When I was little, thunderstorms scared me. The flash of lightning, the roar of thunder, heavy rain, and the raging wind – I thought it was all terrifying, so I hid. Grabbing a blanket, I would pull it over my face and close my eyes. I hoped that if I hid from the storm it would go away. As I got older, a new storm, called depression came into my life. Even though I tried to hide from it, pulling a blanket over my head wouldn’t make it go away.
Everything felt dark – I would sit with my friends, surrounded by laughter and good company, and yet I felt nothing but isolation and hopelessness. I didn’t understand why I felt that way, and as a result, my mental health deteriorated. Sometimes I would hear people talk about how if I had “more of Jesus” all my problems would change. And that’s a common mindset in our day to day Christian lives: that Christians do not or should not get depressed if they’re walking with God. It raises the question, “Why would Christian get depressed if they have Jesus?”
What is the definition of depression?
Defining depression is a difficult task because it can be very different from person to person. Life with depression is something that I also struggle to define. To me, depression is that isolating, inexplicable feeling in my heart that, no matter what my circumstances are, does not go away. Think of it as a black hole. A black hole can form in many different ways, and each looks different. It’s the same way with depression.
Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines depression as the “state of being sad”. But that definition doesn’t provide any answers. For those of us who have had little to no experience with depression the mystery of it all increases. The National Institute for Mental Health provides a few examples of what symptoms of depression can be: persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood, feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in hobbies or activities, and other examples. They also mention that not everybody who is depressed experiences every symptom; some may only experience a few whereas others experience many. Clearly there is no formula to follow to explain depression.
While there is no clear formula for depression, what is clear is that it can make us feel isolated. It’s easy to get the impression that depression is unique to us. But the truth is many people suffer or have suffered from depression. But depression is not a new thing – cases of it date back over hundreds of years and are even recorded in the Bible. One of these examples is Elijah’s story in the Old Testament.
The Story of Elijah (1 Kings 18-19)
During Elijah’s time, the people of Israel were worshiping an idol called Baal. Elijah, a prophet of the Lord, challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest. He dared them to see whose god could bring down fire from heaven for a sacrifice. The prophets of Baal accepted Elijah’s challenge and called on Baal to send fire down from heaven, but nothing happened. When it was Elijah’s turn, he simply prayed and fire came down and burned up both the sacrifice and the altar. After this, Elijah had all the prophets of Baal killed.
This didn’t sit well with the people of Israel, specifically Queen Jezebel. When King Ahab informed her of what Elijah had done, she became enraged and sent death threats to Elijah. Elijah, informed of her plans, left his servant behind and fled the scene to hide in the wilderness. When he arrived, Elijah sat down under a broom tree and asked for death. “It is enough now, O Lord,” he said. “Take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Exhausted, Elijah fell asleep only to wake up to an angel, who ministered to him by providing food and drink. The second time the angel came to visit, Elijah rose and went to Horeb, the mount of God.
Then Elijah came to a cave and sought lodging and the Lord came to him and asked him, “What are you doing here?” Elijah explained his woes to God and He listened. Elijah explains how he was the only prophet left and the people of Israel wanted him killed as well. He felt completely alone. After listening to Elijah, God commanded him to exit the cave because He was going to pass by him. Elijah obeyed and a series of events happened.
“… And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.” (1 Kings 19:11b-12)
God again asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?” and Elijah responds with the same answer as before. This time, God answers the discouraged prophet by giving him a call to action and to get back to work. He informs Elijah of seven thousand Israelites who have not yet bowed down to Baal. Elijah is in fact, not alone.
Elijah’s story shows that depression is not unique to our generation. Even Christians, who are zealous for the Lord, get depressed too. Elijah was a man of God who was “doing everything right” and he was still subject to the grip of depression. His story exhibits the very real presence of God and how He continues to be present even in dark situations. Not only that, but God did not rebuke Elijah for hiding or being weak as a result of his depression. Instead, God was gracious and loving and sent an angel to help Elijah with food and water. God recognized Elijah’s needs and made sure that Elijah had what he needed to regain his strength. He met Elijah where he was at and helped him get enough strength to take the next step in his journey. In the words of Mike Sullivan, one of the teachers at Ethnos 360 Bible Institute, “God loves us just the way we are but He’s not content to leave us that way.”
