Depression. A dictionary or thesaurus gives us some striking synonyms: a hollow, a cavity, a sinkhole. It is where something inside has given way causing the surface to fall in. The person experiencing depression has had that experience — the experience of something inside giving way, the loss of some internal structure or support.
Elijah was there. In the Old Testament reading yesterday we heard from him: “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
For context, let’s recall the tremendous deeds of this towering figure. Elijah calls for a drought upon Israel at the word of the Lord — punishment for the idolatry being led by King Ahab and his Baal-worshipping, Sidonian wife, Jezebel. Elijah is fed miraculously by ravens. He spares a widow and her son from the drought-induced famine by another miracle, and when the young man dies, Elijah raises him from the dead. But he is only getting started.
The great contest of Carmel pits four hundred and fifty self-mutilating prophets of Baal against this single servant of Yahweh, who calls down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice and the altar and the water in the trench around the altar. He then executes the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, calls down rain from heaven to end the drought, and just for good measure, outruns a chariot for 19 miles.
But Jezebel says: “I am going to kill him just as dead as he killed my prophets,” and something gives way inside of this great prophet and wonder-worker and he goes and lies down under a tree and says, “God, take away my life.”
That’s right. Elijah has fallen into depression and it is very interesting what God does with him. First, God sends an angel to him twice with food and drink — tenderly urging him to strengthen himself for the journey God wants him to make. So sustaining is this food that he goes on a journey of forty days to Mount Horeb.
But he is no less depressed when he arrives. He lies down again, this time in a cave, and God asks him gently, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He repeats his anguished cry to be allowed to die, this time adding that he is all alone — he is the only faithful servant of God left in the land and (in case God has not noticed) Jezebel has decided to kill him.
Having heard the cry of Elijah’s heart, God answers, not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, not with His display of power, but with a still, small voice — a voice that by its gentleness entices Elijah to stand up, to listen. And again, God asks him what is wrong and once again, Elijah repeats his complaint, shares his loneliness. And then gently, with that same small voice God tells Elijah that He has several very important tasks for him to accomplish. And when God is finished assigning Elijah his new jobs, God says: “Oh, and by the way, there are still seven thousand who have not bent the knee to Baal. You see Elijah, you are not alone.”
God has a message for all of us. Depression can srike anyone, no matter how powerful, energetic, or indomitable a person seems to be. Depressed people are not realistic and they might make repeated complaints, but they need someone to listen to them and they may even need physical care. So care. Listen.
God has a message for all who are depressed. It is a message of tender care and concern. God is listening to your pain. He has a purpose for you. And you are not alone.