“O Lord, take away my life…” 1 Kings 19:4
Elijah had just endured the incredible strain of single-handedly opposing 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah. God vindicated his faith, and he ran exuberantly for miles in front of the king’s chariot. When he heard that the king’s wife, Jezebel, vowed to kill him, he went into the wilderness and sat down under a broom tree.
Most pastors and spiritual caregivers are not qualified to diagnose clinical depression. This requires a complete medical history, a physical exam and depression screening. Doctors ask questions to look for common symptoms of depression, and how these are affecting a person’s ability to function. Depending on the screening tool, they might ask:
“Have you had any thoughts of suicide?” In his fear and exhaustion Elijah went into the wilderness, sat down under a broom tree, and said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life; for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4).
“How is your energy?” and “How is your sleep?” By the time Elijah got to the wilderness he was weak from fatigue. Twice he fell asleep, and twice an angel of the Lord said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you” (1 Kings 19:7).
“Do you prefer to stay at home rather than going out and doing new things?” Elijah resumed his journey, and moved in a cave. “The word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9).
“In the past two weeks, how often have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless?” Elijah poured out his despair before God: “The people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life” (1 Kings 19:10).
This is not a modern diagnosis of an emotionally distressed prophet. The causes and cures of clinical depression are complicated and mysterious, and should not be oversimplified. However, I see three important lessons in Elijah’s story that could apply to depression:
- Despite Elijah’s great faith he is one example of how grief and despair are recurrent themes throughout Scripture. Some of the greatest saints have walked through the darkest of times.
While we might feel awkward or embarrassed to talk about it, Christians are not immune to such feelings, including depression.
God is with us through our grief, despair and depression. For Elijah, this did not come in the form of wind, earthquake or fire, but in “the sound of a low whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).