THE BIBLE has a basic passage considering every major human problem. This consideration is seldom repeated and never in detail. This basic fact of biblical structure applies to the biblical revelation of God’s cure for emotional depression. The matter is described, illustrated and a solution given in 1 Kings 18 and 19.
God’s dealings with Elijah reveal basic facts regarding emotional depression. The temperament most subject to depression is illustrated in the prophet Elijah. He was intense, capable of extreme exhilaration and had little need for human companionships. The remarkable foot race in which he outran the king’s chariot (1 Kings 18:46) reveals the great excess to which his emotion could carry him.
Everyone may have depressive moments and moods, but the Elijah type is most likely to have excessive, disabling depression. The emotions can soar and plunge. Joy can be overwhelming and, in contrast, sadness can become submerging. Persons with this temperament need to be aware of the possibility of depression and guard against its approach.
The time when depression is most likely is seen clearly in Elijah’s experience. He was not depressed when his first message to Ahab produced no visible results (1 Kings 17:1); nor when he was secreted at Cherith and sustained by the unclean bird, the raven (1 Kings 17:2-7). The drought which robbed him of Cherith’s stream did not cause depression, nor did his various experiences in the stay with the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-24). The faithlessness of believing Obadiah (1 Kings 18:12) and the silence of the challenged nation of Israel (1 Kings 18:21) did not cause depression.
Elijah, however, became greatly depressed after his tremendous triumph on Carmel. That triumph was threefold. It gave an irrefutable demonstration of the existence, power and authority of Jehovah. It led to the destruction of the basic core of Baal worship and ended the three-and-a-half-year drought, resulting in Israel’s national prosperity.
Immediately after this tremendous spiritual and social triumph, Elijah plunges into depression. This teaches us that emotional depression follows emotional exhilaration. The person with an aptness for depression needs to guard against the “let down” that follows great victories.
This principle shows the inherent danger in any religion which stresses emotional exercise. Religious experiences that are primarily emotional will always tend to produce periods of depression. As a result, the adherents swing from elation to depression. All true working of the Holy Spirit maintains a sound emotional-intellectual balance.
The trigger of Elijah’s depression was the threat of Jezebel (1 Kings 19:2). Ahab’s report of Elijah’s victory roused Jezebel to implacable fury. She promptly threatened Elijah with the fate to which he had subjected the prophets of Baal. This threat sent Elijah on his journey and plunged him into emotional darkness.
COUNTLESS despondencies can be traced to a single act or word by some associate of the despondent. My own failure to greet a fellow college student sent him into a morose mood. A thoughtless word, an inadvertent deed, an unintentional oversight by a friend and the gloom descends.
The folly of Elijah’s reaction is evident. Jezebel’s threat was all bark and no bite. She had no one to carry out her proposal. Her own husband would not dare oppose a national mood in which, for the moment at least, Elijah was an unqualified hero. Those who had waited for three and a half years to see the drought break were not in a mood to kill the man whose prayer had brought the rain.
The immediate cause of a depression mood is seldom valid. The word which triggered the depression may not have been intended as interpreted. The action may have had another explanation and the supposed situation may be only the figment of a dark mood.
SINCE men may trigger depression, we must not place too much weight upon the words and deeds of men. Excessive occupation with man’s attitude toward us is a certain path to emotional disturbance. Let us view man’s acts and words in the perspective of God’s provision and purposes. They will not seem as formidable from that vantage point.
The tortures of depression are depicted vividly (1 Kings 19:3-4, 10, 14). First, Elijah’s depression mood caused him to leave his familiar surroundings and faithful servant. This unreasonable discontent with ordinary associations is the companion of depression.
Second, Elijah prayed for death. Disgust with life and a longing for suicide seem to attend the deep gloom of despondency. Only those who have felt this odd mixture – despair of life and desire for death – know how disturbingly painful it is.
Elijah reached the depth of depression’s terrors when he took it upon himself to argue with God. This attitude reveals the third effect of depression. It causes a loss of personal confidence in the promises of God and God of the promises.
This lack of confidence in God is often attended by an attitude of rebellion in which God is considered both unwise and unfair. The conscientious Christian knows this to be wrong. Thus he is tormented by the guilt of feelings which seem to be beyond his control.
The misery of a soul in this condition is keen beyond description. Elijah was not flippant in his conversation with God. His perplexity was painful beyond his understanding.
Fourth, Elijah conceived of himself as alone. Thus he suffered from what men call megalomania, “an excessive concept of one’s own importance.” Depression is so horrible because it shrinks one’s horizons until life is limited to self. One is persuaded that the whole world is against him. This selfish view leads to self-pity with a total loss of perspective.
Every person subject to depression has shared the pains experienced by Elijah. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
THE treatment of the depressed occupies the central part of our story and should lead us to an understanding of God’s cure for depression.
The first aspect of the treatment was physical. Elijah cried for death (1 Kings 19:4) but God gave him the essentials of life (1 Kings 19:6). Bread and water were delivered by an angel. The provision was divine though the channel was not Deity. The provision consisted of a proper diet and sufficient sleep. The proper diet was a baked cake and thirst-quenching liquid. The sleep was interrupted to provide more food (1 Kings 19:7). This interruption was explained by an allusion to a journey. This hint revealed the fact that God had disregarded Elijah’s petulant plea for death.
