OCD and Christianity

doorandknock-194x285Theologian Martin Buber illuminates the issue. In his seminal book, Two Types of Faith, Buber begins with this proposition: “There are two, and only two, types of faith: The one from the fact that I trust someone . . . the other from the fact that I acknowledge a thing to be true.” Religious faith, according to Buber, always involves, most basically, either trusting in God or believing in a revealed truth. It is the first type of faith, he is displayed on every page of the Old Testament, as well as in most every sermon by Jesus. It involves unconditional trust in a God who is personal, vital, loving, and trustworthy.

This has great relevance for OCD sufferers. One of the things most puzzling about them is their inability to be reassured about their obsessional fears. People with religious obsessions can be told again and again that Jesus died for them, and that salvation awaits them, yet they still have agonizing doubts. Obsessionals, in fact, have great difficulty in believing in any fact that directly opposes one of their obsessions. OCD sufferers cannot even take as a fact what they see with their own eyes: they can stare straight at a light switch, see that it is off, and yet fear that it is on. OCD sufferers have a hard time believing in facts. They are doubters. Yet they are very good at trusting in others. It is trust in the person of God—in his power and his  mercy—that OCD sufferers must rely on.

For instance, in the case of a person who obsesses that a fire will start in her stove, the right kind of faith is to leave the possibility of a fire with God. If God should, for God’s own reasons, want a fire to start, then he will start one. If he doesn’t, he won’t. The wrong kind of faith is to have “faith” that a fire won’t start. For another example. Suppose a person obsesses that he has lost his salvation, and will go to hell. The right type of faith is to leave his eternal destiny in the hands of God.

The OCDer is called to a deep kind of faith: trust in the ultimate power and mercy of God. We can be greatly consoled by a confident hope that God will prevent an obsessional fear from being realized, a hope that is based on our trust in God’s mercy and love. But we can’t have factual certainty.