13 October 2011

How Steve Jobs and Christ defeated death and preached the gospel

by Dan Phillips

Reader Yurie Hwang pointed me to a thoughtful reflection on the death of Steve Jobs titled Steve Jobs: the Secular Prophet. I commend it, and would like to lift a Jobs-quotation from it, and head off in a different direction.

Speaking of his cancer-diagnosis in 2003, Jobs said:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. 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. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. 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.
And thus, Steve Jobs defeated death and preached the gospel.

Were I a Christian reader who knew nothing about the writer (me), at this point I'd be spluttering, "Wait, what? No he didn't!"

But, you see, Jobs did defeat death. Or to his own mind, and in the minds of many who hear him, he did. How did Jobs defeat death? By redefining it. Death is not an evil, death is not an enemy. In fact, death is the "single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new."

What did Jobs do to defeat death? Wished it away. Said words. Redefined.

Then, Steve Jobs preached the gospel. How? He preached the world's gospel: trust your heart. You are as gods.

I don't doubt that Job's thoughts made a lot of people feel good; and, for a lot of people, that is enough. Some might want to think about them, though, ask questions.

For instance, did Jobs really defeat death? Jobs now is, himself, dead. Clearly his redefinition was not an elimination, it was not a conquest. It was simply a transformation by talk. It was whistling (and myth-making) past the graveyard. The squash is still a squash, the liver is still liver — but the logomagician tells you it tastes really good. Or perhaps, more to the point (since tastes differ), the raging fire still burns, but the word-wizard tells you it won't burn you, it will cleanse you. And that may be enough.

Until you enter the blaze, and reality (blind to the rhetorical spell that was woven) crashes in.

And what of his gospel? "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." Indeed. Adolph Hitler knew what he truly wanted to become, as did Robert Carnegie, Martin Luther, Jeffrey Dahmer, "Mother" Theresa, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, and Dr. George Tiller.

But whose heart-dream was idyllic, and whose demonic? How do we tell? In the kingdom of the heart, there are no walls, no lines — or what lines there are constantly shift, constantly reform and reshape. As I explain and develop at length elsewhere, the heart is a broken gauge, an internal Jacob, incurably self-deceptive. Trust that, you say?

I remember the birth of that "gospel." So do you. It was in a garden. There wasn't an Apple, but there was some kind of fruit, and a serpent proposing a paradigm-shift. "Trust your heart," he said in essence. "You say you know what God says, but I say I know what God thinks and feels. You don't need His words. You just need yourselves. Be your own reference point. Reach, take, eat, know, become. Your heart will never steer you wrong."

And ironically, the moment our first parents trusted their hearts and reached for the fruit, the cancer that took Steve Jobs' life had its inception.

But now I point you to another Gospel that has its literary beginning in that same chapter, in verse 15 (also developed at some length in the same place). God spoke of a Seed of the woman (!) who would come and crush the serpent's head. The rest of the Old Testament traces and develops the trail leading to that Seed (which I develop elsewhere), and the New Testament unveils His arrival, and His mission.

Jesus, too, defeated death and preached the Gospel — except really.

To Jesus, death wasn't a good thing. It was the result and penalty of sin, and its aftermath held terrors which those on this side of the divide can only imagine. But Jesus used the most lurid and frightening imagery to try even to hint at the horrors that death held for each and every one of us, apart from a miraculous act of God. In fact, He would tell the tale of a rich man who lived his dreams, and dreamt of more and more, until death dashed his expectations and brought him face to face with the myth-shattering reality of God's judgment (Lk. 16:19-31). Where were his heart's dreams then? Lost in the flames, drowning in oceans of regret. Death was not that rich materialistic dreamer's friend.

In fact, as Jesus' spokesman would later affirm, death is man's enemy, his last enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). Not his friend.

Well then, what did Jesus do about death? Redefine it? Not in the first place. In the first place, He yielded to it on its own turf and then He defeated it. For the first time ever, death was not able to hold one of its victims, but forever lost its grip on Him and His (Acts 2:24), for He not only was resurrected to life, but was the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25). For that reason, by His submission to death for His people He defeated the one who had the power of death and freed His people from its slavery (Heb. 2:14-15; Phil. 2:1ff.).

So now those who believe savingly in the Lord Jesus walk in newness of life, and need not fear death. Why? Because of some word-games? No. Because Jesus actually (and not merely rhetorically) defeated death, and because Jesus actually preaches a saving Gospel that brings us peace with God (cf. Acts 10:36; Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:13-22). This Gospel does not leave us chained to the deception-factory of our hearts, but frees us to serve the living God (Rom. 6) and know the true freedom only His expressed thoughts can bring (Jn. 8:31-32).

