In Pilgrim’s Progress, the classic allegory of the Christian life, there is an episode where Christian (main character) along with his traveling companion (Hopeful) were captured by the Giant Despair, taken back to Doubting Castle where the giant lived with his wife Gloom, and thrown into the dungeon. You will need to read that episode for yourself to see the outcome, but I will give you a hint– the Key of Promise. John Bunyan vividly portrayed the discouragement and despair which often overtakes the child of God on the journey to the Celestial City.
In 1 Kings 19, we see the powerful prophet Elijah emotionally and spiritually shriveled by the death-threat of Queen Jezebel, after he had singlehandedly defeated 850 of her prophets and priests of Baal. One would think that Elijah would have been pumped and ready for anything, but his condition revealed the vulnerability and exhaustion that often accompanies great victories in ministry or periods of great demands in life. (Just as Christian’s capture by the Giant Despair followed the trauma of persecution in Vanity Fair and his miraculous escape.)
Elijah fled from Jezebel because of fear and went into the wilderness to be alone. The text reveals other symptoms of his condition; he was exhausted, he was ready to quit his job, he was filled with self-pity, and he prayed that he might die. In response, the Lord applied some tender therapy; He touched him, He gave him something to eat, He told him to sleep some more, He touched him again, and gave him more food and drink for the rest of his journey. Compassionate touch, plenty of rest (but not too much), and a nutritional diet were what Elijah’s Creator provided for him in this desperate condition.
(I realize that there are those whose depression is more chronic and for whom the aforementioned therapy will not help much. I might suggest, however, that compassionate touch may include counseling and the dietary portion may also include the proper use of medication.)
Elijah was not out of the dungeon yet. He was still on the run and still alone, although physically he was on the mend. (He was definitely getting lots of exercise.) As he sat in his secure cave on Mt Horeb, where he knew he would not be found, he was in a better place to start working through his issues with God. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God asked. Elijah still engaged in a bit of a pity-party about being the only one in all of Israel who remained faithful and was being persecuted. Maybe there was also a hint of complaint that he deserved better from God.
God told him to get out of his cave and stand before Him on the mountain. Then he was to listen for God- really, really listen. What great advice when we are discouraged; to get out of our caves, stand before God, and really listen to Him instead of our own self-talk. Elijah was able to hear the still and quiet voice of God repeating the same question as before, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
Elijah repeated the very same complaint after hearing God’s voice and yet somehow it was different. Apparently the Lord saw it was no longer tainted with self-pity, but an honest confession of his condition; a sign that Elijah was ready to be put back in the lineup. God gave Elijah three ministry assignments; anointing two kings and selecting a protege. All three tasks had to do with the future; Elijah was out of the dungeon.
There was one more thing that God said, maybe as Elijah was walking away. “Incidentally, you aren’t the only faithful one in Israel. There are also 7,000 faithful ones who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” We often need to be reminded that we are not alone either in our suffering or in our faithfulness.