Steve Jobs on Christianity

On December 25, 2011, in Biography, Culture, Via Negativa, by marc
Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs | 1955-2011

I came very close to buying Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs the instant it was released; I’ve long found Jobs to be a fascinating character, and anyone interested in the intersection of technology and everyday life (which in the modern age is pretty much everyone) would want to be a fly on the wall for this man’s journey through life. Who was he? What shaped him? Can we make more of him?

Me being me, I’ve also wondered what sort of religious or spiritual philosophy guided the man in his life. It was pretty clear that he wasn’t a Christian; I suppose if there was ever a life that stood as a shining example of what Abraham Kuyper called common grace, it was Steve Jobs’.

Regardless, it doesn’t take long for Isaacson to delve into the religious history of Steve Jobs. Only 14 pages into the book, we find Jobs simply dismissing Christianity altogether:

Even though they were not fervent about their faith, Jobs’s parents wanted him to have a religious upbringing, so they took him to the Lutheran church most Sundays. That came to an end when he was thirteen. In July 1968 Life magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra. Jobs took it to Sunday school and confronted the church’s pastor. “If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?”

The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”

Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?”

“Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”

Jobs announced that he didn’t want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church. He did, however, spend years studying and trying to practice the tenets of Zen Buddhism. Reflecting years later on his spiritual feelings, he said that religion was at its best when it emphasized spiritual experiences rather than received dogma. “The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it,” he told me. “I think different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don’t. It’s the great mystery.”

For a guy as smart as Jobs obviously was, it’s disappointing to me to see him dismiss Christianity so flippantly, to simply wave it off as if no one had ever heard of the problem of evil before he discovered it in Life magazine when he was thirteen. And it’s a good cautionary tale to me as a parent as well. I don’t want my kids to have a “religious upbringing.” Taking them to church is not going to be enough. I want them to know God, to really know Jesus, to understand that this relationship is fundamental, and that what they believe isn’t something that happens on Sunday and then goes away for the rest of the week.

As for Jobs: fifteen pages into his biography, and I just feel an achy sadness for a man who missed out on so much because of what appears to be a snap decision at age thirteen.

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It’s been such a long time…

On December 8, 2011, in General, by marc

man, it HAS been a long time.

So, uh, is this thing on?

I was updating my resume tonight, and there was a space for my website on the template I was using, and all of the sudden I realized that I haven’t really posted on this blog in forever.

Oops.

So I suppose it’s time to rectify that with a post like this where I acknowledge my laxity in posting but say virtually nothing of any substance. Which is what this is. Hopefully in the coming days I’ll manage to post an update on what I’ve been reading of late, which includes a new translation of a portion of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace in Science and Art, occasionally a couple of older volumes on topics relating to the reformed faith, W’s Decision Points, and a bunch of other stuff. Let’s just not mention my failure to finish Bavinck.

That’s all. I’m hardly paying attention to what I’m writing anymore anyway.

Jesus, the Son of God

On August 24, 2010, in Culture, Reformed Theology, Religion, Theology, by marc

I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to read during lunch at work, and I’ve chosen R.C. Sproul’s new commentary on the Gospel of John (part of his St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary series published by Crossway) as the book I’ll be reading.  Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1, which deals with the prologue of the book (verses 1-18), and specifically addresses Jesus’ claim of divinity:

John by RC Sproul

RC Sproul - St. Andrews's Commentary on John

Sometimes Jesus stated his origins very explicitly.  For instance, He said on one occasion, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38).  Likewise, in a discussion about the Jewish patriarch Abraham, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58).  The Jews immediately picked up stones to put him to death because they understood His message–Jesus was equating Himself with God, who had revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14).  Again, when He told a paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven, He then healed the man so that, in His words, those who were there would “know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins” (Matt. 9:6).  These were not statements of humility.  They were statements by which Jesus openly declared that He had come from heaven. John’s prologue was intended to accomplish much the same goal–before John gave us his record of the earthly visitation of Jesus, he told us where Jesus was from.

