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Review – Overcoming spiritual depression – Arie Elshout – Reformation Heritage

October 2007 | by Phil Heaps

 Overcoming spiritual depression

Arie Elshout
Reformation Heritage Books
104 pages; £8.50
ISBN: 978-1-892777-93-5 

This book has been translated from the Dutch by the author’s son, Bartel. Taking Elijah’s post-Carmel experience as his framework, Elshout explores the roots, nature and treatment of discouragement, burnout and spiritual depression.

Often he works directly from 1 Kings 19 (e.g. Elijah’s need for rest and food before God even addressed his wrong thinking). Sometimes the text is simply a springboard into discussion (e.g. Elijah’s inability to delegate?)

At other times Elshout treats issues not present in 1 Kings 19, in which case he draws on other relevant Scripture passages – such as Job, the unforgivable sin, and in the final (rather disparate) chapter, Psalm 116. The topics are wide ranging, from sleep to suicide.

The book contains many gems of wisdom – for instance, the danger of focusing on the ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’ rather than on all the contributing factors. Elshout also carefully avoids oversimplification. For example, in his treatment of ‘perfectionists’ he identifies the pride, inferiority, spirituality, conscientiousness and legalism which can all be present in varying degrees.

He writes with wise realism, winsome honesty and tender sympathy (‘let us not rebuke when rebukes are not called for’) and does so as someone who has experienced what he writes about – both as ‘struggler’ and ‘counsellor’. This personal experience lends authority to his analysis and inspires hope that the God who has been good to him will be good to others in similar situations.

Occasionally Elshout’s anecdotes seem peculiar to the Dutch Reformed context in which he wrote, and less generally applicable. Is he guilty of reading more into 1 Kings 19 than is warranted?

But even this is hard to criticise when his comments are so sane, firm and tender. Certainly this brief, practical, compassionate book is worth reading and passing on – though Elshout’s excellent treatment and withering criticism of Job’s comforters make painful reading for those conscious of past insensitivities!


Phil Heaps