On the Death of Steve Jobs

Rev. William Cwirla

You don’t have to know me well to know that I’m a huge fan of Apple. I have an Apple decal on my study door to make the point. My first computer was a 512K “Fat Mac” purchased in 1984. I’ve owned Apple computers my entire working life. I operate three today. I’m also the proud owner of two iPods and a first generation iPad. I don’t have an iPhone, though. I prefer my phones to be phones and my cell phone to be off. Don't call me; I'll call you.

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, died Wednesday. His accomplishments are legendary. A fiercely competitive businessman, a culture-defining designer, an innovator, a showman to the end, Steve Jobs epitomized a generation. My generation. For my parents’ generation, the defining company was General Electric, the giant industrial conglomerate that made everything from washing machines to MRI machines to jet engines. For my generation, the iconic company is Apple, joining form and function, engineering and art, making technology an integral part of our lives. Others invented computers, cell phones, music players, and tablets. Steve Jobs put his unique signature on them and changed the way we use them. He made technology fun.

What many people don’t know is that Steve Jobs was baptized in a Lutheran church. He was catechized in the same Lutheran congregation my brother now attends by a pastor I knew before he died. He is named in the famous “Lutheran Song” that lists many prominent people as Lutherans, though most are not actually Lutheran any more.

I’m sad that Steve Jobs died at a fairly young age. He was just two years older than I am. I don’t know if Apple will continue to be an innovative force without him. We’ll see. But what makes me really sad is that he didn’t stick with being Lutheran. That would have been so cool. Imagine, Steve Jobs as a Lutheran going to the same church as my brother. I might have met him. Truthfully I don’t know what he believed at the end of his life. I know he dabbled in Buddhism and was a vegetarian. Neither philosophical contemplations or vegetables will do you any good at the end of your life.

I don’t understand falling from faith. I understand that we do not come to faith by our own reason or strength or decision. I know that the Holy Spirit calls us to faith by the Gospel and that faith is a gift from God. I understand that and believe it. What I don’t understand is how someone falls from faith. This is a great mystery to me. How is it that someone can be baptized and catechized and then turn away from Christ and His Church? In 19 years of ministry, this is what puzzles me the most. There are many sons and daughters of our congregation who have gone that way. I grieve over them much more than I do the death of Steve Jobs. I baptized and taught them. And I will have to give an account for their souls. And what about me? What makes me immune from falling in the same way?

I think falling from faith happens slowly and imperceptibly. It begins with that Sunday soccer game or basketball tournament, the boy scout event, the part-time job that forces you to work on Sunday morning and then the next time, you volunteer. The late night party on Saturday that leaves you too tired to get up for church. The hectic calendar. Family concerns, the business, the house, the investments.

You discover that you can skip church for weeks, maybe even months, and nothing bad happens. Your hair doesn’t fall out. Your teeth don’t turn green. Your children are no worse and maybe even a little better now that you don’t have to fight them in the pews. And you get a little more “me time.” You might even get promoted, or start your own company, or invent the iPod. Pretty soon, you cease to worry about how it is with you and the Lord, like a relative you’ve long forgotten. Maybe you read a few books challenging religion in general and Christianity in particular and they cause you to wonder if it’s all a big waste of time. You find some unpleasant stuff about Lutherans on the internet. You have a squabble with a congregation member. No one from church seems to care or call.

One day the dimly flickering light of faith simply goes out, like a little candle in a puff of wind, and you don’t even notice. Faith doesn’t die with a shout of protest or a clenched fist of defiance. It takes faith to be angry with God. When faith dies, it simply withers away like a dry untended plant.

The rich man and Lazarus both died and were buried. Death is the great leveler of humanity. The rich may have better health plans and access to the marvels of medicine, but sooner or later that runs out too. Two days after his resignation from Apple, Steve Jobs looked like any other 56 year-old man near the end of his life. I know the look well. His many achievements and contributions to technology and culture were behind him. His days were numbered. “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

God is merciful and gracious. He justifies the ungodly in His Son. He forgives sinners for Jesus’ sake. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In Him, God the Father reconciled all the world to Himself and does not count men’s sins against them. I don’t know how it is between the dying and the Lord of life in their last moments. I’ve attended many deaths, but I haven’t been privy to the private conversation. Like the beginning of life, the end remains a great mystery, hidden entirely in the hands of Jesus, whose hands were wounded to save the world, including men like Steve Jobs, and all those other Lutherans who no longer are.

I sincerely hope that everyone at their last hour gets to hear, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” from the Savior who died for them. That's what all of us sinners, great and small, clever and dull, extraordinary and ordinary, need to hear.

Rev. William Cwirla is pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hacienda Heights, CA. He is also the President of the Board of Directors of Higher Things, Inc. This article originally appeared at his blog.

Created: October 7th, 2011