Just a reminder that there is no way to claim that Jesus never saw himself as God.  The reality is that Jesus was either who he said he was, or he was a madman.  I believe the former with all my heart.

John Calvin (1509-1584)

Some time ago, I posted a link to some article or other on my Facebook page that had some relation to the dispute between Protestants and the Roman Catholic communion on the issue of justification.  I can’t remember what the specific article was, or how it addressed the issue, but at some point in the comment banter that followed, one of my Roman Catholic friends (of which I have a few) noted that he wanted a fuller explanation of the Protestant position on justification, as the logic of it escaped him.  I said I would be happy to provide one, thought about how to do so for a few days, and then, in the business of life, the whole thing slipped from my mind.

Back in May, I had the privilege of attending the first RCA Integrity conference at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (here’s a recording of Dr. Mark Dever, our speaker at the conference, speaking on preaching), and I came home with a lot of free books, among them a number from the 9Marks series including What is the Gospel?, which is currently awaiting its turn at the top of my active reading pile of books.  I also left the conference with a renewed desire to get into God’s Word, which is probably more important than the free books.

One of Dr. Dever’s addresses at the conference was his take on what is driving the resurgence of Reformed Theology in America and beyond today.  This was a great lecture, and I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t record it, but I took decent notes and as a result have begun reading one of the men he mentioned as being important to the current revival of Reformed thought, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd Jones.  Thanks to the used book section of Baker Book House, I’m now the proud owner of two volumes of his commentaries on Romans, which cover chapters 3-5 of Paul’s great epistle, the first volume of which I’ve been reading aloud

I’ve also benefitted this week from Baker’s $1 book sale, which is their attempt to clear out some of their old stock—if you want a nice fresh copy of Pat Robertson’s 1988 campaign biography, it’s there—and also to move some of their used material that has been sitting around too long.  Today I picked up a copy of John H. Bratt’s The Rise and Development of Calvinism, which was written by the long-time Calvin College professor back in 1959, at which time my alma mater still took its namesake seriously and remained steadfastly Reformed in outlook and practice.

As I’ve been reading Bratt’s chapter on the life and work of John Calvin, I came across a reference to one of Calvin’s more obscure writings, his Reply to Sadoleto. The Sadoleto referenced in the title is Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto, who—upon Calvin’s departure from Geneva—had written to the leaders of the city in the hopes of winning Geneva back to Rome.  The Council of Geneva promised the Cardinal a reply, and turned to Calvin—then in Germany—to reply.  A significant excerpt can be found here; a sample:

Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto (1477-1547)

Cardinal Sadoleto (1477-1547)

As to the charge of forsaking the Church, which they were wont to bring against me, there is nothing of which my conscience accuses me, unless, indeed, he is to be considered a deserter, who, seeing the soldiers routed and scattered, and abandoning the ranks, raises the leader’s standard, and recalls them to their posts. For thus, O Lord, were all thy servants dispersed, so that they could not, by any possibility, hear the command, but had almost forgotten their leader, and their service, and their military oath. In order to bring them together, when thus scattered, I raised not a foreign standard, but that noble banner of Thine which we must follow, if we would be classed among Thy people. Then I was assailed by those who, when they ought to have kept others in their ranks, had led them astray, and when I determined not to desist, opposed me with violence. On this grievous tumults arose, and the contest blazed and issued in disruption.

With whom the blame rests it is for Thee, O Lord, to decide. Always, both by word and deed, have I protested how eager I was for unity. Mine, however, was a unity of the Church, which should begin with Thee and end in Thee. For as oft as Thou didst recommend to us peace and concord, Thou, at the same time, didst show that Thou wert the only bond for preserving it.

But if I desired to be at peace with those who boasted of being the heads of the Church and pillars of faith, I believed to purchase it with the denial of Thy truth. I thought that anything was to be endured sooner than stoop to such nefarious compact. For Thy Anointed Himself hath declared, that though heaven and earth should be confounded, yet Thy Word must endure forever.

