(First posted January 18, 2013)
Hoo boy. This can be a really hot topic, and I’m sure there are many who would not agree with some of the things I’m about to say. The attitude that depression is simply a sin problem is still alive and well out there. Those who ascribe to that position will tell you that if you will confess your sin, forsake it, and get right with God, your depression will lift.
Is that ever really true? Sure, I suppose it can be. Clearly, living with hidden or overt sin in your heart will make you unhappy and out of sorts with both God and man if there is any sense of right and wrong in you. The Holy Spirit moves in our hearts to convict us of sin. When He does, we need to confess, repent, and forsake that sin if we are to be right with God and able to sleep peacefully.
However, I disagree strongly with the idea that all depression is simply a sin problem. That’s an over-simplification. I have known people both personally and professionally who have struggled with terrible depression and have begged God to reveal their sin to them, only to fall more deeply into misery when they hear no answer, drowning in a quagmire of guilt.
It seems to me there has to be a more balanced explanation, and I believe there is. If you will go back and read my other posts on depression, you will better understand what I’m about to say here.
Let’s look at the story of Elijah in I Kings 18: 17-19:15. Please read it for yourself. What you’re about to get here is my condensed version of this great story.
King Ahab had told Elijah that he, Elijah, was “troubling Israel.”Elijah’s response was direct and condemning; Ahab and his ancestors were the ones to blame for the present drought, because they had forsaken God and turned to idols. Elijah then challenged Ahab to gather up all the people of Israel, along with the prophets of Baal, the false God, and send them to Mount Carmel for a little contest.
When everyone had arrived, Elijah proclaimed himself to the only true prophet of God who remained. You want to talk about lonely?
He then challenged the false prophets to make an offering, and to lay it on an altar stacked with wood, but to lay no fire under the altar. He would do the same. He then instructed them to call on the name of their god, and he would call on the name of the Lord. The God Who answered with fire would then be proclaimed the true God of Israel.
Well, you know what happened. Baal’s priests cried and prayed, moaned and wept; they even cut themselves so blood would flow, to impress their god. Elijah mocked at them in 18:27, suggesting that perhaps Baal had taken a little nap, or was on a vacation. It was all to no avail. They jumped up onto the altar, bleeding “copiously,” while Baal did nothing. Silence.
Then Elijah ordered the people to come closer to him, and he built an altar with twelve stones to represent the tribes of Israel. He dug a huge trench around the altar, and commanded that four barrels of water be poured over the offering. The water would be captured in the trench. Then he told them to do it again. Four more barrels. A third time, and the trench was filled, the meat sodden, the wood soaking wet.
At the time of the evening sacrifice, Elijah prayed. He said, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that Thou art the Lord God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again.”
And the fire of God came down and consumed the sacrifice, the stones, the wood, and the water! Wouldn’t you love to see the video of that? The people repented, and Elijah told them to gather up all the false prophets, and he took them down to the brook Kishon, and he killed them all there. Not one of them escaped.
Do you think Elijah may have been a little weary after such a busy day? Do you think he was spent emotionally, physically, even spiritually? Sure he was. We all would be. This was a day-long trial. He was exhausted, even though God had given him such a victory.
So what happens next? Well, Elijah told Ahab to go get some lunch, because it was going to rain, children. And Elijah went back up the mountain, sat down, put his head between his knees, and while his servant watched, he waited for the rain. When it came, God strengthened Elijah and we are told that he tied up his robe around his waist and raced Ahab, who was riding, and went to visit Queen Jezebel.
I’ve always wondered why he did that. Jezebel wasn’t overly fond of Elijah. When Ahab told Jezzie what had happened, she sent a message to Elijah that told him she would have his life by the next day. Our great man of God, who had won the day and conquered evil, then turned back around and ran for his life, fleeing to the wilderness.
Finally, he sat down to rest under a juniper tree and begged God to let him die. He was weary to the bone, sick at heart, defeated and dejected because the queen wanted his head. The rest of the story tells how God revived him, spoke quietly to him, and set him back on his feet.
What was Elijah’s great sin? I suppose you could say he lost his faith that God would protect him, and that would be true as far as it goes. However, I believe that lapse of faith was based on more than simple unbelief. Elijah’s great faith is clearly apparent in the preceding events, after all. No, I think there was physical exhaustion, emotional emptiness, spiritual depletion that all played in to a time of depression. He wanted to die!
How quickly we can forget what God has already done for us, and fall into a period of wanting to give up, to just drift into nothingness, and leave all our worries and troubles behind! When this happens, it is of course partially spiritual. But we cannot discount the impact of being completely physically spent. When our bodies wear out, so does our ability to think biblically and logically. We can be consumed with our emotional reactions, and lose sight of our faith for a while.
Even Jesus went aside to rest when he was constantly ministering to the crowds. If He needed a time apart to restore His spirit, how much more do we!