Elijah’s Depression (originally written 10.1.13)

I’m starting a new bi-weekly series where I will share some of my favorite papers written when I was in seminary studying counseling.  They will be about faith, science, and faith + science!  

The Bible is not a psychotherapy manual, but the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 reveals much about depression, both in how humans experience it and in how God reacts to it. After Elijah witnesses the mighty power of God in burning up sacrifices (1 Ki 18:38-39), wiping out the Baal prophets (1 Ki 18:40), bringing rain after a drought (1 Ki 18:41-45), and empowering him to escape the wrath of Ahab (1 Ki 18:46), one would expect Elijah to feel strong and confident. Jezebel’s death threat (1 Ki 19:2) doesn’t sound all that threatening when God has just performed multiple miracles. Yet Elijah’s response to the threat is to flee to the desert outside Beersheba and lay down to die (1 Ki 19:3-4). This incongruence between experience and reality is normative for depressed persons. Although Elijah has every reason to trust God, he feels weary of his burden and wants his life to end.

Many Christians do not understand depression and therefore react badly to those suffering from it. Well-meaning Christians can give very bad advice that often leads to more guilt rather than deliverance from depression. How comforting, then, is God’s response! Rather than impressing upon Elijah his stupidity in not trusting the almighty God, He sends an angel to feed and care for Elijah (1 Ki 19:5-6). For forty days and nights, the angel gently leads Elijah through the desert to Mount Horeb (1 Ki 19:8-9). God takes care of Elijah’s needs for a month and a half, treating him with over-kindness and silent support. It is not until this loving foundation is laid that God speaks to Elijah and says, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Ki 19:9). This too is telling. God does not list all the ways in which He has been there for Elijah or guilt Elijah for his lack of trust. Instead, he invites Elijah into a conversation, meeting him where he is rather than demanding more from him than Elijah is capable of giving. Continue reading

God is Kind to Self-Absorbed Crybabies (Like Me)

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is 1 Kings 19.  In general, I love when the Bible surprises me, especially when it reveals someone I’ve been taught to think of as a hero of faith (in this case, the prophet Elijah) as a self-absorbed crybaby.  Even better, 1 Kings 19 reveals that God responds to Elijah’s whining with compassion and kindness.  This is exactly the sort of message I so often need to hear.

Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.  So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” (1 Kings 19:1-2)

This story takes place right after the showdown on Mount Carmel.  You might remember the Sunday School story where Elijah goes toe to toe with the prophets of Baal to see whose God is stronger.  The prophets of Baal shout, dance, and cut themselves in an attempt to get Baal to burn the sacrifice they offer.  But Elijah, in an awesome display of confidence, dowses his sacrifice in water, mocks Baal, and watches God send fire from heaven to claim an easy victory.  Solid moment for Elijah.  You would think he would be riding high on faith after such a display of God’s power.  Continue reading