Will there be Macs in heaven?

Steve Jobs’ death on Wednesday “provoked the largest online response of any event in recent history” according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Even the briefest survey of news outlets, Twitter, and Google seems to support this claim. I became a Mac user in the late 90s through a friend and bought my first teal-blue iBook in 2000. When my husband and I married in 2003, I brought him into the fold and we became an Apple household. Since then, we have converted family and friends and, at this point in time, everything we do in the world that isn’t through flesh and blood interaction seems to be done through an Apple product. The internet is full of eulogies to Jobs and paeans to Apple at the moment, so I won’t rehearse the beauty of their design, their pioneering of user-friendly lifestyle programs, or their revolutionizing of how we experience music, travel, talking on the phone….

A theology professor I know once commented―in all seriousness―that there would be Macs in heaven. While this may sound like a strange comment for a theology professor to make, it gets at something inherent in the Apple ethos and Steve Jobs’ creative genius that is deeply instructive about what it means to be human.

Apple’s creations are revered for being not only good products but beautiful products: they speak to us aesthetically even as they enable luddites like me fully engage the digital world. The sleek silver curves of an iMac or MacBook, the brilliant images that iPads put into our hands, the excitement generated by Jobs “one more thing…” are testaments to good work done well, to human creativity bringing about products that are more than instrumental and utilitarian tools, even as they fill instrumental roles. It is for this reason that this theology professor commented on the eternal standing of Apple products. As Miroslav Volf writes about those who make such products, “their noble efforts are not lost…everything good, true, and beautiful they create is valued by God and will be appreciated by human beings in the new creation.” [1]

Whether or not Macs will be in the New Creation, this sense of good, true and beautiful work is largely, I believe, what has driven the mass of international reflection on Steve Jobs in the wake of his death. Being virtually synonymous with Apple Computers, Steve Jobs’ life is an example of a life dedicated to good work―work that serves its purpose well, work that makes people’s lives easier, work that connects people, and that does all of this with beautiful style. He told the class of 2005 at Stanford University, “You’ve got to find what you love…Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” When we reflect back at Steve Jobs’ life, his demanding perfectionism and obsession with detail are excused because of this dedication to good work. What is more, we see in him a man whose dedication to doing good work speaks to us about what it means to be human.

While Jobs was not a Christian, his commitment to doing good work well resonates strongly with the biblical tradition. According to that tradition, humanity was created to work creatively in the world, epitomized in Adam’s charge to tend the garden of Eden and his work of naming, of creatively identifying and fostering identities and communities within creation (Genesis 2:15, 20). Later in the story, God honors the artists of Israel with a special wisdom for creating the tabernacle that was to be his dwelling place (Exodus 35:31). According to church tradition, the tables that Jesus made were of exceptional quality and craftsmanship. But the really intriguing bit is the end of the story. In St. John’s vision of the New Creation, he writes that “the glory and honor of the nations” will be brought into the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:26). What is the glory and honor of the nations? Many biblical scholars think that it is our good work―the things we create here and now that are good, true and beautiful. In other words, God builds his new creation not ex nihilo like the original creation but, at least in part, out of the materials that we bring through our work in life: Shakespeare’s plays, sanitation systems…maybe even iThings.

Jessica Hughes

[1] Miroslav Volf, Work in the Spirit, 92.

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