Monday, the pushed-up publication of Steve Jobs biography goes on sale. Biographer Walter Isaacson, who had unprecedented access to Jobs, is the author. Count me among the masses who will buy a copy and most certainly keep this tome atop the New York Times Bestseller List for many months to come
The advanced press has already revealed some interesting personal tidbits that shed some light on this fascinating man. What caught my attention the most were two comments that surrounded Jobs religious understanding. The first dealt with a question everyone asks : Is there a God?
(From CBS News) “…for Jobs, the odds of there being a God were 50-50, but that he thought about the existence of God much more once he was diagnosed with cancer.”
The fact that Jobs wrestled for better perspective is hardly surprising. This is a man who notably wrestled for perspective in his professional life and I’m confident is one of the main reasons why Apple is such an incredible cutting-edge corporation.
That it took pancreatic cancer for Jobs to wrestle with issues of life/death in his personal life is also not surprising. It is the rare individual who will wrestle with such difficult questions when all is well in life. Only when God allows us to walk through the Valley of the Shadow Death (Psalm 23) do we begin to pay attention to the fact that life is short, fragile and fleeting. For Jobs to wrestle as he walked through his own valley is encouraging and if it takes pancreatic cancer for that to occur for the rest of us, we could do a lot worse.
People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will often times find themselves defenseless against the experience of tragedy—or even worse! They will also isolate themselves off from the real world of pain and difficulty that the rest of the world experiences. That was not the case for Jobs. He had doubts and questions and he wrestled with them. This leads to the second statement I found about Jobs. This one specifically dealt with Christianity.
(From the Associated Press) “…Jobs gave up Christianity at age 13 when he saw starving children on the cover of Life magazine. He asked his Sunday school pastor whether God knew what would happen to them. Jobs never went back to church, though he did study Zen Buddhism later.”
We’re not told in this snipet what the Sunday school pastor said in response. Maybe it will be in the book itself. The response from the pastor could have been brilliant or lacking. But whatever the response it did not satisfy and Jobs never returned. The question that Jobs asked is a hard question and is one that many continue asking today. It is this: If God is All Good / If God is All Knowing / If God is All Powerful – why is there evil? For Jobs the question was more pointed…If God is good why are these children suffering?
The reasoning goes, since there is suffering, either God is not all good or he isn’t all knowing or He isn’t all powerful. On the surface that’s a pretty powerful argument. Even more so when you factor in the experience of having suffered horrific tragedy in your own life. So how should we respond to that question?
First off, if you believe that because there is much unjustifiable pointless evil in the world that something (anything) other than a good and powerful God can exist—fine. But at least recognize that there’s a flaw in that kind of reasoning and the flaw is this…
Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise: If evil and suffering appears pointless to ME therefore it must BE pointless. In other words because I don’t understand why I am suffering there is therefore no reason for my suffering. But that kind of limited thinking is fallacious.
Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be a reason. All it means is that you don’t understand it—not yet.
And this is how the argument goes: If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering well then there just can’t be any answers whatsoever! But this argument doesn’t hold up. It doesn’t hold up to logic but it also does not hold up to experience.
When you read biographies or talk to people who have really lived and achieved weighty greatness what is their story? Most people who have gone through great suffering and tragedy and experienced tremendous evil will tell you that they have been shaped into the kind of people they are not in spite of their tragic events—but through them.
Certainly, no one is grateful for tragedy or suffering. But think about the great people in history who are great because they have suffered greatly. How many have ever said they would trade away the insight, character and strength they received having gone through these difficult times?
Also, if you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because He hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue. What you can’t have is – you can’t have it both ways.
CS Lewis in his book Mere Christianity described how he had originally rejected the idea of God because of the cruelty of life but then he came to realize that evil was even more problematic for his lack of belief in God. This is what he wrote:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust” to begin with? What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for my argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies…consequently the arguments against atheism turns out to be too simple…not too complex.
Lewis is right. Evil and Suffering is actually a bigger problem for those who don’t believe in God than for those that do. Without God, nothing is prohibited and anything is permitted. Dostoevsky once wrote: “If God did not exist, everything would be permitted…Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself.”
We see suffering and we blame God. We will say, “God is cruel and heartless to allow this to happen!” But Christianity responds to that very real feeling by reminding us that our God voluntarily came down and suffered far worse than anything that life can throw at us and why? Just so he could destroy suffering. He hates suffering and evil that much!
Dorothy Sayers wrote in Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World:
For whatever reason God chose to make people as they are limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death. Jesus Christ had the honesty and courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from us that he has not exacted from himself. He has himself gone through the whole human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and even death. When he was man, he played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and through it all thought it all worthwhile.
“There cannot be a God of love,” people say, “because if there was, and he looked upon this world, his heart would break.” We point to the Cross and say, “His heart did break!”
This is why I am a Christian. Our God is the only God with wounds. No other god can understand the suffering that we go through because no other god (and certainly not zen buddhism) comes close to claiming that he suffered.
I hope Steve Jobs wrestled with that answer before he died. I hope we all do.