An obsession that often strikes Christians is the thought of committing, or of having committed, the “unpardonable sin.” Like other obsessions, when it hits it is accompanied by acute fear and frequently doubt or guilt. Like other obsessions, the afflicted individual feels that, at all costs, the concern must be addressed immediately. It is countered, perhaps, with counterthoughts conjured up to erase the bad ones. Or, maybe prayers are recited compulsively for forgiveness. Perhaps the individual simply uses all mental powers available in an attempt to force the thought from mind.
Martin Luther, speaking directly to OCDers struggling with scrupulosity, comments on this situation and suggests a more helpful strategy: “I am saying this for the comfort of those who are perpetually troubled by thoughts of blasphemies and are in great anxiety…The more horrible and foul the blasphemy, the more agreeable it is to God, if the heart knows that it does not will this, because the heart did not produce it or choose it. It is a sign that a man did not will it from his heart and that he is really innocent of it, if he is truly afraid and terrified that he has done such a thing. For the clearest sign of a good heart is the fear of doing evil. Therefore the remedy for these thoughts is not to be worried about them.”
To “not worry about them”…what interesting advice for people who have unpardonable blasphemies on their minds! Yet Luther knew a great deal about blasphemous obsessions (he had himself suffered from them), and here he shows great insight. These terrible thoughts are actually nothing to worry about, because God knows our hearts; and he knows that obsessions do not come from us, but rather from the enemy (OCD–or if you prefer, Satan working through OCD). Luther even says the blasphemous thoughts are “agreeable” to God. Is he kidding? No, because they provide an opportunity for a person to show great faith by leaving the fighting of them to God. And it is faith that God values more than anything else we can give to him.
So, if we are to follow Luther’s advice, what should we do about “unpardonable sin” obsessions when they strike? Here are three steps to take (the “LAF” method).
- LABEL the thought as an obsession. The importance cannot be overemphasized. If it looks or feels anything like an obsession, make the call.
- ATTRIBUTE the thought to the enemy (OCD), yet know that God, who has ultimate power over all that happens in the universe, is allowing the enemy to bring the tormenting thought into your mind in order educate you. What God wants is for you to leave the situation to him, and by that means to learn to trust in him. Don’t try to escape the thought by reassuring yourself over and over that you haven’t committed the sin, or praying for forgiveness compulsively, or fighting off the thoughts in any way. Don’t try to reason with them, or cancel them out with good thoughts. Let them be there. Stay on the battlefield, yet give the fighting to God. The correct attitude is, “I don’t care that the ugly thought came, and I don’t care if it stays there all day and bothers me. It’s all up to God,” and I put my trust in him.
- Then, while letting the battle in your mind run on, gently turn your FOCUS to the present task at hand–your work, your recreation, whatever it is at that moment that you ought to be doing.