve".

Anderson is clearly a fellow who hasn't just looked up the facts for a concise Jobs biography; he is a fellow who feels Jobs's legacy. So when he turns from appreciation to Christian reflection, you sense his authenticity.

In his article, Mohler writes "Christians cannot leave the matter where the secular world will settle on Steve Jobs’ legacy. The secular conversation will evade questions of eternal significance, but Christians cannot."

Yes, and amen.

In his article, Anderson takes it and makes it more personal -- indeed, the entire thing is written as if in a concerned letter to Jobs himself -- responding to some of Jobs's nicely wrought but poorly thought words on what death is, then writing, "Steve, I hope that your death will embolden many not to sit on their hands and wait to tell those whom they love and respect about the great and glorious gospel of Jesus."

This morning I tweeted "What does it profit a man to change the world but lose his own soul?" I was taken to task by two (so far) people for lacking compassion. But the opposite is true.

It is a hollow compassion to mourn the loss of a man's products and creativity and set aside the potential loss of his soul as not as important, even if what we just mean is that it's not as important at this time. Nobody I have seen is denying Jobs's incredible impact and artistry. But Jesus' words in Matthew 16:26 point us in the direction of greater grief, deeper grief.

A grief that mourns the loss of a man's worldly accomplishments but feels no anxiety for his eternal destiny is upside down. A man's worth lay not in his achievements or success but in his being made in the image of God. Setting aside for the moment the state of Jobs's eternal destiny -- because none of us can really know for sure -- let us just be real about what is at stake in this life. It's not fame and renown, it's not the fulfillment of our gifts and talents, it's not the altruistic good we can do our fellow man -- it is eternal life and eternal death. All else is treasure that rusts.

I have officiated more funerals in the last year than I can count. Most of those were for men who did not publicly profess faith in Christ Jesus. This is not theoretical for me, not theological grandstanding. I've sat with a Christian mother in the hospital while she waited to identify the body of her son who died hours before of a drug overdose, holding her hand as she welled up with anguish about the precariousness of his eternal destiny. I have spoken words of comfort while talking through God's plan of salvation with grieving families who thought their dearly departed were Christians but weren't sure. I have preached funeral homilies looking lost mourners straight in the eye to say their grief is wasted if it doesn't send them to Jesus in saving faith.

I have shared tears, and I have shared Christ, because my tears are wasted if I am not generous with the better gift. The stakes are too high to obscure them.

The Westboro heretics plan to picket Jobs's funeral. This is idiotic and hateful. If Phelps' band of religiously maladjusted yellers truly wanted to make a statement at Jobs's funeral to prove they treasure Christ, they'd be the loudest mourners there, torn up about a man's gaining the world but losing his soul. But their approach is as upside down, just in a different way, as mourning the loss of a man's earthly output out of proportion to the state of his soul.

Because God is true, so is eternity. And because eternity is true, we need a grief set rightside up, mourning the greater loss as greater.


pastor justin said...

It is well known that Jobs was a Buddhist. We must proceed on the assumption that he died without Christ and did indeed forfeit his soul.

Christin A. said...

True and well said brother. Mike Anderson's is also my favorite. I was quite surprised to find myself deeply affected when my Apple homepage displayed his obituary. Aside from admiring the genius that God gave him, I grieve because I'm not sure whether he headed for Heaven or Hell.

Btw, your tweet isn't mean. It's truth bluntly put out. :)

Mainline Mom said...

Your tweet isn't remotely mean. It's the truth even if we don't know specifically what happened to Jobs' soul. His life was a shining example of common grace and God using everything for his good, even as the many tools he created are used to advance the Kingdom today.

I would, however, caution against using the phrase "religiously retarded". It changed my mood upon reading this entirely.

Cherie said...

Thank you for unashamedly speaking truth.

Jared said...

Mainline Mom, how so? I am using the word "retarded" as it is meant. They are "religiously retarded." This is not a slur against the disabled. It is the proper use of the word "retarded" - distorted, disordered, malformed, delayed.

I am sorry to cause offense.

Bill Kinnon said...

Well said, Jared!

Christian said...

I guess I’ll bite.

I understand what you’re saying and where you’re coming from. But it is tiresome — so very tiresome — to see my fellow Christians trot out the “where is their soul?!” discussion after the death of any public figure who wasn’t effusively faithful.

I know you’re trying to be faithful. I know you want to fully allegiant to Scripture. So do I. But stirring the pot by tweeting about “changing the world but losing his soul” doesn’t accomplish that.

Nor does ‘pastor justin’ saying “we must proceed on the assumption he did indeed forfeit his soul.” We mustn’t. Indeed, we’d be radically overreaching to do so.

