January 3, 2017

From Mount Carmel to Mount Horeb

Mountaintop experiences are fine. But God also meets us in our caves.

Chantal & Gerald Klingbeil

“I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths” (Ps. 88:4-6).

In a dark world nobody is exempt from experiencing darkness.

We feel the loss and pain caused by sin. At times our own choices may add to the darkness surrounding us. And sooner or later we hit rock bottom. Sometimes depression slowly and quietly takes hold of us and we recognize the monster only when it tightens its grip. Sometimes it strikes quickly after a particularly draining emotional or physical event. Sometimes it takes years of low-level abuse to bring us to our knees.

On the Run

Elijah was completely drained emotionally and physically after his encounter with the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). Jezebel’s death threat had been no idle talk but a solemn oath (1 Kings 19:2) that served as a trigger for Elijah’s flight.

And Elijah begins to run. The first step is the inevitable running. Sometimes we run to the refrigerator and try to eat ourselves happy again. Sometimes we try to sleep our emotional exhaustion away. Sometimes we look for a new relationship, job, or location in our quest to run away. Sometimes we bury ourselves in more work, more deadlines, and more appointments as we try harder to run away from the nameless something that is draining our joy and gnawing at our hope.

We all get to the place where we just can’t run anymore.

Elijah runs long and hard. He runs 90 miles (150 kilometers), all the way to Beersheba, then a day’s journey into the desert (1 Kings 19:3, 4). We all get to the place where we just can’t run anymore. Elijah encounters his breaking point and realizes he can’t run anymore. Guilt comes crushing in. His lack of trust has hijacked what could have been a great opportunity for reformation in Israel. He realizes that he has disappointed those who needed him. And he’s powerless to do anything about it.

It’s all too much for Elijah. “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (see verse 4).

How God Deals with Depression

Elijah’s story offers great insights into how God deals with people who have hit rock bottom. Here are some insights found in God’s Word.

God doesn’t condemn. He understands better than we do what we are up against. He knows that the “journey is too much for [us]” (verse 7).

God comes to us at our lowest point. Notice Ellen White’s comment: “We may have no remarkable evidence at the time that the face of our Redeemer is bending over us in compassion and love, but this is even so. We may not feel His visible touch, but His hand is upon us in love and pitying tenderness.”*

God offers practical short-term help. In Elijah’s case this is “some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water” (verse 6). The help could be a friend, counselor, or family member, someone who shows us that God cares.

God provides rest. He knows that trying to run away makes us tired. God also knows that Elijah is more than physically tired; he is emotionally drained, carrying a tremendous load of guilt. God wipes the slate clean and provides rest for Elijah. Finally, Elijah can sleep and be refreshed.

God does not rush healing. Even after having enjoyed angel food Elijah isn’t instantly back to normal. God remembers that we are “dust” (Ps. 103:14). Recovery requires time.

God redirects our running. He understands that life in this sinful world can and will cause depression. He understands our impulse to run but He wants to redirect our running. Instead of all the self-destructive coping mechanisms we may try, He wants us to run to Him. When we are safe in His arms, He wants to teach us to listen for the “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).

God provides the energy to meet Him again. Elijah had no energy to lift himself up and make the journey to meet God. God provides also for this need.

God promises a better tomorrow. As Elijah lay under his broom tree and wished to die, he believed his best days were over. God saw things differently. God knew that better days lay ahead for Elijah. There were still kings to be anointed and a successor to be chosen. God already knew about Elisha, who would become as close as a son to Elijah. God knew that in faith Elijah would again call fire down from heaven. For Elijah there would be no desperate death under a broom tree, but rather a fiery chariot ride to heaven.

God, the Creator of life and light and beauty and cherry trees and pumpkin pies, knew how to gently whisper grace in Elijah’s darkest moments. He wants to speak the same hope into our lives.

* Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 97.

Chantal J. Klingbeil serves as an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate. Her husband, Gerald A. Klingbeil, is an associate editor of Adventist Review.