These men were both successful in their own fields – one a warrior and one a man of religion. Both were used to life around palaces and nice homes, but both men lost everything they had and fled in depression and fear for their lives – to the back of a cave.
The first man was King David. 1 Samuel 22 tells us that when the jealous Saul stepped up his campaign to kill the young shepherd-warrior, David finally fled to a mountain cave where he holed up in depression, frustration and fear. The other man was Elijah, and in 1 Kings 19 we see that when the wicked Jezebel threatened his life, Elijah also “caved” under the pressure and ran for many miles, to the back of a cave on Mount Horheb – where he stayed, apparently in fear, frustration and anger.
There are times in our lives when psychologically we find ourselves in the back of a cave, too. We understand that some depression is physically caused and must be treated as such, but sometimes we find ourselves in the dark cave of depression or despair due to discouragement and difficulties. This is because fleeing to the inner parts of our minds is a very human reaction and sometimes seems like the only way to survive. Unfortunately, it becomes easy to stay there. It’s not that we are comfortable in the cave of depression, but the longer we stay there, the harder it becomes to leave. That’s why in both biblical stories of God’s servants who fled to physical caves, the first thing we see in the way God turned these situations around was that he commanded both men to leave the cave they were in.
In David’s case, God sent a prophet to David to specifically tell him he had spent enough time in the cave and that it was time to leave. “… The prophet Gad said to David, ‘Do not stay in the [cave] stronghold’” (1 Samuel 22:5), so, uncomfortable as it was to do, at God’s command David left the cave. We see exactly the same with Elijah. “The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord …’” (1 Kings 19:11). God patiently listened to the reasons Elijah gave for his depression, anger and fear, but he nevertheless firmly told him to come out of the cave. It probably wasn’t psychologically easy for them, but both men obeyed in faith. They may not have seen a reason to leave the cave, yet once they realized it was God’s will they obeyed.
So, God understands when we sometimes flee to the cave, but he is just as clear in telling us we must not stay there. And God goes a step further – as the wise Physician he is, he prescribes what we need in order to stay out of the cave. In both the stories of David and of Elijah, God prescribed exactly the same spiritual medicine. When he instructed David to leave the cave, we see the next thing he did was to tell David to go help the people of Keilah who were being attacked by the Philistines: “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah” (1 Samuel 23:1-2). And when Elijah obediently stepped out of his cave, God immediately told him to go to Damascus and instructed him: “… When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat …” (1 Kings 19:15-16).
God doesn’t just tell us to pull ourselves together and leave the cave of depression. He tells us to leave – and to go help someone who needs help. Finding ourselves in a “cave” is something that even some of the greatest of God’s servants have experienced, but the way out was the same for them as it is for us. We overcome this problem only when we realize God doesn’t want us to live in the cave and that his prescription for cave fever is often to go help someone. It’s as though God knows that the only way for us to effectively stay out of the cave is not just to get busy, but to get busy serving others.
That is how God helps us get our focus off our own problems – by getting us to focus on and help others whose problems are so often so much worse than our own.