Longing for the mountaintop, sitting under a shrub: Depression
Gregory C. Lyon
Loneliness. Hopelessness. A lack of motivation. A lack of purpose. It’s been described as a black cloud that doesn’t go away. It’s not just having a bad day. It’s so much more than that.
Depression hits millions of people, shaking them to their core, challenging their beliefs. To think that Christians “should” just get over it or “shouldn’t” be feeling this way minimizes the damaging effects.
That doesn’t mean there’s no hope.
Elijah was God’s faithful prophet in the face of the vilest king and queen that Israel had ever known. What happened? He had the mountaintop experience when he literally saw God rain fire down his enemies (1 Kings 18). But that was then. In 1 Kings 19, this great prophet became a shell of himself with the struggles that are common to so many.
Can you identify some of those depressive symptoms (see 1 Kings 19:3,4,10,14)?
All the signs of depression are there for Elijah. He couldn’t just snap out of it, and you may have noticed that the Lord didn’t just make it disappear. Consider this: What is the main problem that Elijah identified? He faithfully served the Lord, and God had not taken away the person who is still trying to kill him!
God’s service to Elijah
So how does God serve Elijah in his great need? Read 1 Kings 19:5,6;7,8;9;11,12;18.
- God sent the angel of the Lord to give him food. Have you ever lost your appetite when you’re feeling depressed?
- God sent him on a journey. Have you ever felt like you’ve lost your purpose?
- God asked him a simple question: What are you doing here? Have you ever felt lost in your own thoughts, and a simple question brought it all out?
- God showed him his great power but came to him in a gentle whisper. He reminded Elijah of his gentle love. Have you ever needed to be put in your place when you feel that your problems are too big for God, only to be picked up by the quiet care of someone?
- God assured him that he was not alone. Have you ever needed the reminder that there are people who love you and are standing with you?
Maybe Elijah’s story is a story just for you because God didn’t take away what Elijah perceived to be his biggest problem. Instead he used Elijah’s identified problem—the thing that drove him to the depths—in order to pick him back up and give him hope, purpose, and the companionship of those who remained faithful. With that in mind,
Complete this sentence:
This Bible account shows me that God is ________________ FOR ME.
There is help for you if you suffer from depression. The help you need may be professional help. Seek out that help! And as you do, know that God is there with you in the most unexpected ways through the most unexpected people. Even in this dark place, he is there.
This is the third article in a six-part series on applying biblical narratives to our lives.
Greg Lyon provides some additional questions and answers for the above Bible study.
Can you identify some of those depressive symptoms in the following verses?
● 1 Kings 19:3—Despite all evidence, Elijah has what could be described as an irrational fear. Yes, Jezebel was trying to kill him (I’d be scared too), but he had just seen a clear display of God’s power. Those depressive thoughts can’t simply be controlled despite all evidence pointing to the opposite. Elijah didn’t have to fear.
● 19:4—Elijah is having thoughts of his end. While suicidal ideations can be part of a depressive episode, I don’t believe that Elijah is threatening suicide here. It seems that he is resigning himself to his fate. He feels as though he’s done everything he can do and still nothing is getting better. This is a resignation that can be evident with someone suffering from depression.
● 19:10—Notice Elijah’s anger. What do you think his journey leading to that point was like? This doesn’t sound like a man humbly kneeling before his God. This sounds like a fed up, frustrated prophet who hasn’t been given the option to quit. His resignation has now shifted to anger. Anger can also be present in those suffering from depression.
● 19:14—Notice the great shift. Elijah uses the exact same words that he did in 19:10 but do you sense a different tone this time? Elijah has seen the great power of the Lord in wind, earthquake and fire, but God wasn’t there. He was in the gentle whisper. I get the picture of a father getting on his knees to talk to his three-year-old who is throwing a temper tantrum. It is a loving, caring, yet stern whisper. And God approaches him with a question. All these spinning thoughts in Elijah’s head, and God is direct with him. With those suffering from depression, we might be tempted to talk them out of it. Sometimes a direct question might help clarify things in their own head . . . but be ready to listen!
So how does God serve Elijah in his great need?
● 19:5b-6—Have you ever felt so down that you didn’t feel like eating? All that emotion and stress just pushed right down into your stomach? The angel came to Elijah and gave him some food. Notice also that it specifically says that the angel touched Elijah. There are great blessings in human touch. A handshake, a hug, an arm around the shoulder. One should not presume that touch is welcome, though.
● 19:7,8—Once again the angel touches Elijah. Without getting into the details (I’m not a neuroscientist), human touch can reduce stress hormones (cortisol) and increases hormones that can build trust and build relationships (oxytocin). Again, one should not presume that touch is welcome, but when appropriate, human touch with someone with depression can be a powerful relationship and trust builder. Notice also that more food is given because the angel says, “The journey is too much for you.” If you’re Elijah you might be asking yourself, “What journey?” The message was clear. God is not done with him. The angel has given Elijah a sense a purpose and meaning, something often lacking for those with depression.
● 19:9—God approaches Elijah with a question. Similar to how he approached Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. God knows what’s going on with Elijah, but Elijah needed an opportunity to be heard. So God asked him a question and Elijah was heard. Consider the same as you talk with those suffering from depression. They may not need to be talked at but listened to.
● 19:11,12—Depression can lead people to be so focused on themselves that they can’t see anything else. In a loving and caring way, God brought Elijah to see something else and ready himself to listen. And Elijah did so, with humility (he pulled his cloak over his head). I want to stress listening when talking with those who have depression. With Elijah, God listened and now it was time for him to talk and Elijah was ready to listen. With that said, do not presume that someone you are talking to who is suffering from depression is ready to listen to you. Leave that to the trained professionals. Simply be ready to listen.
● 19:18—While each person’s situation is unique, it is good for people to know that they are not alone. They may feel like they are the only ones who are experiencing what they are experiencing, and to some extent, that may be true. But depression (in particular) is very common. As Christians, we may feel like we’re the only ones left or that we are the only ones suffering from depression. And the overriding thought might be one of guilt because “Christians aren’t supposed to feel this way.” But Christians hurt just as much as everyone else. But Christians have reason to have hope even in the midst of the reality of depression. Depression doesn’t define us! God does. And your identity is simple: “YOU ARE MINE” says our God by virtue of your own baptism. You are not alone in your depression nor in your hope!
Author: Gregory C. Lyon
Volume 107, Number 03
Issue: March 2020