As a counselor, I talk with many people struggling with feelings of depression on a regular basis. Oftentimes, these people are Christians and their feelings of depression are amplified by an unnecessary guilt that Christians shouldn’t feel depressed. I believe one day, that will be true. When Jesus returns and we are with Him in glory, we will no longer deal with the sin and death of our fallen world and fallen bodies. Until then, however, depression is an emotional response every Christian should expect to deal with at some point in his life. So how does God “treat” depression?
The story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19 is one of my favorites for illustrating exactly how God treats Elijah’s depression. Since depression is an emotion that doesn’t pop up out of nowhere, let’s first take a look at how Elijah becomes depressed in the first place. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah has just witnessed God do some miraculous things, including providing abundantly during a time of draught, raising a child from the dead, miraculously defeating the prophets of Baal, proving Baal was a false, pagan God, and then opening the skies to bring rain after a 3.5 year-long draught. In spite of all of these events, the minute Elijah heard the queen wanted to kill him, Scripture tells us he “became afraid and immediately ran for his life” (1 Kings 19:3, CSB). He took his mind away from the power of God and focused on threats of man, and in his fear he fled to the wilderness. While alone in the wilderness, he despaired to the point of wanting to die, “He said, “I have had enough! Lord, take my life, for I’m no better than my fathers.” (1 Kings 19:4, CSB). Elijah felt his own discouragement, and because he compared himself to his fathers, felt like a failure. God wasn’t doing what Elijah imagined He ought to do, and that perspective was depressing.
So what does God do? While Elijah slept, He sent an angel who could be felt by Elijah; in his despair, God reminded Elijah he wasn’t alone. Through the angel, God provided bread and water for Elijah, and he allowed him to sleep. After a time, He prompted Elijah to get up and go to a holy place at Mt. Horeb. It was in this holy place that Elijah shares his despair with God, ““I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Armies, but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking for me to take my life.” (1 Kings 19:10, CSB). His perspective is of himself and his own works, and he feels like a failure, alone and afraid. It is in this moment that God tells Elijah to go stand in His presence, and passes by him, not in a display of great, obvious power, but in a still whisper. Elijah had to be obediently listening and waiting to catch it. After this, God corrects Elijah’s perspective by giving Him more instructions. Elijah would anoint the next leaders and even his own replacement, as God would provide 7000 faithful Israelites. God corrects Elijah’s perspective by making him useful and showing him that he is not alone. Elijah goes on to have an incredible ministry for the Lord, and in a true answer to his old fears, God allows him to escape death entirely, taking him up to heaven in a strong wind (2 Kings 2:11-12)
During Elijah’s depression, God met his physical needs with food and rest first, and then took him to a holy place where God would correct Elijah’s wrong perspective. After this private time with God, Elijah was able to go on serving the Lord with purpose. So when you find yourself depressed, do not neglect your physical needs for good food and rest. Sometimes we need a snack and a nap! Then get yourself to a place where you can honestly converse with God, shifting your perspective from yourself and your own circumstances to one that matches His. God takes care of Elijah in His despair but doesn’t let him stay in the wilderness he fled to. God will take you out of your wilderness, too, and use you for His glory. He is faithful, and you are useful, no matter what your feelings tell you. God will never leave you alone in your depression, and it will not overtake you. He is faithful, and our circumstances are fleeting. Fix your mind on what’s true, and be ready for God to show up.