So let’s start here: Grace is wide. How wide, we don’t know; blessedly. Following from there, let’s thank people like Steve for making our world a little better, and leave it at that.

Jared said...

Christian, I am not trying to "stir the pot." I would tell you what I'm trying to do, but I think the post itself is as clear as I can get, and I don't want to be redundant.

In any event, I don't know how to reconcile this -- I know you want to fully allegiant to Scripture. -- with this -- let’s thank people like Steve for making our world a little better, and leave it at that. Indeed, it's my desire to properly honor Steve Jobs, which I attempted to do in my opening paragraphs, but also properly honor Jesus Christ, which precludes "leaving it at that."

Grace is as wide as Jesus.

Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Please do not take these comments in a negative way because I am honestly just trying to understand the Christian faith.

It seems as though God gives humans an ultimatum to either accept Him as their savior or suffer eternal torment. Since He is all-knowing and would know that billions and billions of people will choose not to accept Him and thus suffer eternal torment, why would a loving God even create humans?

If I am one of the billions who will "lose my soul", I would have preferred to not even be created. I never asked to be born, I never asked to be created, but now that I'm here my "eternal destiny" is on the line should I not accept my Creator's ultimatum?

Again, just trying to get clarity and understanding.

Jared said...

Anonymous, fantastic questions.

Since He is all-knowing and would know that billions and billions of people will choose not to accept Him and thus suffer eternal torment, why would a loving God even create humans?

This is a profound mystery; why would God create humans knowing they would sin against him is its precursor. The short answer is "We don't know" a lot of the why's of God.
The longer answer is that in the Scriptures we see that God's confounding decisions are made in part out of the desire to glorify himself.

My daughter once asked why God would create Adam and Eve if he knew they would disobey him. My answer was basically, "I don't really know, but I think in part God decided that the story of sending His Son to die to save undeserving sinners would be a better story to tell with the universe than either never creating them or creating them without the freedom to sin."

In other words, God's allowance of such a thing is what he wants to communicate about himself -- not that he wanted to create robots but that he wanted to redeem sinners.

If I am one of the billions who will "lose my soul", I would have preferred to not even be created. I never asked to be born, I never asked to be created, but now that I'm here my "eternal destiny" is on the line should I not accept my Creator's ultimatum?

Yes, you should. If you are truly fearful of losing your soul -- not merely trying to make a rhetorical point -- salvation is yours for the asking. All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). And "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).

If you want to be, you can be saved for all eternity today.

Miranda said...

Thank you for writing this. I have been trying to put my thoughts and feelings and grief into words since I found out last night, when literally every single tweet or Facebook post on my feed was about the tragic loss of a great man in our society, one person even comparing this loss with JFK, wondering if this was how his parents felt when JFK died. My mind was overwhelmed with all of the social media revolving this event, and so many people quoting his words about life, and I felt like screaming, "but what if he is in eternal torment! Doesn't anybody care about that? Is it all about what he did for us?" but nevertheless, I couldn't find more appropriate words that I wouldnt get berated for saying.

Thank you for helping me express my hearts deepest grief in the loss of Steve Jobs.

Jared said...


On second thought, I decided to replace the potentially offensive word "retarded" with "maladjusted." I did not at all mean to convey a pejorative of the disabled, and I was using the word in its dictionary sense, but I realize upon further reflection that it is still a loaded word that distracts from the main point of the post.

Thank you, Mainline Mom, for first raising this concern.

I am sorry to anyone I offended or distracted.

Satchell Drakes said...

Having a better understanding of where you're coming from and a small glimpse of where you've been through your books and articles, I found nothing wrong with your tweet. I had a pretty good context and at least a general understanding of your content.

This post right here is spot-on and an intriguing gospel-centered unpacking of what man can make of Jobs's death in the light of Christ's work. It had a preface and a proper context. Twitter doesn't allow quite as much flexibility through its character limit. Because of that, I think where a lot of the angrier and annoyed folks fell off was a lack of a preface or context in the tweet. It leaves a lot of folks wanting to say "There it is. I was waiting for it to fly out from somewhere; the train is never late..."

It's very easy to see that one statement individually as a fundamentalist, one-dimensional quip, which usually sets people off. Especially considering how quick it flew out. And especially if it's coming from a pastor, unfortunately. Some crowds get it. But the result can be some confused or angry people who just see it as some "shock-jock" comment because - honestly - a lot of ministers like doing that. It sucks that it gets pinned on folks like you. Peoples be wilin' out on Driscoll for making a funny. In my opinion, folks are just too overdramatic and are waiting to get mad about somethin'. Life's too boring for them or somethin'. But I guess if you want to reach out and enlighten even those crowds, adding an URL to this post with the tweeted statement may have put some at ease.