All of this is to say that I remain grateful to God that I have been raised in a tradition that taught me the doctrines of grace, and that in light of what I mentioned at the beginning of the post (and due to the fact that my reading right now is focused on Romans, which contains within it the clearest exposition of said doctrines in all of scripture), I plan to begin what will hopefully turn out to be an occasional series on justification, expounding upon the great Biblical principle of sola fide. So if you’re at all interested, feel free to check in from time to time to see if I’ve made any progress.  Lord willing, I shall.

The Ascent

On May 13, 2010, in Culture, History, Politics, Religion, by marc

One of the most famous chapters in Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago is titled “The Ascent.”  The chapter is included in The Solzhenitsyn Reader, and I excerpt this portion for you:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag

Solzhenitsyn during his years as a Zek

Looking back, I saw that for my whole conscious life I had not understood either myself or my strivings.  What had seemed for so long to be beneficial now turned out in actuality to be fatal, and I had been striving to go in the opposite direction to that which was truly necessary to me.  But just as the waves of the sea knock the inexperienced swimmer off his feet and keep tossing him back onto the shore, so also was I painfully tossed back on dry land by the blows of misfortune.  And it was only because of this that I was able to travel the path which I had always really wanted to travel.

It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good.  In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel.  In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor.  In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments.  And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that  I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good.  Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts.  This line shifts.  Inside us, it oscillates with the years.  And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.  And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an uprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being).  It is impossible to expel evil from the world it its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.

And since that time I have come to understand the falsehood of all the revolutions in history: They destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them (and also fail, out of haste, to discriminate the carriers of good as well).  And they then take to themselves as their heritage the actual evil itself, magnified still more.

The Nuremberg Trials have to be regarded as one of the special achievements of the twentieth century: They killed the very idea of evil, though they killed very few of the people who had been infected with it.  (Of course, Stalin deserves no credit here.  He would have preferred to explain less and shoot more.)  And if by the twenty-first century humanity has not yet blown itself up and has not suffocated itself – perhaps it is this direction that will triumph?

Yes, and if it does not triumph – then all humanity’s history will have turned out to be an empty exercise in marking time, without the tiniest mite of meaning!  Whither and to what end will we otherwise be moving?  To beat the enemy over the head with a club – even cavemen knew that.

“Know thyself!”  There is nothing that so aids and assists the awakening of omniscience within us as insistent thoughts about one’s own transgressions, errors, mistakes.  After the difficult cycles of such ponderings over many years, whenever I mentioned the heartlessness of our highest-ranking bureaucrats, the cruelty of our executioners, I remember myself in my captain’s shoulder boards and the forward march of my battery through East Prussia, enshrouded in fire, and I say: “So were we any better?”

When people express vexation, in my presence, over the West’s tendency to crumble, its political shortsightedness, its divisiveness, its confusion – I recall too: “Were we, before passing through the Archipelago, more steadfast?  Firmer in our thoughts?”

And that is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!

Psalm 8

On April 29, 2010, in Culture, Religion, Theology, by marc

I was reading this yesterday and decided to work on memorizing it.  I probably did before at some point in my schooling; say, fourth grade or so.  But it’s been so long since I’ve concentrated on memorization of scripture.  I figured, might as well try; goodness knows I have lots of room in my memory for stupid, inconsequential stuff.

Psalm 8

Oh Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise
because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

Oh Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

As I’ve noted before, I’m currently reading through the Bible with a goal of completing it in a year or less.  I started in late December when I picked up my copy of the NIV Stewardship Study Bible, which I’ve found to be a very good reading Bible.  It doesn’t have a full set of footnotes with a more or less verse-by-verse exposition of the scriptures as one gets in, say, the Reformation Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible, but it does contain a lot of additional material highlighting the importance and centrality of stewardship to the Christian life.  For Psalm 8, the SSB contains a quote from the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards:

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)

We have shown that the Son of God created the world for this very end, to communicate Himself in an image of his own Excellency… When we behold the light and brightness of the sun, the golden edges of an evening cloud, or the beauteous rainbow, we behold the adumbrations of His glory and goodness, and in the blue sky, of His mildness and gentleness.

