The Spiritual Wisdom of Steve Jobs

It has been a week since Steve Jobs passed away, but I wanted to take a while before writing about it. It seemed like these events required a bit of time for reflection. In part, the whole thing seemed sort of “secular.” Even the wry corporate logo seems to grin at the notion of eating from the tree of knowledge: not humanity’s finest moment.

Jobs and his work at Apple seem like the classic, remarkable success story, but maybe that’s not the case. If you’ve taken the time to listen to Job’s 2005 commencement address at Stanford, I’m sure you found it moving. If you haven’t yet heard it, you can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc. In the address, Jobs tells three stories that reveal the secret of his success: failure and catastrophe.

Although our world values success perhaps above all else, Jobs talked about: (1) dropping out of college; (2) getting fired from Apple; and (3) being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Each of these experiences, which would have looked like failure or disasters to all the world, contributed (and perhaps even brought about) that remarkable life. Jobs noted his inability, at the time of these events, to see the connections between them and their impact on his life. He described this as difficulty in connecting “the dots.”

Our world places remarkable value on success and accomplishment. It motivates so much of what we do, so much of who we are. Sometimes, what looks like sucess is nothing more than tenacity. As Winston Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Nothing in Churchill’s statement, or Jobs’ commencement address, should come as a surprise to those of us who believe in the living God.

The story is as old as our removal from Eden, as old as being trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. We’ve been telling this story since the destruction of the Temple and the Babylonian Exile. Each of these events seemed like catastrophes at the time. We hear the same story as Cleopas and another disciple traveled to Emmaus, despondent and convinced that Jesus’ ministry was a great “failure.” Later, they learned that this through this catastrophe, God was at work, displaying His capacity to reveal Himself even in the horror of Golgotha.

So, while we may rightfully celebrate our successes, I hope we don’t miss the opportunity to see God at work in those events where we seem to have stumbled. When that Sunday school class doesn’t quite come off like we hoped or when confronted with a pastoral situation that we feel powerless to help with, we might remember the power of an unseen God to connect the dots. In the Church, we call that “faith.”

Requiescat en pace, Mr. Jobs.

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2011 James R. Dennis

11 responses to “The Spiritual Wisdom of Steve Jobs

  1. Thank you Dennis! Beautifully written.

  2. James, I read your postings regularly and am often moved or at a minimum made to think. Though my very private nature keeps me from commenting, this one was too good and I’m breaking form. For those of us who perpetually wrestle with why bad things happen to good people, your discussion of Steve Jobs was both comforting and faith-inspiring. I only rarely realize there are dots before me, much less connect them! Thank you, thank you for the reminder. Pam Deegear

  3. For me–perhaps because I so identity with the stumbles and falls–these thoughts are a lovely expression of wisdom. (They also help turn my admittedly superficial mourning over the loss of Jobs’ ingenuity into thankfulness for his life and gifts to us.) Thank you, too.

    • Many thanks, Lera. I also tend to identify with those who’ve faced mighty challenges. Sometimes, in a rush for cheap understanding, I miss the real grace of Wisdom. Pax.

  4. I loved it as usual! That old cowboy and his lady are grinning from ear to ear.
    Much love,
    Sue Sue

  5. Thank you, James, for your thoughtful examination of the failures that comprise Steve Jobs’ “success story”. After I finished reading your post I spent a moment looking back to connect my own dots… and viewing my failures through a different lens. I’m grateful to you for providing the lens.
    ~ Lana

  6. I love the dot trail left by Abraham Lincoln…

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