Last week’s article gave introductory comments on the issue of depression from a biblical perspective. It covered two of the three categories of depression—mild and moderate. In this edition, we will examine the third category which is severe depression.
What is it? Unlike the first two categories, severe depression is a consuming, ongoing habit. A person started out in mild or moderate depression, but he continued to spiral downward into the abyss of darkness. These individuals lack motivation, happiness, and a will to live. In the most desperate of circumstances, a person may even consider suicide. Usually a severely depressed person can be spotted in the crowd. He has poor posture and a gloomy disposition. His body language screams depression.
Does the Bible give any examples of severe depression? Yes, it does. King David experienced this condition in Psalms 32 and 38, but we will study a third instance in 1 Kings 19. In the previous chapter of 1 Kings, the Lord had granted the prophet Elijah victory over the prophets of Baal. On Mt. Carmel, the prophets had a duel. First, the prophets of Baal tried to sacrifice a bull on the altar. They kept calling upon their gods to strike the offering with fire, but nothing happened. Elijah, then, set up a burnt offering. He called for the prophets to douse the wood and the burnt offering four times with water. In 1 Kings 18:38, God responded to Elijah’s prayer, “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust and licked up the water that was in the trench.” Afterwards the people killed all of the prophets of Baal.
Despite this great victory, Elijah’s mood quickly turned from joy to despair. Why? King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, sent a messenger who threatened Elijah’s life for his role in the Mt. Carmel incident. Elijah responded with fear, self-pity, and depression. He cried out to God, “‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers’” (1 Kings 19:4). Elijah’s fear snowballed into hopelessness. He would rather die than live.
What was Elijah thinking? How did he come to this conclusion? Elijah spoke to the Lord. “‘For 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, to take it away.’” (1 Kings 19:10, 14). Twice Elijah explains his thoughts. Israel has forsaken God by worshiping false idols. Elijah has served the Lord, but to no avail. He sees his situation as hopeless. He is the only one in Israel who worships the true God; however, the king’s wife is trying to kill him. As a result, he has given up.
God’s response to Elijah reveals that his perception of his circumstances does not match reality. God said, “‘Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him’” (1 Kings 19:18). Elijah thought that he was the only true worshiper left in Israel. He, therefore, reacted by becoming depressed. Yet, God tells Elijah that He has 7,000 worshipers who have not bowed down to the false god Baal. Elijah is not alone. Instead, God had preserved a whole army of worshipers.
This narrative illustrates two common problems with a person who is severely depressed. First, he trusts his feelings over the truth of Scripture. Wayne Mack writes in his book, “Out of the Blues,” “Depressed people are often controlled by their feelings and tend to practice ‘emotional reasoning;’ that is, they consider their personal feelings to be accurate and valid above all else.”
What is wrong with trusting your feelings? Your feelings are not perfect and without error. In fact, the Bible says that our hearts are “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). As finite fallen creatures, our feelings are tainted with sin and cannot be trusted. We must look to the Bible as the inerrant truth. When our feelings conflict with the Bible, we must obey the Bible and not our feelings. Elijah used his feelings as an excuse to not fulfill his responsibilities as a prophet. His response was not one of obedience but sin.
Second, Elijah did not trust in the sovereignty of God. He acted as if God was not in control. Wayne Mack posits, “Severely depressed people may say they believe in God’s control over their life and circumstances, but they do not really believe it.” Elijah’s fear and anxiety came from unbelief. He did not believe that God was in control of Ahab’s wife and could protect him from death. He also did not believe that martyrdom would be eternally good for him.
If you are a depressed Christian, you have great hope. Romans 8:28-29 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…to be conformed to the image of his Son.” As a believer, God makes all things work for your good. All includes every minute detail of your life. God is sovereign over your health, job, children, finances, and even the number of your days. He even controls the slow driver on Baltimore St going 25 mph.
Moreover, God has a purpose in it. He is using circumstances to mold you into the “image of his Son.” By the power of the Holy Spirit, God uses trials to bear righteous fruit. This is why death, sorrow, and pain are good for a believer. Christian, you must believe that God knows better how to run your life than you do.
If you are not a Christian, you do not have this hope. Yet, it is offered to you. If you repent of your sins and trust in Christ, you will have eternal life. You, too, can find peace “in the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23).
Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History and from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity. He is a PhD student in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City and an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. In April 2016 Brandon accepted the call to pastor at Faith Baptist. He loves history and reading and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.