One thing that has tripped me up on occasion in this particular Psalm is verse two: “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”  Perhaps the translation is awkward and it sounds more natural in the original Hebrew, but I’ve always wondered what the first part of the sentence has to do with the last part.  Over at Logos.com, they have a commentary available which sheds a bit of light on the connection:

[Verse] 2. So manifest are God’s perfections, that by very weak instruments He conclusively sets forth His praise. Infants are not only wonderful illustrations of God’s power and skill, in their physical constitution, instincts, and early developed intelligence, but also in their spontaneous admiration of God’s works, by which they put to shame—

still—or, silence men who rail and cavil against God. A special illustration of the passage is afforded in Mt 21:16, when our Saviour stilled the cavillers by quoting these words; for the glories with which God invested His incarnate Son, even in His humiliation, constitute a most wonderful display of the perfections of His wisdom, love, and power. In view of the scope of Ps 8:4–8 (see below), this quotation by our Saviour may be regarded as an exposition of the prophetical character of the words.

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Just added: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.  Looks interesting; my knowledge of Bonhoeffer is, sadly, limited.  Read a review of this bio in the Wall Street Journal at lunch; here’s a portion:

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas

Martyr

Since the 1960s, some of Bonhoeffer’s admirers have seized upon a phrase from one of his letters—”religionless Christianity”—to argue that he favored social action over theology. In fact, Bonhoeffer used the phrase to suggest the kind of ritualistic and over-intellectualized faith that had failed to prevent the rise of Hitler. It was precisely religionless Christianity that he worried about. After a 1939 visit to New York’s Riverside Church, a citadel of social-gospel liberalism, he wrote that he was stunned by the “self-indulgent” and “idolatrous religion” that he saw there. “I have no doubt at all that one day the storm will blow with full force on this religious hand-out,” he wrote, “if God himself is still anywhere on the scene.”

As the storms of hatred raged in Germany, Bonhoeffer moved beyond “confession”—that is, preaching and writing—and into rebellion. By the summer of 1940, he was recruited by Adm. Wilhelm Canaris and others as a double agent for their conspiracy against Hitler, an effort that operated out of the Abwehr (Nazi military intelligence). Henceforth he would pretend allegiance to the regime and pass along to the conspirators—whose goal was Hitler’s assassination—whatever intelligence he could gather. He depended on deception for his survival.

It was a bizarre role for a religious man, and a hitherto loyal German citizen, to play. As Mr. Metaxas notes: “For a pastor to be involved in a plot whose linchpin was the assassination of the head of state during a time of war, when brothers and sons and fathers were giving their lives for their country, was unthinkable.” And yet it became thinkable for Bonhoeffer precisely because his understanding of faith required more than adhering to tidy legalisms about truth-telling and nonviolence.

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I managed to do a bit more reading from the Stewardship Study Bible, and stumbled upon something that really made me think about the nature of humanity.

Oftentimes, we like to think (even as Christian believers) that it would be nice to know for sure that God exists and what his plans and instructions are for us going forward.  Who hasn’t daydreamed about receiving a 3×5 card with written instructions from God on precisely how to proceed with some difficult task, or even things that aren’t really difficult at all?  I certainly have, and I know I’m not alone.  And of course the implication of such thoughts is that if only God would reveal himself to us in such a direct way, all our doubt and uncertainty would be washed away and we would be able to live our lives fully committed to His will and His ways.