Thousands of years ago, the psalmist sung of two totally different paths (Ps. 1). Jesus spoke of the same (Mt. 7:13-14), and warned of any who would try to blur the borders (7:15ff.).

Nothing has changed. One way leads (in thralldom to our hearts' dreams) to death. The other leads (away from our hearts and word-games) and to life, to Him who is life (Jn. 14:6).

So when Steve Jobs said of death, "No one has ever escaped it," he made yet another critical miscalculation.

Christ escaped it.

Thus Christ alone defeated death, and Christ alone preaches a Gospel which saves in reality, and not merely technologically nor rhetorically.

Dan Phillips's signature


Robert said...

This calls to mind how Jesus reacted to the death of Lazarus. Scripture says that Jesus was deeply moved in spirit, troubled, and that He wept. Why was he so upset? Sin had come into the world and caused such destruction of the very people He created and loved. And the people were not putting their total trust and faith in Him, even after He had performed many signs and wonders to attest to His identity. But He did come to conquer death and free us from its grips. As He said to Mary, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die." Then He poses the critical question to Martha (and to each and every one of us): "Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26 - I know that you referenced 25, so I'd say there is a good reason this came to mind)

Robert said...

I forgot to add that we can compare Jesus' reaction to death to that of Jobs and see a stark contrast in how each of them viewed it.

Daren Redekopp said...

Points taken. There is, however, something worthwhile in Jobs's words: "Don't be trapped by living... with the results of other people's thinking." The sense that this rings true is that each of us will be held accountable by God for how we acted on the basis of the knowledge we have, be it natural or revelatory. If we are to be a people who follow a Lord who called himself the Truth, then we must be unswerving in our pursuit of truth: not as defined by others, but as apprehended by ourselves. This is the very basis on which we will be judged.

Nash Equilibrium said...

One of your best ever, Dan.

DJP said...

You're right, Daren. There are actually quite a few contexts in which those words have a good application. Luther and Calvin would be examples, re-contextualized.

But I think it's valid to say that Jobs meant it more sweepingly than that, given the context of death and life and all. No doubt the world means it more sweepingly. What I've read of his religious views validates that approach.

So yes: you can tell a kid "You must learn to think for yourself," and mean one of two antithetical things. The problem is when someone thinks that the validity of the statement in Context A then implies its unconstrained validity across the board.

JD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

I suspect we'll hear the same type of stuff about Dr. Phil's (just the first name that popped into my mind with this ideology) philosophy of life and death when he dies. That is, unless God changes his heart, he repents, puts his trust in Jesus, and follows Him faithfully.

olan strickland said...


Do you not like squash and liver? They taste really good - together! I hope that doesn't make me a logomagician.

I truly appreciate your keeping the gospel in its redemptive-historical context as revealed in God's Word. Solidarity in Adam must be true if solidarity in Christ is even possible.

Steve Jobs got the solidarity in Adam part right - " And yet death is the destination we all share." From there, everything else was wrong.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Dr. Phil? Johnson?

Eric said...

Nicely written Dan. We can never hear the beauty and simplicity of the plain gospel enough, and we will always benefit when we see the true gospel contrasted with the false gospel sold by the world. Truth is, our natural tendency is to think just like Steve Jobs, even though we maybe don't speak eloquently like he did and don't have the same platform to speak...we still have the same thoughts echoing around in our hearts: I am god. Hence our continued need to hear the gospel and repent.

Anonymous said...

“Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking.”

Ironically, it was Jobs’ own dogma that trapped him for eternity.

DJP said...

Praise God: just got a request to allow a translation of this into German for European publication. Pray it bears Gospel fruit abroad.

Eric said...

“Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking.”

Another irony: How many people do you suppose are trapped by the results of Steve Jobs' thinking (both technologically and philosophically)?

Dan, God be praised indeed - may His Gospel go forth with power and conviction.

Rob said...

"Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice..." Yes, that's why I've always been a PC user and not someone who just sheepishly buys the latest iWhatever. My "inner voice" has always told me, "You know, you can still get a little more use out of that 10-year old PC of yours..."

Excellent post, Dan. In light of so many of the Jobs articles I've been reading online, this one was the most substantial.

Sarah said...