Proper food and ample rest are essential to psychological as well as physical health. Many a problem has seemed less insoluble after a good sleep. Any person with a known tendency to emotional exhaustion needs to guard against excessive weariness and unbalanced eating. Common sense living would defeat much of depression.
The second aspect of the treatment was psychological and spiritual. It consisted of an examination in which Elijah was given the opportunity to “get everything off his chest.” This confession was induced by the simple inquiry, “What doest thou here?” (1 Kings 19:9). Elijah’s reply was simple. I am despondent and have in a sense deserted my post of duty … (another accomplice of depression, the resignation from responsibility) because I have been zealous for God and forsaken by Him. I am all alone and my life is in danger because of my faithfulness (1 Kings 19:10).
Look at these words again. They express a question as to God’s dealings with him; they presuppose a state of total loneliness in faith; and they attribute to the people of Israel a murderous intent.
None of these assumptions was true. God had not forsaken Elijah. Elijah was not totally isolated. Israel did not seek to kill him. Jezebel was the only person who had expressed such a desire. Note that depression causes misconceptions concerning God, self and society.
In the proper time God showed Elijah that this confession was not factual. At the moment, however, He simply listened to the hot words.
Here, depressed friend, is a secret for you. Your depression comes from improper repression. You have bottled up your questions and resentments. You have no one to whom you may bare those secrets.
The Lord is your reliable “father confessor.” Speak to Him with total frankness. If you feel hurt, put it into your words. You’ll not shock Him. Get it out of your system. God knows you totally and, therefore, is able to hear you patiently. Jesus Christ died to provide this kind of access. The Spirit of God pleads with us to use it (Heb. 10:19, 22).
The third aspect of the treatment was basically spiritual. It consisted of a divine self-revelation and an explanation of God’s purpose as well as an exhibition of God’s person.
Note that nowhere did God ask Elijah to confess his depression as a sin. No doubt Elijah felt guilty because of his despondency. Depressed Christians always do. That God does not classify depressing unbelief as sin is significant.
The first movement of God in the spiritual cure was that of self-revelation. Elijah stood on the rock as the Lord passed by (1 Kings 19:11). (One is tempted to note that only those who are on the rock – Christ – can see the Lord.)
Four phenomena unfolded. A great wind gusted with rock-splitting power. An earthquake shook the ground. A fire blazed with transfixing suddenness. A still small voice was heard.
Why? It seems clear that Elijah had conceived God as always moving in great phenomenon. God’s self-revelation refuted this idea. The wind did not reveal God. The earthquake did not expose Deity. The blazing fire did not bare the Omnipotent. God was found in a still small voice.
We are troubled by the same misconcept. All around us we hear talk about power. Spiritual success is always measured in statistical summaries. The number of decisions registered marks the presence of God. Thus any absence of phenomenon is interpreted as an absence of the presence of God. Since we see no phenomenon, we conclude that God has left us. The sense of isolation issues in depression.
We need to see that God is not in phenomenon. He may employ it, but that is abnormal. His normal approach to the soul is the “still small” voice.
Depression is defeated when the Lord reveals Himself to the individual. This divine self-disclosure is usually accomplished as the person meditates quietly upon the written Word of God, the Bible.
The second aspect of the spiritual treatment was twofold. God authorized specific actions which Elijah was to perform and He explained the true status of the faithful in Israel.
Elijah was authorized to appoint a king and a prophet. In this command God was teaching Elijah that the political powers were not dependent upon him. This gave the lie to his petty complaint, “I alone am left.” The commissioning of a prophet to take his place showed Elijah that the Lord’s prophetic ministry was not limited to the person of Elijah.
This commission helped give Elijah proper perspective. Once he regained his perspective, he was able to disregard the moods of depression.
The perspective was clarified by God’s simple explanation that there were 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. The Lord knows where spiritual loyalties are. Elijah thought himself to be a company of one. God knew him to be one in 7,001. How foolish the “I alone” complaint now seemed.
Our depression moods will be less disastrous if we recall that we are just one in a goodly company. Excessive individualism can be as destructive as unquestioned following of a leader. May God give us a true perspective. May our personal devotional life keep that perspective clarified.
Finally, we should note the trace left by depression. As Elijah was preparing to leave the earth, his successor, Elisha, was with him, refusing to be separated from him.
“What do you want?” Elijah asks.
“A double portion of your spirit,” replies Elisha (2 Kings 2:9). This may have been a plea for a ministry twice as great as Elijah’s, for Elisha did perform twice as many miracles as Elijah. Or it may have been an Oriental way of saying, “I want to fill your boots.”
At any rate Elijah’s reply was, “It is a hard thing you have asked” (2 Kings 2:10).
What was hard about it? This was the very thing that Elisha was commissioned to be. Why the question in Elijah’s mind?
The answer seems clear. Elijah was still troubled by that nagging doubt which attends depression. He had known victory but a trace still remains.
Too many persons who have gained a victory over depression feel that it is a permanent conquest. They fail to see that they are of a temperament that is subject to depression. Repeat the conditions in which depression first came and it will return. Thus nagging moments of depression should not unduly disturb us; even Elijah had his nagging moments.
Two vital verses hold the key for preventing depression as well as triumphing over despondency:
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee” (Isa. 26:3), and “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2).
The essential answer to this problem lies in seeing God as He is and seeing ourselves dependent upon Him and able to trust completely in the rightness and wisdom of His provision.
The above is condensed from the author’s pamphlet.
James P. Vold, Moody Monthly, March, 1968.