Was Elijah Depressed?

“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:

elijahfood

Elijah Fed by an Angel, by Ferdinand Bol

“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).

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About Corey Sharpe

Where do we get our beliefs? Three theological perspectives have significantly shaped my Christian identity: Evangelicalism, the early Methodist tradition and liberation theology. From my coming to faith in a Baptist church and throughout my education in a Baptist school and college, I was nurtured by convictions that emphasized a spiritual rebirth, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the centrality of the Bible. Even when I disagree with certain aspects of evangelicalism, it has deeply influenced my sense of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. My seminary studies spawned my interest in early Methodism, particularly its approach to spiritual formation. Its leaders were convinced that only a foundation of doctrine and discipline would lead to a meaningful transformation of the heart and mind. In other words, having the mind of Christ enables me to be more like Christ. Life in a suburban culture obscures the increasing gap between the poor and rich, as well as the Bible’s close identification with the poor. My doctoral work in socio-cultural context exposed me to liberation theology, which helps me see redemptive history as a history of oppressed groups, written from the perspective of the powerless, about a God who is actively involved with the poor in their struggles. I am now the pastor at Huntingtown United Methodist Church in Calvert County, Maryland. Together my wife and I are raising 4 young theologians.
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