Thank you so much for this piece! It never ceases to amaze me how much I have a constant need to hear the gospel preached to me again and again. Nor does it ever cease to amaze me how much I need my Savior and Lord and am indebted to Him. This piece makes me love Him more! Thanks again for sharing and I intend to share it with others. God bless!

David J. Houston said...

Fantastic post. Whenever I hear people give the advice to 'listen to your heart' I always want to ask, "But what if your heart is desperately wicked?"

DJP said...


Probably better off with "Always listening to the bum holding up a sign on a streetcorner."

At least he's somewhat objective.


Robert said...


I'd say you could just take out the what if and pull out Jeremiah 17:9. Of course, that will probably lead to all kinds of different conversations based upon the person you are talking to. Sadly, many professiong Christians don't even know that the Bible says that.

Matt Aznoe said...

Excellent post, Dan. It is funny that as Jobs decries dogma, he is expressing a dogma of his own. Or rather, an ancient dogma that lies behind all evil.

Colloquist said...

Bravo, Dan. I have seen numerous friends on Facebook posting and liking this Jobs quote. While it's tempting to believe that our destinies are concealed in our hearts, and that our intuitions will always lead us to the right decision, those are lies straight from the pit. My former heart of stone led me into much foolishness before it was replaced, and it still tries to drown out the new heart and Spirit I've been given.

Allison Gray said...

Amen, brother! I said something along the lines of this in response to a friend posting this quote of Jobs on facebook the other day, and was lashed out at by fellow believers as "being powerful enough to decide who gets into heaven." Um, no, God decides who gets into heaven, and He has gracefully laid out the criteria in His Word. So sad that Christians would rather listen to the pretty lies of the world, than to the holy, all sufficient Word of God.
Sigh. Even so, Come Lord Jesus...

kateg said...

Afresh I see that that the logo, the apple with the bite out of it, says more than at first sight.

Stefan Ewing said...


This is a very good reminder of the illusory promises of the world, as against the real promises of God in Christ.

You're at your best when you write on how the revealed truths of Scripture bear upon people's lives, and how we should live in light of that knowledge.

I could only wish that there were more of these sorts of posts on this blog, since such practical, biblical exhortation serves as a Gospel call to the lost, and points us so directly to our one true Saviour.

Kyle said...

Sorry to be OT here... but I wanted to share James MacDonald's latest blog post...


I can't help but wonder if Luke Mac had a son to father talk after Tom's recent blog post here.

/back to SJobs... ;)

donsands said...

Well done. Death is quite ugly. A friend of mine just died of stomach cancer. Another friend of mine just lost their second child. Their first they lost in crib-death.

Death is a heinous thing indeed. And then there is the death of deaths.

And then we have our Lord Jesus Christ, who conquered death. Awesome!

As horrible as death is, and Jesus showed us in His own death, eternal life becomes that much more joyous doesn't it!

DL Moody said: "Some day you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield is dead. Don't you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now."

Thanks for the excellent article/post.

DJP said...

Isn't it simply amazing what people will change and deny in order to avoid changing their minds about Jesus, and denying themselves?

APM said...

Wow. Refreshing post.

I have read a number of fluffy, beatifications of St. Jobs lately- some from Christians praising him for his passion, drive, creativity, etc.

In our consumeristic culture we are quick to heap praise on those who deal us our techie-fix rather than examine the worldview of what we're being fed.

Jobs is highly exalted- in this life- simply because people love their IPhones.

Christ is highly exalted because He is worthy of it.

Oh, death! Where is thy sting!

FX Turk said...

You know, there are two facts about our blog which always seem to fly under the radar:

1. DJP is the one who posts most of the highest-viewed post on our blog (he has 5 of the top 10, and and 10 of the top 20 -- he is by far the most persistently linked-back to member of this blog team).

2. He is also the one that has "made it" by blogging. Phil made it before blogging, and I, well, am what I am -- and that's not much. DJP's rep is from his stellar insights as a self-published religious essayist.

Someone should pick up on that. He's the really talented one. Anyone missing that must have something stuck in their eye.

Paul D said...

Brilliant, excellent, true.

The mystery is that the heart is also aware of the deception, no?
Romans 1:19

donsands said...

"...and I, well, am what I am"-Cent

Amen. You are one of the "Team Pyro Three Amigos", and an excellent brother in Christ, with a gift of exhortation and a good writer.


Yurie said...

And this is why I need you to write my book for me. Thanks for the masterful insights brother!

Rachael Starke said...