I feel extremely out of line speaking to a man of your stature in this way. I genuinely hope that I didn't come off disrespectful in my suggestion. I just hope it helps so that you don't get cast in a wrong light unnecessarily. I design in the field of marketing so I know it can often be difficult feeling out the temperature of a crowd. I'm also 23, so there's way too much potential for me to just not know what I'm talking about.

Jared said...

Steve, I deleted your comment b/c I don't allow profanity. If you want to lecture me on my hatred and ignorance, do it without an expletive and I'll approve it.

Steve said...

Fine, Jared, no profanity, though your column deserves every expletive I can come up with. I used to be an evangelical, but left 30 years ago because of the narrow-minded idolatrous ignorance and bible-worship I saw every where. No critical thinking, just thoughtless dogmatism and the certainty that my beliefs alone are truth and noone else who differs can be right or "go to heaven" or "be saved." You perfectly exemplify that narrowness and idolatry--you worship your beliefs and the Bible, not the God who is infinitely beyond any sacred book or religion. As I said in my first post, you and all your fellow fundies will be very surprised if and when you get to heaven and see people like Steve Jobs there. Jeus himself taught that to the Pharisees, and you fundies are just like them. What will you do then, huh?

Anderthon said...

How about this:

If God wanted Steve Jobs' soul, He would have surrounded Steve with loving Christians who would have guided him home.

If he didn't, because Steve's vessel was created for destruction, then that is God's choice as sovereign.

We get 3 surprises in heaven: who's there, who's not there, and that we're there. I hope Steve is there, and I hope all the egotistical Christians who use any wave of pop culture to trot out their Jesus-ization of the events are not.

But probably God will have the final say.

Jared said...

Steve -- putting aside your disagreement with my view -- can you see how what I'm expressing is *not* hateful? The Pharisees thought behavior justified them; I believe grace is free, apart from our merit perfectly forgiving our sin. Anyone who wants it can have it. I am grateful God provides salvation for sinners, of which I'm the worst.

And can you see that this post does not have a pharisaical satisfaction or glee in (theoretical) loss of a soul? It is about grieving that a soul might be lost.

And even though you apparently can't see that, it is the case. And since that is the case, when I get to heaven, should Steve Jobs be there, I would rejoice.

I can understand hatred for the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. I can even understand hatred for me as someone who believes in that doctrine.

But it doesn't make logical sense to, given my belief in this doctrine, hate me for being *sad* that Steve Jobs might not be in heaven. If abandoning my doctrine is not an option for me, wouldn't you settle for my grief?

Jared said...

I hope all the egotistical Christians who use any wave of pop culture to trot out their Jesus-ization of the events are not [in heaven]

How very loving.

Josh said...

just a question I have had for a few weeks and kind of relates to this topic. Should Pastors (or Christians) for that matter officiate a funeral for a non-believer?

I guess I am wondering what you would say to the family in this case? How do you balance comfort and the reality of what has happened?

this is a gee whiz question.

Jared said...

Should Pastors (or Christians) for that matter officiate a funeral for a non-believer?

Depends on the pastor, depends on the family.

I generally say yes, but nobody has asked me not to share the gospel.

rdsmith3 said...

Wonderful, thoughtful, loving post. Thanks.

Jason Wert said...

"you and all your fellow fundies will be very surprised if and when you get to heaven and see people like Steve Jobs there. Jeus himself taught that to the Pharisees, and you fundies are just like them"

Steve, unless Steve Jobs accepted Christ as his savior before death, we won't be seeing him in heaven. That was Jesus' teaching. He is the way and none other. That's not being mean; that's just being truthful.

I'm sorry if you have a problem with God's word but it's the truth.

As to the post, what disturbs me is the number of Christians heaping praise over Jobs and hardly any are concerned that he's spending eternity in hell. I've seen pastors making posts about the "top things Steve Jobs contributed to Christianity" without mentioning at all the fact he didn't profess Christ as far as we know. (Given his staunch Buddhist beliefs, it's highly unlikely he converted.)

There's a lot of Christians with their eyes of Christ in this situation. Then again, we can all get that way sometimes.

Shayne McAllister said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Attaway said...

It really is shocking how people can read something and see something completely foreign to the author's intent. Nothing about this post is hateful. I found it sobering. I have been thinking all day about how much Jobs did to better our world with technology and how sad I am that he will no longer be able to do that. How wrong-headed of me! My mourning over Job's death was selfish and it wasn't Gospel mourning.