How Elijah’s Story Relates to Us
Elijah’s story demonstrates the very real effects of depression and how it can impact our lives. Elijah, terrified of his circumstances, sought isolation as comfort. We do the same thing today when it comes to our circumstances. It’s a natural human instinct to run away from whatever is scaring us. God isn’t surprised when our first reaction to pain is to run away, but He still wants us to run to Him instead.
When Eljah ran away God pursued him and met him where he was. It’s easy today to assume that because we are followers of Christ we are immune to depression. However, God recognizes the real symptoms of our depression and understands our feelings. God does not condemn us for feeling depressed and so we should not condemn each other. Instead, we need to recognize the symptoms so we can encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We Are Not Forsaken
It’s easy for the doubting, depressed Christian to believe that God has forsaken them. We have the privilege to read Elijah’s story in hindsight. We have the privilege to know and see how God showed up for Elijah. From our point of view, it’s easy to say that Elijah had nothing to worry about. But in the moment it’s easier said than done. Spurgeon describes this situation by saying, “Nobody doubts that Elijah was a child of God; nobody questions the fact that God loved him even when he sat fainting under the juniper tree.” Zack Eswine, in his book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows, continues with this train of thought by saying that, “Even if we and Elijah have ‘cherished passions’ under that tree of which God ‘does not approve’ and Spurgeon continues by saying that, “The Lord did not forsake Elijah and He will not forsake you.”
You Are NOT Alone
So often we hear people talking about this light at the end of the tunnel. That phrase is usually used when someone is going through a rough time. Similarly, we use each other’s stories of depression to encourage one another to persevere. We have many stories of biblical heroes, such as Job, Elijah, King David, and even Jesus who have suffered depression at various amounts. But like Charles Spurgeon said, “You are not the first child of God who has been depressed or troubled. Even among the noblest of men and women who ever lived, there has been much of this kind of thing … Do not, therefore, think that you are quite alone in your sorrow.”
Hope & Where to Find It
After reading Elijah’s story it is relieving to know that even in the darkest of circumstances, the Lord met Elijah where he was and gave him comfort and rest. There was no condemnation for Elijah for running – only grace and the necessary love for him to keep going. God did not forsake Elijah in his time of need and so He doesn’t forsake us either. It’s easy to feel isolated from everyone and everything – especially God. But He is still faithful even when we are not. Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”
It’s easy to get lost in the storm of depression but there is hope. There are many websites you can visit or phone numbers you can call to reach out and find aid when you need it. Anthem of Hope is a great website you can go to find answers and receive further information. Ultimately, we can find our hope in the source of hope, in the One who created us.
How Elijah’s Story Has Helped Me
I have dealt with depression for several years now. September 13, 2017, I sat outside writing in my journal. “I’m scared,” I wrote. “And saying something scares me more than falling back into my black hole of depression. Maybe it’s due to exhaustion, but I struggle with getting up in the morning. I’m here at EBI for a reason, and I know why I’m here. I know I’m loved by the King but for some stupid, stupid reason I keep thinking that it’s not enough.”
It’s been two years since I wrote that in my journal. Now that I’m sitting on the outside of it, I can see how the Lord showed up for me. I was in Bible school, actively pursuing the Lord and I still fell into the arms of depression. Learning and reading about Elijah during this time helped me with perspective – that God was still present, regardless of how I felt.
Just as God had not abandoned Elijah, God has not abandoned me. And if He hasn’t abandoned me, then He won’t abandon you either. We can take comfort in knowing that He is always with us – even in dark situations like depression. Our God is constantly gracious with us and loves us so deeply. Every time I scream into my pillow asking, “Where are you, God?” I can take comfort in knowing that He is right there, and sometimes I just need to be still and listen, for He Who promised is faithful.
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