Wow. Frank and Stefan are right. Another one of those "waitaminnit, WHAT?!" starts, followed by "ooooh - well what's the real story then?" ended by "Jesus" posts, that I think on again and again.

I forwarded it to a friend with a husband at Apple who professes Christ, but has been somewhat sucked in by the culture there and is struggling in his faith. She was thankful to get it.

Robert said...


I'd say you three all complement each other very well. I can see what you are getting at, though. That's why I think that both of his books will be extremely well-read. I'm reading and re-reading them both and can't decide which I like better...even though they are totally different styles of writing.

The Bible Christian said...

I have to agree with Frank... when Dan writes, I'm reading and when Phil preaches I'm listening and when Frank is being who he is... I'm, well, you never know!

Excellent post Dan...just a quick point, when I think of all the high praise going to Steve Jobs and some of it was definitely earned, Isaiah 2:22 always come to mind.

JG said...

I loved the "Secular Prophet" article, mostly because it validated some suspicions I've had for a long time. I already had that scheduled to go for my Friday Random post, but I'm adding this too. Fantastic follow-up.

Sonja said...

Good stuff and put the prophet into prospective from the media accolades. A talented and creative mind who embraced Buddhism and created a cult of iIdols.

DJP, a post of your's from the past that I reread this evening.


Most excellent. A great resource in many ways. :) Thank you.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Tremendous observation about the Jobs Stanford speech. Excellent thoughts.

DJP said...

Thank you, Kent.

Sonja, thanks. That is actually an evangelistic tract I wrote for use in door to door evangelism under a pastorate in the mid-eighties. Glad it was a blessing, thanks for saying so.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this thoughtful and biblical post. My favorite Pyro post in a long time (and that's saying something).

Monty Dicksion said...

I quite disagree with the accolades given for the speech by Jobs. Here is why:

Re: Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement address, 06/12/2005

Immediately following the quote provided by Dan Phillips/Yurie Hwang, Steve Jobs said, “Everything else is secondary.”

Nowhere in his address did he have any advice or mention any consideration for preparation for life’s final period. This is noticeable, given his state of health at the time and his other reflections on death.

It appears that to Jobs, God was a non-issue and a non-entity. I am reminded of the passage from Ephesians 2:12, “without hope and without God in the world.” Such is the picture that we get of Steve Jobs. Yet his focus on self and “life is all there is” philosophy was so highly valued at this prestigious university event.

Further, I point to recent mention in the press that was made which indicates that Buddhism was Jobs' worldview of choice.

Shouldn’t people “believe in themselves”? Sure. But if you’re leaving God out of the picture, you’re going to get to the end of the road, and what will you find there? You’re at God’s front door. And you’re out of time. Your dreams, your aspirations, everything you wanted, everything you ever wanted to become – those are the things that you will find to be, not just secondary, but totally worthless.

Those advocating that the focus of life should be “Believe in yourself” might not believe in God, but that doesn’t mean that one day sooner or later they will not be faced with whether or not their beliefs amount to anything.

God bless Steve Jobs. He said absolutely nothing of any eternal significance, even when he knew that eternity would be his next big event. I find that simply amazing. Unbelievable.

Be alert to “Believe in yourself,” or its variants, such as "listen to your own inner voice." Be aware. Don’t be fooled. When they say “Believe in yourself,” they usually are really saying, “Believe in yourself instead of God.” That’s bad advice – very bad advice.

DJP said...

Monty... I can't understand how that comment is in any way a response from someone who has read my entire post.

Monty Dicksion said...

DJP, it seems I worded my first sentence to sound as if I was disagreeing with you, and for that I apologize. See that my disagreement was with the accolades that Jobs' speech received. That is what I meant to say, if I did not. The first accolade I saw was on the national Nightly News which aired that segment on the day of Jobs' death. Other accolades came from various places, notably Facebook. I did read your entire post. Please see that I was in agreement with you, but was referencing the immediately next line spoken by Jobs, "Everything else is secondary," a line which is commonly neglected in places where Jobs' speech is shared. If I did not make that clear, I sincerely apologize. May I request that you take a closer look at what I wrote in my very first line. Thank you for pointing out my unclear communication.

DJP said...

Got it, thank you. I misread you, sorry. I say with no sarcasm, when one is ostensibly commenting on a post (as opposed to submitting an independent essay) and begins "I quite disagree...", I think you're talking about the post, yet making the same objection I do!

And that does happen.

So, thanks, and amen.