Steve Jobs was eulogized as a unique, once-in-a-generation genius and creative force who almost singlehandedly shaped large swaths of contemporary global culture. The Mac reshaped the personal computer, including changeable fonts and graphic design. The I-Pod, which developed the hardware and software to broadly distribute digitized music, is credited with rescuing a music industry gasping under the weight of lagging sales and pirated music. The I-Phone, with millions of available apps, fundamentally transformed the smart phone and the way people communicate and even manage their lives. Finally, the I-Pad tablet computer has provided a platform tor technologies that are dramatically impacting the fields of education, retail sales, entertainment, medicine and more. And then there is Pixar…
By any measure, it is a remarkable legacy from one life.
The rush to analyze the man, his work and impact revealed that Mr. Jobs was a driven, often ruthless man, who could frequently be unpleasant, verbally abusive, difficult to work with or for. It also described a complicated man that deeply loved his children and his wife Laurene, and wanted to complete his official biography in large part so his children would know better why he acted the way he did and why he was so often absent from their lives.
As to deeper values or spirituality, Mr. Jobs was agnostic to Christianity, and explored various spiritualities before settling into a version of Buddhism. He frequently mused on issues of life, death, and meaning, most famously in the commencement speech at Stanford University that was played ad nauseum.
But the most astonishing element in the remembrances of Mr. Jobs was the tone of the discussions. When describing him or Apple products, people were uniformly deferential, reverential, awed…worshipful. Some were rendered speechless or even moved to tears. Others have gone so far as to suggest that a form of secular sainthood has been bestowed on Steve Jobs.
I knew all that, and was still unprepared for one report I heard a couple of days ago. The NY Times published the text of the lovely eulogy that Mona Simpson –novelist, Stanford literature professor and Mr. Jobs’ sister — shared at his private memorial. One section revealed his final words:
Until about 2 in the afternoon, his wife could rouse him, to talk to his friends from Apple.
Then, after awhile, it was clear that he would no longer wake to us.
His breathing changed. It became severe, deliberate, purposeful. I could feel him counting his steps again, pushing farther than before.
This is what I learned: he was working at this, too. Death didn’t happen to Steve, he achieved it.
He told me, when he was saying goodbye and telling me he was sorry, so sorry we wouldn’t be able to be old together as we’d always planned, that he was going to a better place.
Dr. Fischer gave him a 50/50 chance of making it through the night.
He made it through the night, Laurene next to him on the bed sometimes jerked up when there was a longer pause between his breaths. She and I looked at each other, then he would heave a deep breath and begin again.
This had to be done. Even now, he had a stern, still handsome profile, the profile of an absolutist, a romantic. His breath indicated an arduous journey, some steep path, altitude.
He seemed to be climbing.
But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve’s capacity for wonderment, the artist’s belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later.
Steve’s final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.
Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.
Steve’s final words were:
OH WOW. OH WOW. OH WOW.
The news anchor teased this for nearly an hour with questions like: “What do Steve Jobs’ last words tell us about an afterlife?” She confessed a visceral reaction to the story, and seemed so moved by it that she could barely phrase questions.
The appearance of a Roman Catholic priest to parse Job’s words was even more sad. He began by pointing out that his eyes were filled with tears just reading about Mr. Jobs’ final words. He said it was beautiful and profound, proving that way a person dies will often match the way they lived.
But, the anchor breathlessly pressed, “What did he see? What was he looking at over their shoulders?” Well, the priest asserted, obviously he was seeing something beautiful, something astonishing beyond our world. And so the final verdict was that the man who made us all say “oh, wow” with some gadget was seeing something that left even the brilliant, creative, prescient genius Steve Jobs amazed and that he (obviously) stepped into “a better place”. So, because of that, we can all have hope that there is something better on the other side.
It was just a weird moment for many reasons, not the least of which that a priest who ostensibly represents the Christian tradition managed to discuss death and the afterlife while never coming close to a mention of Jesus Christ and the promises of the Christian gospel.
I’m not going to presume to know the destiny of Steve Jobs’ soul. But here’s another possibility for “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” .
Maybe he did see something beautiful, and it was a Someone. “The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength…” (Rev. 1:14-16)
Or perhaps he saw
“…a throne… heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
“And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.” (Rev. 4:2-11)
When John saw this, he “fell at [Jesus’] feet as though dead”. It would certainly be enough to cause a mortal man to say, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”
But “oh wow” can have two meanings.
“Oh, wow, that is a loveliness beyond my wildest imagination.” An appreciation of a wonder, color, creativity and beauty that nothing on earth could ever duplicate. This is the sort of paradise people want to think they will encounter when they step over to the other side. It is an aesthetic and emotional response.
‘Oh, wow, He is more beautiful that anything my mind could conceive or dream or create or hear or see or sketch or design. And I missed it. A lifetime, and I completely missed it.” Coming face to face with the Holy One at the center of all reality will leave even the most brilliant person overwhelmed.
Which did Steve Jobs see? I don’t know. God alone knows his heart, just as God alone knows your heart or mine. And that God is perfectly merciful and just.
What I do know is that only those who know Jesus by repentance and faith can expect to step from this life into His presence with gladness. There is coming a day when we will all see what is behind the curtain, a day “…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.” ( 2 Thess 1:8-10)
In other words, trusting Jesus in this life means that at the end of life you will see Jesus as welcoming King rather than condemning Terror. When you see Him, you’ll probably run out of earthly words. Then, you’ll discover that you know the words to song that angels and myriads of people from every tribe and tongue and nation are singing: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns…the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and he shall reign forever and forever.” (Rev. 19:6, 11:15)
Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.