The virus that stopped Leroy Jethro Gibbs: Learning the transforming power of humility

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The virus that stopped Leroy Jethro Gibbs: Learning the transforming power of humility

March 24, 2020 -

The coronavirus pandemic is doing what nothing else has been able to do: shut down Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

NCIS has been one of my favorite television shows for seventeen years. Mark Harmon has played “Gibbs” for all of these years. He leads a team that investigates crimes against naval personnel, coming up against murderers and terrorists regularly.

Over the years, Gibbs has been kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured. He has survived more trauma than any fictional character this side of Superman. Through it all, he has been the iron man of television.

But now we have learned that NCIS is closing production early because of coronavirus. This season’s eighteenth episode airs on March 24; after that, there are only two episodes left.

‘No man is an island’

I don’t know of a television character who is more self-reliant than Gibbs. He lives alone, builds a boat in his basement alone, and deals with a lifetime of trauma alone.

In many ways, he is the quintessential hero of our day. Gibbs is a kind of American James Bond, another celebrated loner. They hearken back to the Horatio Alger stories of an earlier day, which were famous for their portraits of self-made success.

There is much to commend hard work, of course. And to encourage self-reliance and entrepreneurial creativity.

But, as John Donne noted, “No man is an island.” None of us was made to live without the rest of us.

When God created Adam, the only person who was truly alone in the world, the Creator soon stated, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). From then to now, he has made us to do life together. We are branches on a vine, parts of a body, each of us participating in what all of us can do in Christ.

“Humility comes before honor”

To that end, one of the ways I am praying for God to redeem the pandemic is to use it to show us the folly of Gibbs-like self-reliance. That’s because depending on God and working with others requires a kind of humility that is usually learned the hard way.

You and I are surrounded by a secular culture that elevates pride and self-promotion. One consequence of our technological and medical progress is that we think we are masters of the world in ways no previous generation did.

Generations before us had to live with polio, smallpox, influenza, and cholera outbreaks. They lived through world wars and in danger of nuclear holocaust. They knew that if war broke out, they would likely serve in some sacrificial way. They had less control of their world than we think we do.

The coronavirus pandemic shows us that we are just as dependent, just as much creatures as were our parents and grandparents. As Solomon noted, “Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12).

Did you hear that? “Humility comes before honor.”

What is the pathway to true humility?

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis noted: “In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

Are you looking down or up today?

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