Since his death in 2011, people have been unsure what exactly to think of Steve Jobs. Many remember him for changing the world with his revolutionary products, such as the iPhone and the iPad, and even go as far as saying that he was the Thomas Edison of our time. Despite this praise, there are many others that are highly critical of Jobs, saying he was impossible to work with, mistreated those around him, and cared for no one. The recently released biopic movie Steve Jobs explores this troubled, personal, side of Jobs while placing particular emphasis on what people are perhaps most critical of Jobs for: his treatment of his daughter.
The controversy surrounding Jobs’ daughter began with Chrisann Brennan, Jobs’ high school girlfriend with whom he had an off and on relationship for years. Their relationship ended, when Jobs took a trip to India, only to be rekindled upon his return. However, once his company, Apple, took off and began to grow at a stunning rate, Jobs’ relationship with Brennan again began to fail. She was prepared to end the relationship in 1977 until she discovered that she was pregnant and that Jobs was the father. Jobs’ reaction to this news is where much of the criticism is focused. He refused to speak to Brennan about the pregnancy and denied that the child was his. When a paternity test proved he was the father, he denied the test, citing skewed statistical evidence to prove his case. Once the child, Lisa, was born, he was distant from her, barely giving any money to Brennan for child support even as he made millions. Eventually a court order forced him to give a small amount of child support based on the paternity test and he complied, paying a few hundred dollars a month, but he still remained distant from Lisa until later in her life.
This story is the driving force behind much of the criticism of Jobs. People wonder how a society look up to a man who, despite his achievements, treated his family so poorly. This desire to be so critical of a person after death creates an interesting conflict with one of the fundamental tasks we have as Catholics: forgiveness. We as Catholics are encouraged to forgive others and try to understand them and use that understanding to lead to forgiveness. How can we do that when a person is already gone? It seems that the instinct of many is not to forgive others after death, but to be more critical of them. Once the person is gone we lose much of the ability to try to understand them, and without that ability we often no longer feel the need to find a reason to forgive them. This is the case with Jobs. It has been easy to be critical of him since his death, and there have been an abundance of books and movies that justifiably are, but there has been little thought put into if he deserves forgiveness.
The Bible teaches us that we are expected to forgive those who seek out forgiveness, and God will do the same, forgiving those that seek His forgiveness. Jesus says in Luke 17: 3-4, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The question most relevant to Jobs then becomes, did he seek or desire forgiveness?
As time went on, Jobs’ did become closer to Lisa and became more willing to work with Brennan to raise her. He did also admit paternity. As Lisa got older, Jobs did make efforts to try to be there for her and was much more willing to offer financial support to her and Brennan including paying for Lisa to attend Harvard University. These actions may not give us the definitive evidence that Jobs was seeking forgiveness and therefore should be forgiven, but they do show us that it is worth considering if Jobs deserves forgiveness. He was absolutely not perfect, but as Catholics, we do not believe perfection is a prerequisite for forgiveness. Rather than being so quick to judge based on what we see or hear about him, consider if Jobs ever felt the remorse that could lead to his forgiveness.