OCD and Christianity

Saint Paul talks about the new man and the old man in his New Testament letters. The concepts are very helpful for OCD sufferers—especially the way Martin Luther develops them. According to Luther, fear represents the “the cross of the old man,” who is tormented by uncertainty about his fate. The New Man, on the other hand, rests in peace, because trusts the Lord to take care of him. Take note OCDers—the old man is where we live most all the time; the new man is who we want to become. As the Great Reformer puts it,

God deals strangely with His children. He blesses them with contradictory and disharmonious things. And these two things, direct opposites by nature, must be in us… The old man must fear, despair, and perish; the new man must hope, be raised up, and stand.

According to Luther, life is a continual process of being raised up into the new man. God is in charge of the process. We don’t have to do anything—becoming the new man just happens to us, because that is God’s plan for us. “Our outer nature is wasting away, while our inner nature is being renewed every day.” God plans and executes the process in order to shape us into the people he wants us to be. As Paul says in Romans, “All things work for the good.” The good is to become the new man, the person who has faith and doesn’t fear.

If we grasp that this process is at work, our attitude changes towards our obsessions. When we know that God is working in and through our OCD for our good, then we are led to trust God with our fears. And that’s the main thing the Lord wants: He wants us to have faith in him.

One other thing: Right behavior follows from right belief. Therefore, if we are trusting in the Lord, we do not feel the need to perform compulsions in order to counteract our fears. We’re fine with God’s plan. We let him work it out. As Luther notes in his commentary on the verse from Psalm 130, “I wait for the Lord:”

In this cross-bearing I did not retreat or despair; I think nor did I trust in my own merit. I trusted in God’s grace alone, which I desire, and I wait for God to help me when it pleases Him.


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