Jonah and the Whale

Jonah and the Whale by Pieter Lastman

And yet the Bible gives us a completely different view of the matter.  How many people in the Bible communed directly with God, talked with Him, received direction from Him, only to turn away from Him later?  I touched on this a bit in the previous post, noting the poignancy of Solomon’s eventual straying from his solemn commitment to God at the dedication of the temple.  But my understanding of the gravity of Solomon’s sin was only enhanced through the reading of the beginning of I Kings 9, where the Lord appears to Solomon a second time. Imagine that – God appearing to you and speaking directly to you not once, but twice. One would think that should be enough to keep generations of a family on the straight and narrow.  And God’s instructions to Solomon are nothing if not clear:

“As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws,  I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’

“But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them,  then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples.  And though this temple is now imposing, all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their fathers out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the Lord brought all this disaster on them.’ ”

This is not difficult to understand.  And coming directly from the mouth of God to Solomon, one would imagine that it would be unforgettable.  And yet, with the turn of a page, we see Solomon marrying foreign wives and allowing the worship of foreign gods in Israel.  Granted, many years had passed with that page turn.  But still – forgetting the personal, individual instruction of God?

And let us not forget that an entire generation of the nation of Israel enjoyed the physical presence of the incarnated Lord Jesus Christ – God enfleshed – and even that was not enough.  Matthew 12:38-45:

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.”

He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.  The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order.  Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

In the end, even the resurrection of the Son of God proved inadequate to convince many of the Jewish leaders of the authenticity of Christ’s claims.  If God-in-person wasn’t enough for some to change their ways, the 3×5 card probably wouldn’t make a lot of difference either.

Things are getting away from me here a little bit, so let me see if I can tease any worthwhile nuggets out of these scriptures and my mass of thoughts.

  • I suppose first of all, we must note the depravity of humanity.  The one thing we are able to do more easily than anything else it seems is to ignore God, to dismiss God, to shuttle God off to a corner while we go about our more important work.  Solomon had the opportunity to commune with God with a directness that most of us, if not all of us, will never experience or understand.  The chief work of his life was building a glorious temple for the Lord, a building which still inspires awe to this day in its description.  And yet, with the passage of time, even that was not enough to keep him fully committed to the Lord.  The first century Jews had Jesus, God himself, walking among them.  We all know how that story ended.  We must never underestimate our capability to ignore, deny, hate, and crucify God.  After the Fall, it is an inherent part of our being as humans.
  • With that being said, it is also important to note that while we will never have that 3×5 card from God, Jesus reminds us that what we have from God – His Word – should be enough for us.  I am reminded that God’s word serves as “…a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  A lamp does not flood the entire scene with light; rather it gives enough light to take a step or two, and reveals more territory as one walks along.  We need to live by faith, confident that the God who performed the miraculous deeds for his people in scripture is still the same today, and that “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  For myself, I know that this is a lesson I need to learn and re-learn, again and again, for the rest of my life.
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I Kings 8:56-61

On March 26, 2010, in Culture, Religion, Theology, by marc

I’m still pursuing my goal of reading through the Bible from front to back in a year; I believe I’ve mentioned before that my reading Bible is Zondervan’s new NIV Stewardship Study Bible, which I’ve found to have a good deal of interesting supplemental material (although since my focus has been on reading scripture, I must confess that I’ve been skimming through some of the extras).  That being said, today I ran across the following passage – I Kings 8:56-61 – which struck me.  This is a prayer of Solomon, uttered immediately following his prayer of dedication for the just-completed temple:

“Praise be to the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses.  May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us.  May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep the commands, decrees and regulations he gave our fathers.  And may these words of mine, which I have prayed before the Lord, be near to the Lord our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day’s need,  so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God and that there is no other.  But your hearts must be fully committed to the Lord our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.”

There is a tenderness here that warmed my heart; such gratefulness for the faithfulness of God.  And then the request that God himself would guard the paths of the people – that God would cause the people to honor Him, in order that they avoid giving offense to God and bringing trouble upon their own heads, and ultimately to bring glory and honor to God from all peoples of the earth.

It’s poignant as well to note that in just a few chapters, Solomon will stray from the commitment that he makes here, and will thus face rebellion within his kingdom for abandoning a full devotion to his God – a reminder to us today that we must always guard our hearts and minds, aware that we are constantly susceptible to sin.  We must daily recommit ourselves to honoring God alone.

Bible Reading – Why We Fail

On March 26, 2010, in Culture, Religion, Theology, by marc

We fail in our duty to study God’s Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy. — R.C. Sproul

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