OCD and Christianity

Put away the old man, which has become evil by love of deceit…and put on the new man, to which God has given life. (Eph 4:22, 24 BBE)

Pride is the essence of the old man, while the new man is marked by trust in God. As Christians, of course, our goal is to get from the old man to the new man. But how? Martin Luther observes,

God deals strangely with His children. He blesses them with contradictory and disharmonious things: fear, the cross of the old man; and hope, the life of the new man.

Luther says that God ”blesses” us with fear. Why would that be? Here is Luther’s answer, which opens up a whole new vista for understanding our obsessions in Christian terms:

Fear is the crucifixion and execution of the old man… God frightens our conscience, and afflicts us with all kinds of troubles, so that our sinful old Adam becomes mellow and soft. Finally, by the time we die, our pride, trust, and confidence in our own efforts and knowledge are dead.

God takes fear, which is basically bad (since it indicates a lack of trust in Him); and uses it for our good, to destroy the old man. Basically, God uses fear to scare the prideful old man to death! Then there is room for the new man to take his place. In Luther’s comments about the old man, a Christian with OCD finds excellent Christian justification for performing exposure and response prevention exercises. When we purposefully stay in the presence of an obsessional fear and habituate to it, we are at the same time destroying the old man and learning to trust in God. Luther likens this process to the work of a skilled craftsman who is cutting out a new artwork.

Just as a wood carver, by chiseling and taking away the wood that does not belong to the carving, enhances the form of his work, so hope, which forms the new man, grows in the midst of fear that cuts down the old Adam.

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