Steve Jobs passed away last night. I learned about it on my iPhone, read about it on my iPad, and am now blogging about it on my MacBook Pro. I owe much to the innovations birthed by Jobs and Apple. Steve Jobs was born to unwed parents, given up for adoption, and dropped out of college. Yet he left an undeniable impact on the world like few others have. Various media reports on his death have called him “a genius,” “visionary,” “the Edison of our generation,” and a “cultural icon.”
A few years ago, shortly after Jobs first learned of the pancreatic cancer that ultimately took his life, he delivered a commencement address at Stanford University in which he reflected upon death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. 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 is 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 is quite true.
On this point, Steve Jobs and the Scriptures are in complete agreement. This life is short.
“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” (Psalm 39:4)
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
No one is guaranteed tomorrow. Even our next breath is a gracious gift from the Lord.
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16)
Jobs’ legacy is immense, but it is not eternal. As helpful, creative and innovative as iPhones, iPads, iPods and MacBook Pros are, they will not add any value beyond the grave. As we all reflect upon Steve Jobs’s life and death over the next few days, I invite you to ask yourself the question that he invited the graduating seniors at Stanford to ask: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” The Scriptures encourage us to answer that question with a gaze beyond the grave to what is ultimate:
“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:27-28)