Plus, I think people will read what they want to read. Jared, you did a fine job of not casting the final judgement, which is the accusation some are making. You only stated that the loss of his soul was POSSIBLE.

In reading this I sensed your pastor's heart and I appreciate it. As a pastor in training, I would love to sit under a pastor like you—who loves the Gospel, loves people, and rightly mourns death.

Shayne McAllister said...


What concerns me about the way you're going about this discussion, is that it smacks of the idea that you're better than Steve because you trusted Christ and not him. We don't always have to mention that someone is in hell every time we discuss good things about their life. As Christians we don't need to start off every article in history like this: "Abraham Lincoln (who is at this moment probably screaming in anguish in hell) became President in 1861 after a hotly contested election featuring fractured political parties.

See that isn't the point we're trying to make when talking about Abraham Lincoln. If we constantly referenced that Lincoln is in hell (which I believe), over time it would leave a weird taste in everyone's mouth. I think it's fine to make a point that riches and success don't mean ultimate heaven, but 24 hours after a death isn't that time.

Shayne McAllister said...


Well said bro. I'm as big an Apple fanboy as they come. Supporting Apple products as a consultant is how I make my living. As a Bible believing Christian, I've seen two extremes pop up on this Steve Jobs thing. Some want to play God and extend to Steve the love and providence that is only for God to give. These folks are so uncomfortable about thinking someone they love and respect is in hell, that they ignore the possibility. The second category are those who make no room for a final miracle of God in salvation.

Either way, it's entirely appropriate as Christians to consider people around us. We should consider the path of Lazarus' rich man just like we should consider the lily of the valley. The rich man has a story to tell us from hell, and the lily of the valley tells us how God will take care of us. The whole earth is speaking to us about God, and the death of Steve Jobs speaks to us in stark contrasts of the temporary with the eternal.

We have a modern day parable that should cause humility in all of us. Only confused post-moderns could confuse this piece as a moralistic attempt at trying to feel better about ourselves. In every death, and in every tragedy, God is telling us that unless we repent, we will likewise parish. The glory, wealth and fame we accumulate will not protect us from death. Steve was one of the smartest people who ever lived, but smartest. He was richer and was influential with more people than all the Pharaohs of Egypt combined, but could not pay a doctor more money for another breath.

We should learn from that, and it should make us more humble, not more proud. We can weep and mourn without losing our head and forfeiting hard-to-swallow truth. We should direct our grief well, and the direction should be inside to our own sin.

Vincent Gray said...

Disagree, but it's definitely because our views of the nature of grace and the gospel are too different. I probably can't get you to change your mind in a blog post, nor you mine, so I'll just leave it at that. Your tweet was ill-timed; it wasn't hateful, but hopefully you realize that it's something of a social faux-pas.

But for this pastor justin.... what a foul message. Bordering on blasphemy too.

Jason Wert said...


First, I never even insinuated the things you try to bring into your post and I would appreciate your not throwing out straw men in the discussion. I never posted anything regarding superiority nor did I say anything about articles written in the manner you suggested.

The Bible is the Bible and Jesus saying He's the only way is Jesus' words. If you have an issue with that, well, there's nothing I can do about that.

As for my comments about the articles, if you're going to mention what someone contributed to Christianity then whether they believed in Christ or not is relevant to the discussion. Doubly so for the articles I saw where pastors and other leaders wrote things similar to "it doesn't really matter what he believed, his inventions did X, Y, Z." It's fine to praise him for his contributions to the world; it's irresponsible for a Christian to say at any time it doesn't matter what someone believes when it comes to eternity.

As for your 24 hour comment...I'm not saying that you raise the issue of his eternity but if the issue is raised you shouldn't compromise the Word just to meet a social preference.

hannah farver said...

Jared, amen and amen. Thanks for speaking truthfully here. It was a good reminder and encouragement to keep on faithfully pleading for the souls of our friends and neighbors.

Shayne, I hear what you're saying; and I do think at times Christians have been just plain tacky (in an insensitivity that does not stem from compassion) in bringing up someone's eternal destination right after their death. However, I don't think Jared was addressing this in a tacky way, and with everyone speaking and recalling Jobs' life--this is the one opportunity to speak (while its still hot news) and for people to listen. Furthermore, while the rest of the world is processing it in a different light, isn't our responsibility to process his death in light of the Gospel? It seems like there has to be a middle ground between speaking obnoxiously and biting our tongues altogether. In my humble opinion, I think Jared did a good job finding the middle ground in this post...

Satchell Drakes said...

For anyone interested. Here's a compassionate, candid, and like-minded post from a Christian a lot closer to Jobs. Maybe it'll add some perspective. This is an excessive amount of heat on Jared's position:

Shayne McAllister said...


