Because Naboth refuses to forfeit his ancestral inheritance, King Ahab, sullen and resentful, turns his face to the wall. Depressed and weak, he falls upon his bed. Often, the prophets of God also endure a depressive spirit. Elijah, having summoned God to consume an offering in the presence of the prophets of Baal and Asherah, witnesses a devouring fire from heaven. God consumes the bull and the wood and stone, and licks up the water in the trench. Then, without divine command or invocation, Elijah forces 850 prophets down to the Wadi Kishon and murders them there. On one level, though disturbing and horrific, this is a great success. The prophet of God wins, apparently.
The story resumes, however, with Elijah running for his life. He is, as one scholarly update to the Latin Bible suggests, frantic and erratic. “Rising, he went out wherever his will carried him” (1 Kgs. 19:3; Württembergische Bibelanstalt Stuttgart, 1969). Afraid, running in panic, he finally stops in the wilderness, falls beside a solitary broom tree, and pleads for death. Twice he says to the voice of God, “I alone am left” (1 Kgs. 19:10, 14). He is cast down, disquieted, and mournful (Ps. 42-43). He feels an ancient question: “Why have you cast me off?” (Ps. 43:2).
Leaping ahead to our time, the mood is called depression, and it is nearly epidemic among Christian clergy and widespread in parishes. With fewer social props supporting a religious infrastructure, with a public mood cautious of clergy and Christian commitment generally, the tendency today is to assert religious conviction with a notable stridency, a bellicose certitude, the sound system set always to reverberate. This new conviction (intentionality) tries but fails to hide evidence of anxiety, depression, and anger. Again and again, one senses the claim, “I alone.”
With this trial, there is a way out. The winds slice through the mountains and break the rocks, the earth trembles, and fire bursts forth, and yet the Lord is mute. Standing at the door of the cave, Elijah hears something like the whistle of thin air, the sound of a gentle quietness, the murmur of divine speech. There is no such thing as “sheer silence” (NRSV). The middle ear and other bones of the body continuously transmit vibration, even if only the body’s workings or the whisper of nature’s rest. Standing in the cleft of the rock, God comes and talks and consoles and strengthens. Whispering, God says, “Go, return on your way” (1 Kgs. 19:15). That is, God gives grace.
Try this purely passive exercise. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:27). You belong to Christ and are heirs of the promise to Abraham. Abraham did not first make a promise to God, but God made a promise to Abraham. And the promise is sure. Do not move a muscle or agitate the will. Let promise and election do its hidden work. You did not choose Christ, but he chose you (John 15:16). One more exercise. Imagine that you have lost your mind, lost your way, and are wandering at the impulse of undirected emotion and thought. Who will save? At the sheer power of Christ’s healing love, the legions living in the Geresene demoniac plunged into the abyss. The man, once naked and living among tombs, is found clothed and in his right mind. He sits with Jesus. He just sits there clothed and well.