When gripped by a strong obsessional fear, we have to put our hope in something. Otherwise, despair becomes inevitable. There are lots of things to put hope in. It is bad hope that drives OCD sufferers to pester people for reassurance, or to pour over articles and websites, or debate endlessly in their minds about the legitimacy of their fears. These are compulsions. It is, on the other hand, a good hope that leads OCDers to consult a therapist, and engage in exposure and response prevention. This works to treat OCD.
Yet, by far the best hope for OCDers is a pure hope in the mercy of God. We say pure, because it is hope in God only, with no reliance on ourselves or anyone else at all. We say that it is best, because it pleases God greatly. He wants us to learn to rely on him. As Martin Luther says,
The heart of man cannot rejoice in works, nor in anything else but in a pure hope [in God]. He, therefore, who seeks to rejoice in any other way besides this hope, will toil much, and will find all his labor in vain…It is a pleasing sacrifice to God if in our sadness and contrition we hope for mercy.
Psalm 147, a favorite of Luther’s, reads: “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love.” We OCDers have the first part down, it’s the second that causes problems. The truth is that OCDers are short in hope. They insist on being sure about everything, and end up vacillating between confident assurance and terrifying uncertainty. Hoping is the middle ground, and it is not a bad place to be! It’s a lot better than desperation. Hope is a stable place to sit in; and most importantly of all, God likes us to be there.