I'm not saying you really think the things I was saying. I was just saying that it "smacks" of it. There's what you think, and how it comes across. Those can be two different things. It's like that for you, for me, and those pastors' blogs you read. Did they REALLY say it doesn't matter what he believed? Or did it SOUND like that's what they said to you?

There is a time to every purpose under the heaven. Let's not forget timing.


Shayne McAllister said...

Also Jason, regarding straw men: where are these pastors and leaders who said "it doesn't really matter what he believed." It would be nice if you cited them in the same comment in which you decried straw men.

Shayne McAllister said...


BTW, I think Jared's post was dead on in striking the balance you described. You and I agree here.

Marks said...

Many Christian leaders have taken so much time blogging and tweeting about Steve's eternal destiny. I'm saddened by the fact that I have thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of his labor, but I never once reached out to him with the Good News. Too bad we weren't this concerned about his place in the Book of Life while he was living—we just enjoyed his stuff.

Steve was and still is an inspiration to me because he used a talent that God gave him to (I would argue) the fullest. Imagine if all believers were driven to that extent to use those gifts for Jesus.

Carrie said...

This is the first thing I thought about when I heard of Jobs death. I mentioned my sadness and I hoped that he found Christ before he died. I got criticized by a fellow Christian who thought I was trying to judge where someone is spending eternity. It's as if he was uncomfortable with the subject. Weird. Anyway, while we don't know where Jobs is eternally for sure, it does make me think...from God's perspective it doesn't really matter a whole lot what we do on this's Who we know...God's Son Jesus.

And thanks for calling out the Westboro heretics and crazies. It sickens me that they would protest this man's funeral. We had to endure their picketing of one of our fallen soldiers very close to our church. On a side note, it was raining and a lightning bolt got REALLY close to where they were protesting. We appreciated God's timing on that one :)

Evan Rummel said...

Jared this was certainly refreshing to read and for the first time in a while, I actually read the discussion here to see what people were thinking.

Surprisingly, this post reminds me of Love Wins by Rob Bell. The openness for discussion, the proposing of ideas merely for thought. No judging, no end answer. Just thoughts.

And this is something I've believed and considered now for years (and a few people hinted at it) but what if we do see Jobs in Heaven. How much grander will the grace of God be for us as we begin to see the folks that we so callously branded "doomed" sitting amongst us at the banquet table.

I know that I hope Steve Jobs encountered something in his final moments in regards to God or His Holy Spirit. His life truly impacted the world and I do hope that somehow His life flipped upside down back to God.

rdsmith3 said...


I've heard Tim Keller say that at some point we have to stop searching and actually find something.

It saddens me to think that my own father is most likely not in heaven. I understand that God is so holy that He cannot look at sin. I also understand that He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to take on our sin.

It is a message we need to get out to everyone we love.

Nell said...

I wonder why we wait until someone dies to be concerned about the state of their soul? A little like " shutting the gate after the horse has bolted".

My prayer is that these sorts of conversations motivate Christians to be more bold in living out the depth of grace Jesus showed us. Maybe then our concern will feel more legitamate.

Anonymous said...

I realize that without the doctrine of Hell, there is no need for Christ's sacrifice, and without that, well, I guess there goes everything ...

At some point, however, any questioning person must ask whether the notion of sending a person to eternal torment because they didn't have the right "thoughts" and ideas about who God is (and that's what faith is) is really the reality of what happens. If you ask twenty Christians, they'll give you twenty different answers about who God is, what His nature is and what His relationship is to man. It's not as if Christians have a monopoly on the truth, anyhow.

Calvinists emphasize God's sovereignty over His justice and mercy. Others emphasize His grace. Few agree on what His will is regarding what it means to live a moral life: consider the fact that most Americans agreed that interracial marriage was "immoral" at one time and that slavery was a moral good (a notion that jump-started the Southern Baptist Convention).

So Steve didn't pray to Jesus, yet he must be thrown into the trash heap known as Hell for not doing what con men like Benny Hinn, John Hagee and Rod Parsley do every week? It just doesn't make sense. If God is "good" and just, He'll show Steve His true nature, reward him for the good he did as well as any evil and let him make a truly informed choice from there, something no one is really afforded in this life.
- Rob Z

Roberta said...

I Corinthians 1:26-31

Anonymous said...

Steve Jobs didn't lose his soul. He was Buddhist and so perhaps understood more deeply that the soul does not inherently exist. His mind has more lives to live - more bodies to inhabit - because that is what a Buddhist believes....just as you believe in the Christian soul. No need to grieve the loss of his soul.....