On Elijah and His Purported Depression Following Mount Carmel
March 22, 2023
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The pastor of my church is preaching about the prophet Elijah and his breakdown following his triumph on Mount Carmel. After translating the PowerPoint slides into French, I was reminded that many years ago, some writers tried to make depression more palatable to people in the pews by claiming that Elijah was depressed.
I'm no psychiatrist, but I doubt it. Depression is a lot more complicated than people assume. The term itself tends to be bandied about quite liberally and confused with other problems (cf. “On Confusing Depression with Sadness”). People can also look up the DSM-V, which can be found online, if they want to get an idea of the criteria required to diagnose a Major Depressive Episode (MDE).
I suspect that whoever made the claim that Elijah was depressed hasn’t done enough research. Or perhaps they were a little too anxious to find Biblical examples of depression. Or possibly both.
To be sure Elijah wanted to die, but he wasn’t ready to take matters into his own hands. He still hoped that God would do it for him.
The Bible says it took Elijah 40 days and 40 nights to get to Horeb from where he was. He had only two meals of bread, water, and little sleep. But the fact that he got up and walked there at all indicates he wasn’t as paralyzed as people who live with depression are. The thing that held me back the most was indecision. I couldn’t make up my mind about anything, so being told that the journey was too much for me would have resulted in my asking, “Journey? What journey is he talking about? Where am I supposed to go? What do I do?" In fact, this indecision still bogs me down every time I have to make a move about my dog, Whisky, or for myself.
So, while I appreciate the intent to make mental illnesses acceptable to the average church goer, I think this particular case is a little weak and would have benefited from further research. Trivializing mental illnesses helps no one in the long run.
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