Steve Jobs and the false hope of our time

Steve Jobs and the false hope of our time January 24, 2011

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs (Flickr, acaben).

Two events happened last Monday that stand juxtaposed for me: Steve Jobs announced that he was taking a medical leave absence from Apple, and a priest at our parish, Fr. Seraphim, died.

While journalists and pundits frantically asked and answered questions about the health of Jobs and the future of his company, writer Andy Crouch reframed the entire story around the unlikely subject of hope. “As remarkable as Steve Jobs is in countless ways,” he said, “his most singular quality has been his ability to articulate a perfectly secular form of hope.”

That secular hope is a mix of progress and self-actualization, something evident from the rehearsal of Jobs’ achievements and his own public statements. Crouch quoted from his 2005 commencement address at Stanford:

[D]eath 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.

Jobs is a brilliant businessman and innovator, but he makes a lousy philosopher and theologian. The John 3:16 of his secular gospel runs something like this: “The world—including you and your place in it—is what you make of it, and here at Apple we’ve made a lot of it.” It’s all very inspiring, for about a minute.

“You can be you,” it says. “I’m already me,” you reply. “Well, you can be your best you,” it says. “And then what?” Jobs gave the frankest possible answer at Stanford: “Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away.” In the face of death, the best Steve Jobs could tell graduates was that they should live each day as if it were their last. Sadly, that’s not hope. That’s resignation. Veiled disappointment is the best-case scenario.

This view of progress and self-actualization is not isolated to Jobs. It’s the false hope of our time.

And then there’s Fr. Seraphim.

When an Orthodox priest dies, a vigil is held before his funeral. Over his resting body, all through the night, readers stand and read the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, one after another in succession. Over the resting body, the readers confess the truth that death does not prevail. Over the resting body, they recite account after account of the resurrection, that Christ has risen from the grave.

In the funeral service that follows the gathered church confesses that what is true for Christ is true for all who are in him, that death has been defeated, that Christ has trampled it down, and that we will experience our own resurrection. Now, every time the liturgy is celebrated, Fr. Seraphim will be remembered as one who “await[s] the hope of the resurrection.”

That is hope, that our lives will be finally and ultimately redeemed in the resurrection, that Christ will make all things new. Anything else is settling for loss and decay. Being your best you doesn’t matter unless there is ultimately a renewed you. Living every day as if it’s your last only matters if your life is lived in Christ. That is not the false hope of the secular gospel, but it is central hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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