Suicidality in The Old Testament

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In sorrow, fear, bitter loneliness and depression, Elijah pushed away his servant (likely someone who knew Elijah fairly well) and fled into the wilderness and self-isolated. He found a juniper bush, probably the only source of shade and protection in the desert, and came to sleep beneath it. It is interesting to note that juniper berries were often used in cleansing rituals to remover evil spirits and it’s wood was prized for its pleasant its fragrance and long lasting embers. Here prayed to God for his death–Elijah was suicidal.

For many people, when they’re afflicted with depression, they tend to not eat or keep hydrated, and this was clearly the case with Elijah. Knowing that the path to recovery from mental illness requires tending to basic physical needs first, God sent an angel to prompt Elijah to eat and drink, and then rest. Because it takes some time, Elijah was visited twice and offered a meal again with yet even more rest. We cannot heal from any ailment without fuel; if we are malnourished and sleep-deprived there is nothing for our body to use to repair the damage. However, mental illness is much greater than just an organic disease and requires more than just satisfying our bodily needs. Fresh bread baked upon the soothing embers of the juniper I feel means more than just food sustenance. In order to heal from depression we need the Word of God, which is made “digestible” by the Holy Spirit.

So by verse nine, Elijah has been physically rehabilitated to the point of being able to set about his next journey, his newest phase in life–he was now ready to talk to God and get down to business. An individual with depression is unlikely to improve much without therapy of some sort. But like I just said, it’s imperative to get those physical deficits taken care of so that we are actually able to engage with therapy, and I also include the taking of medications (for some, not all). I understand that there is a whole subset of Christians that say taking medication is demonstrating a total lack of faith in God to heal us. While I do believe the country is wildly over-medicated, there are a lot of people who love the Lord with all their hearts but simply cannot function without medications. Folks with Parkinson’s need to take their levo dopa to regulate the levels of dopamine in their brains so they can walk and talk; those with certain types of diabetes require inulin injections. The same is with some with mental illnesses. They need the meds to control the levels of different neurotransmitters to allow for organized cognition (thinking) and memory integration (learning), two processes imperative to successful therapy.

So Elijah is in this new place and God asks, “What are you doing here?” He was feeling well enough to reply with an honest answer, he was able to have insight. We need to find out what happened and how we became depressed in the first place. Different types of psychotherapy can assist to answer these questions but we must first listen for the Word of God. Mental illness symptoms are often anything but subtle. Our diseased brains plie us with colorful memories of abuse and lost loved ones. Some are relentlessly plagued with obsessive-compulsive thoughts and urges day and night. Still others have disturbing or fantastical delusions and/or hallucinations. They are quite loud. But here God is a still small voice, and if we plow though those other thoughts (which are lies from the pit of hell– Satan is giddy for the brain of someone with mental illness because it is an infrastructure rife with opportunities to lead us away from the Everlasting), we can hear Him give us instructions and encouragement. Remember how Elijah isolated himself in a world where he already felt isolated? God shows him in verse 18 that there are 7,000 others just like him. Despite the alarming number of humans with depression, we feel totally alone and that we’re abnormal, weird. With the Lord and therapy, we learn that we are a part of a very large household, earthly and spiritually. Without Taking in amble physical sustenance and the Bread of Life, we are doomed to death.

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