There is a sinful and a sinless spiritual depression. Again, Ferguson explains, “In the Bible, we can divide melancholy and depression into two categories–there is a melancholy that is natural and there is a melancholy that is spiritual. We then have to divide between a spiritual melancholy that has a holy origin and a spiritual melancholy that has a sinful origin.”
The prophet Elijah was raised up by God to be singularly used in taking on one of the most wicked kings in the history of Israel, by withholding rain for 3 1/2 years, by confronting 400 of the prophets of Baal, by calling fire down from heaven and by turning the people of Israel back from their idolatrous worship to the worship of the true and living God. Yet, he was afraid of this wicked king’s pagan wife–a woman whose evil motives and threats threw him into a fearful, paralysis-resulting depression. Sinclair Ferguson explains the decline of Elijah into this deep state of depression on account of Jezebel, when he says,
“There was something about the way in which evil was personified in the life of Jezebel that this amazingly courageous prophet who was prepared to take incalculable risks on Mt. Carmel (he was able to face 400 prophets of Baal and King Ahab on Mt. Carmel)–and yet apparently there was something about Jezebel that made him feel that it was impossible for him to confront her. So, instead of confronting her (and this was a grave mistake on the part of Elijah) he fled from her–Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. He had faced all kinds of risks before but now he was afraid and he ran for his life. Here’s the point: So long as Elijah kept on running, the very thing from which he ran was the one thing with which he could never deal. And for someone whose heart is set on walking in the ways of the Lord, that is a course of action calculated to produce a spiritual sense of both oppression and depression. And so his disappointment became flight. And he was in grave danger of carrying, for the rest of his life, a situation that he refused to deal with out of fear that would pursue him and determine the course of his life from now on in.”
Elijah’s depression was sinfully motivated. He allowed his fear of Jezebel to override his confidence in the God who had already done powerful and marvelous works through him.
There is, in the Bible, both a natural and a spiritual depression. There is a sinful and a sinless spiritual depression. Again, Ferguson explains, “In the Bible, we can divide melancholy and depression into two categories–there is a melancholy that is natural and there is a melancholy that is spiritual. We then have to divide between a spiritual melancholy that has a holy origin and a spiritual melancholy that has a sinful origin.”
It is probably safe to say that most of the spiritual depression that we experience is sinful–at least in part–due to our own sin natures. We, like Elijah, so often respond to situations and circumstances–allowing sinful fear to drive us to despair, despair to depression and depression to spiritual paralysis. When that happens, it is a tell tale sign that the depression we have experienced is sinfully motivated. But, what, someone might ask, would a sinless depression look like? What does it mean for someone to be in a state of despondency with a heart that is fully set on God and His glory?