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