I’m pretty sure that at one time or another, we’ve all been “down in the dumps”. This state of dejection or depression has over the years gone by a variety of names. Sir Winston Churchill called it a “black dog” while Sir Thomas More first wrote of it in 1529. It is certainly nothing new and seems to have returned with a vengeance with the arrival of Covid-19. Fed perhaps by social distancing and personal isolation the effect has been multiplied by the closure of businesses and the shuttering of churches. Not long ago I met a lady from church who is usually bubbly, energetic and positive. But she is now absolutely, down in the dumps!
What is it then that might bring about this change of attitude and disposition? Is there something that we can learn from those in the bible who have gone there before us? Let’s consider two examples
Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel
To say that Elijah was outnumbered is a huge understatement. He stood alone against four hundred and fifty prophets of the pagan god Baal! He faced them down with God on his side, challenging them to the ultimate test. He even let them go first. They prepared a sacrifice and called on their god to send from heaven. He taunted them saying:
“Shout louder! Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”
Nothing happened, because their god did not exist.
Then Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord, taking twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel. The trench that he dug around the altar was large enough to hold about 17 litres of water. He put firewood on the altar and doused it three times soaking the wood and filling the trench with water. There was no chance of spontaneous combustion.
Then he prayed to God for fire and
“…the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench”.
Everything was consumed, not just the sacrifice.
You’d think that Elijah would be ‘on the top of the world’ with this victory. But when he learned that Ahab and Jezebel were still out to kill him, he ran for his life in terror. He got so ‘low’ that at one point he sat down by a tree and asked God to take his life. God answered by sending an angel who tended his needs. Then Elijah travelled another forty days to get as far away as possible before going to stay in a cave. God came to him and twice asked him what he was doing there. Two times Elijah gave God the same answer.
“I (all by himself) have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I (all by himself) am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
God informed Elijah that he was NOT the only one who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Seven thousand others in Israel had remained faithful to God.
Let us also consider Solomon
Early in his rule, Solomon asked God for wisdom and God gave him what he asked for and more. While he used it well at times he failed to apply that wisdom to himself. Toward the end of his life, he wrote a book which in the bible is called Ecclesiastes. In it he reasoned that life ‘under the sun’ is empty and meaningless. Even though he had never experienced an unexpected reversal of fortune, his ‘glass’ was still ‘half empty’. He failed to fully embrace the divine mission that God had given him as King of Israel or to understand that meaning in life must orginate with God. Yet God finally moved him to that conclusion in the expression of faith found in Eccl 12:13
“Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Why then did these men of God … men of great faith, become depressed and seem to despair? Why so “down in the dumps”?
The short answer is; that they felt alone because they WERE all alone. They had stepped away from God. For a time, God was no longer the object of their attention and affection. The person who is double-minded, cannot grow strong in faith. Nor can those whose affections are divided, bring themselves to trust and obey. Boldness before God requires both. Elijah and Solomon were giants among men when God was at their side. But when they turned from God, manhood alone was not enough. They were reduced and deflated, grasping for meaning and wanting to die.
The same is still true today.
When we were buried with Christ in the watery grave of baptism, and raised anew in Him, we felt like we could walk on water. We could that is until sin crept back into our lives. Some of us lost our way. We lost our focus on Christ, leaving us alone, feeling unwanted and defeated. We may even have thought it better if we weren’t here at all.
But that is ‘sin’ speaking.
We need the forgiveness that Jesus offers to deal realistically with our sin (1 Jo 1:8-10) We need to keep our eyes on the prize. Paul said in Philippians 3:14,
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
There were times when even the apostle Paul felt depressed. When he wrote to the church at Corinth, he reflected on a time when he felt that he had a ‘sentence of death’ hanging over him (2 Cor 1:8-9) He also had a “thorn in the flesh” that God refused to take away responding instead: “My grace is sufficient for you” (II Corinthians 12:9).
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to take take heart, remembering the outcome for those who have been faithful in times past:
“…run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he ENDURED the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (We need to) Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that we will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1 to 3)
When we feel dejected and very much alone let us know for certain that we are not. God is with us and always will be. Let us trust in him, “fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”.