This is second of a two-part article on the causes and cure for depression. In the first part, I covered eight of the most common causes of depression: exhaustion, fear, finances, health, family, addictions, loneliness, and loss. The common denominator linking all depression is a feeling of hopelessness. Depression tells us there is no hope of things getting better, no hope of change. You’re probably depressed from just reading all of this! So the question is, “How can we overcome depression? Does God’s Word have anything to say about this most prevalent of mental illnesses?” Yes, it does.
Probably the clearest and most detailed account of a figure in the Bible who struggled with depression is the prophet Elijah. In 1 Kings 19:1-18 we read of how Elijah went through a major depressive episode in which he wanted to die. Here’s the backstory. Elijah was mightily used of God to defeat the 450 prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-46). When King Ahab reported the death of the prophets of Baal to his wife, Jezebel, she threatened to kill Elijah within 24 hours (1 Kings 19:2). Elijah was terrified and fled for his life to the wilderness.
Here are several observations about depression from the life of Elijah:
1. Exhaustion. After defeating the 450 prophets of Baal in a showdown over who really is God, Baal or God Almighty, Elijah prayed for rain to end the three year drought and, when rain came, he outraced King Ahab to Jezreel (1 Kings 18). He was emotionally and physically exhausted. He was ripe for depression. We often hit the wall and become depressed on the heels of our greatest triumphs. Depression follows on the heels of emotional and physical exhaustion.
2. Fear. When Elijah heard Jezebel’s threat to have him killed within 24 hours he was terrified and ran for his life into the wilderness north of Beersheba (1 Kings 19:3, 4). Fear can be the “trigger” for depression. We fear that we have blown it and there’s no way to repair the damage. That leads to hopelessness, despair, and depression.
3. Isolation. Elijah left his servant-companion in Beersheba and went alone into the wilderness seemingly to die (1 Kings 19:4). Depression can cause us to isolate from others. We pull into ourselves and don’t want to be around others because they wouldn’t understand what we’re going through.
4. Death wish. Elijah prayed to the Lord and requested that God take his life (1 Kings 19:4). This is the compound result of the stress and fear in his life. God doesn’t condemn Elijah for wanting to die. Rather He lovingly dispatches an angel to feed him two meals of warm bread and water (1 Kings 19:5-8). When we’re depressed we usually have no appetite. Food isn’t appealing.
Prescription #1: Let God minister to you. He knows what you need and will lovingly meet that need if you’ll let Him. Pray and ask Him. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”
Prescription #2: Eat something. Eating food is an important part of God’s prescriptions for curing depression. Food gives us the emotional and physical energy we need to move forward with our lives.
5. Isolation #2. Elijah is still not ready to be with people and so hides out in a cave on Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:8, 9). God doesn’t condemn Elijah for isolating again but He does gently ask, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” It is not uncommon to have to battle depression repeatedly. Many people are genetically predisposed to depression.
6. God is Powerful. Elijah is told to stand at the cave entrance and watch the power of God. God shows him His power through a whirlwind that nearly destroys the mountain, an earthquake that rumbled through the cave, fire from God, and a gentle blowing wind. Those signs of God’s power should drive us to our knees in repentance.
Prescription #3: Repent. Repent that your perception of God is too small. Repent that you thought you had to figure your own way out of this predicament. Repent that you stopped trusting Him to deliver you and tried to deliver yourself.
7. Distorted reality. Elijah has a distorted view of his circumstances. He tells God how zealous he’s been for Him and how Israel has turned to idols and slain the prophets. He declares that he alone is left of all the prophets in Israel (1 Kings 19:14). God sets him straight that he is not the only prophet in Israel. God has 7,000 prophets left (1 Kings 19:18). Talk about distorted sense of reality, Elijah was having a “pity party” for himself complete with the “oh poor me’s.” When we’re depressed we aren’t seeing reality clearly. We have a gray filter through which we are seeing things. It isn’t accurate and it isn’t true. Reject it!
Prescription #4: See reality clearly. You are not alone. You never were. God promised to “never leave nor forsake you” (Hebrew 13:5). People care about you so stop with the “oh poor me’s.”
8. Move forward. God told Elijah that his ministry was not finished. He still had work for him to do; the work of anointing kings and his successor, Elisha.
Prescription #5: Serve others. Depression causes us to focus all our attention on ourselves and our problems. Get outside of yourself. The powerful prescription of God is to turn from our feelings in faith and begin serving others. Our feelings will catch up in time. Don’t allow your feelings to “drive the train” of your life.
So, those are the 5 prescriptions God gives us from the life of Elijah: draw near to God, eat something to replenish your strength, repent of not trusting God completely, start seeing reality clearly again, and, by faith, begin serving others.
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for Thou art with me,”