OCD and Christianity

I have fought the good fight—2Tim 4:7

Are you fighting the good fight? For the OCD sufferer, there are frequent calls to battle. The word “obsession,” after all, comes from the Latin root, obsidere, meaning to besiege, as an army would attack a city. That’s certainly what it feels like when these tormenting thoughts crash into awareness against our will.

What is the proper means to fight this battle? My OCD friends, it’s not by trying to shove them out of consciousness. That would come under the heading, let us say, of carnal weapons. Wrong approach! Yet, we also don’t want to surrender, which is what we do when we perform compulsions.

The battle is a spiritual one, and what we fight for is faith. It is, indeed, a great battle. Martin Luther, in a letter of advice to a woman in his congregation who suffered from severe obsessional fears, counseled her to say whenever the fears struck, “Away with you devil, you want me to care for myself, when God says, ‘depend on me.’” That’s the fight: to depend on God, to have faith in God, to entirely put our trust in God.

Importantly, the faith that Luther recommends is not this: trusting that God will prevent the realization of the obsessional fear. For instance, in the case of a contamination obsession, the faith necessary in OCD does not mean believing that God will keep us from becoming contaminated. Yes, it is quite true that with prayer we can have a confident hope that, indeed, our obsessional fear will not materialize. But what is best when an obsession hits is a deeper sort of faith.

We must have the courage to trust God for whatever happens. We must leave it all it to him. If God would ever cause our deepest fear to come true, he would have a good reason. In the end it would be what is best for us (Rom 8:28).

This is the fight: to believe in God’s power and trust in His mercy, no matter what. We leave our obsessional fears to God and to God alone, and trust Him to do what is best.

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