If faith is “the assurance of things hoped for” and “the conviction of things unseen” (Heb. 11:1), then Steve Jobs was a man of great faith.
When he set out to create personal computers, people thought he was crazy—but he did it. When he wanted to build Apple stores with concierge services like hotels, people didn’t understand—but he won awards. He brought things to life that most of us couldn’t even imagine.
Leveraging his charisma as a reality distortion field, Jobs had an almost god-like complex. He could convince himself and others to believe just about anything. In one scene of the new Steve Jobs non-biopic, when engineer Andy Hertzfeld complains about the short timeline for creating a demo, Jobs says, “You had three weeks. The universe was created in a third of that time.” Hertzfeld snaps, “Well, someday, you’ll have to tell us how you did it.”
Although we don’t need Jobs’s reality distortion field or god-like complex to see what can’t be seen, we do need faith. But faith in what? Is all faith created equal?
According to modern psychology, self-esteem is at the root of our failures and small dreams. We need to believe in ourselves, nurture positive self-views, dwell on our accomplishments, and stop thinking about our shortcomings.
Almost everyone in our culture subscribes to this type of faith. The progenitor of positive thinking, Norman Vincent Peale, says, “Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities!” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg writes, “I wish I could just go tell all the young women I work with, all these fabulous women, ‘Believe in yourself and negotiate for yourself. Own your own success.’”
But believe-in-yourself faith has limits. First, too much confidence often means too little fear of failure—and fear of failure has a good and right place in our lives. It tells us where we’re doing well or need to improve. It helps us take reasonable risks instead of foolish ones.
Second, faith in oneself can distort reality. If having a reality distortion field made Jobs a successful entrepreneur, it failed him as a father. In the film, it’s hard to miss the connection between his own adoption trauma and his rejection of his own daughter. When his character finally accepts what he has done, he admits to her, “I’m poorly made.” In other words, he’s a creator, but he’s an all-too-human one.
This believe-in-yourself faith creeps into churches, too. It’s easier to embrace a faith over which we can have some kind of control. We can be self-disciplined, follow the rules, and do good works. We can read the right blogs, memorize the right catechisms, and embrace the right theology. We put God in our debt and save ourselves through good works.
We need faith in something other than ourselves, but the problem is that this world has no foundations. Everything is winding down and unraveling. Our family and friends will eventually move away or die. Our looks will fade. (We’re already wrinkling!) Our economic security will fluctuate.
The writer of Hebrews offers a faith with a sure—but an unseen—foundation. He writes:
By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith, he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents. . . . For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Heb. 11:8-10)
Throughout his life, Abraham was increasingly called by God into insecurity. God told him to leave his country and, when he asked where, God said, “I’ll tell you later.” God told him that he’d give him a son and, when he asked how, God said, “I’ll show you later.” God told him to go up the mountain to sacrifice his son and, when he asked why, God said, “I’ll tell you later.” Abraham answered the call away from security—over and over and over.
The Lord uprooted Abraham’s false foundations because he wanted Abraham to be a person of substance with an unshakable faith—not in himself, but in God. He wanted Abraham to see what couldn’t be seen—an everlasting city with a sure foundation.
And that foundation isn’t based on the strength of our faith, but on the strength of the object of our faith. In other words, we don’t need Jobs’s reality distortion field or god-like complex to have big dreams; we just need a God who is big and real. As Tim Keller illustrates:
If you’re falling off a cliff and see a branch that might hold you, your being saved isn’t dependent on your faith in that branch. Even in your doubt, if you reach out, that branch will save you if its roots are strong.
If there are two people on a plane—one is a phobic passenger who thinks the plane will go down at every bump, and the other is a frequent flier who sleeps through turbulence—neither their big faith nor their little faith matters, but only the competence of the crew and the integrity of the aircraft.
This is why Jesus says, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you’” (Matt. 17:20)—not because we believe in ourselves, but because we believe in the one who created the mountain.
Our Creator God came to dwell among us as a human (Jn. 1:14), but unlike Jobs, he’s not flawed. Even though he created the universe in a week by his mere word, he humbled himself by becoming obedient—even to death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-11). And he did this because our believe-in-yourself faith couldn’t save us; we needed a Savior. He took our flaws and sin so that we could take his perfection and beauty.