OCD and Christianity

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope  (Psalm 130:5)

‘Fiery ordeals’ come upon us to prove us, as noted by Saint Peter. What are we OCD sufferers to do about them? As discussed in the previous blog, we are to stay on the battlefield and not run away. Okay, we get that…but what are we to do? This is always the big question for OCDers. Any concern that arises, we are always driven to do something to take care of it. We are ceaselessly self-reliant. And that is a big problem. We need to learn to trust that God will take care of us, and stop relying on ourselves. We do that by enduring the fear, suffering it willingly; and waiting on the Lord. As Luther notes in his commentary on this verse:

Those who wait for the Lord ask for mercy; but they leave it to God’s gracious will when, how, where, and by what means He helps them…But he who designates the help, does not receive it; for he does not wait and submit to God’s council, will, and delay.

We are not to designate the help! A very important instruction for OCDers. We’re not to reach any conclusions about how or when God will come to our aid. These sorts of musings become compulsions. We must stay in fear and uncertainty, maintaining only hope. In that way we will learn that we can trust in God. Luther He explains:

God deals strangely with His children. He blesses them with contradictory and disharmonious things, for hope and despair are opposites. Yet His children must hope in despair; for fear is nothing else than the beginning of despair, and hope is the beginning of recovery. And these two things, direct opposites by nature, must be in us, because in us two natures are opposed to each other, the old man and the new man. The old man must fear, despair, and perish; the new man must hope, be raised up, and stand.

We are raised up and stand in the new man when we receive the gift of faith. The gift is given when God chooses, at the time our excessive self-reliance has been purged. In psychological terms, such waiting represents an exercise in ERP. In the clinical treatment, an individual purposefully exposes herself to an obsessional fear, prevents compulsions, and waits in hope for habituation to take place. For the Christian, the exercise is not about exposure leading to habituation, it is about suffering leading to faith.

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12 Response Comments

  • Marie   at

    Thanks for another encouraging post! I also recently bought a copy of “Can Christianity Cure Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?” and read it. Thank you for taking the time to really dig into these issues and provide help to Christians with OCD! One question that I cannot seem to find a good answer to anywhere is that of how to design an ERP plan for a “real” issue. When it comes to a matter that I genuinely do want to address at some point, but have been filled with anxiety about, how do I fight it with ERP, without blocking off my real conscience? I guess I could expose myself to the frightening thoughts (e.g. “I’m afraid I’ll go to hell,” “I’ve ruined everything by making that choice”). I’m just confused because right now it doesn’t seem like I have any accompanying compulsions. I’ve forced myself to stop researching the issue, and I don’t feel like I’m ruminating about it, but the fear that I need to make a decision now and that I’m disobeying God keeps following me around, which is why I want to try to use ERP. Is it possible to perform effective ERP when there are no real compulsions?

    • admin   at

      thanks for the comment, marie. in answer to your question, i think the best approach is to identify the obsessional fear, and apply therapeutic approaches to it. that doesn’t mean, however, that it is not a concern that deserves some continuing attention. the key here is to schedule time to address the concern, and not respond to it when it hits on its own throughout the day. sometimes it is hard to identify compulsions, as you note. usually in that case the compulsions are mental ruminations and analysis. but it is a complicated issue…too much so to be able to adequately address in an email, i’m afraid.

      • Marie   at

        That makes sense. Thanks for your feedback!

  • Kianni   at

    Where do you get your quotes and such from Martin Luther from? I searched the quote that led me to a PDF Bible study of sorts and after the quote it says “Martin Luther, AE 14:192” and am not sure what the latter refers to .

    • admin   at

      hi kianni, that would refer to the american edition of luther’s works, volume 14, page 192. many libraries have the complete works. i’ve got them on my computer, now, on a program through ‘logos bible software.’

      • Kianni   at

        Ah okay, thank you!

  • Alison   at

    Could you please explain more about the gift of faith? Do you mean to say that God only gives us saving faith (faith for salvation) when he decides to? When I read the bible, it seems that the choice is ours and the opportunity is “now” and “today”, not “when God is ready”. I’m confused.

    Are you saying that a person who doubts whether they have enough faith is not really saved? Will OCD cease to afflict that person when they finally believe enough (have enough faith or the right kind of faith, etc)?

    Thanks for your time!
    – Alison

    • admin   at

      Thanks for writing Alison – that’s a very good point, and I will try to clarify it. Churches today put great emphasis on what we must do to get faith. There certainly is a very important voluntaristic aspect to faith. We hear the word preached and we accept in our hearts and we must take a chance on it. Faith is an act of will in the sense that we must hold fast to the word of promise. Luther says: “In faith you must put everything except the word of God out of your mind.”

      And yet faith is not an act that we can produce by ourselves. The Holy Spirit works faith in a person through the Word. In that sense faith is a gift which is not given to everybody. Sometimes we have weak faith and sometimes we have strong faith. Sometimes we can cling to the word and increase our faith, and sometimes it seems like faith “crawls away and hides.” That’s when we must hope and wait for the gift.

      Your second question is much easier to answer. People who have tormenting doubts about their faith most definitely do not lack faith! It is rather that their faith is being attacked. This is an extremely frightening situation. It’s what happens in OCD. The person is saved, but doubts it because of the enemy. Here we must wait for the gift of assurance.

      Different churches and different pastors teach these things in different ways. But my experience is that some pastors simply don’t understand what’s happening in OCD, and they make doubts worse by insisting that a person try harder to make herself believe.

      • Alison   at

        Hold on… when you say faith is a gift that is not given to everybody, what do you mean exactly? If a person desires to have faith (as I do, and yet I keep feeling my faith is gone), does God sometimes decide, “Nope, I’m not going to give that person faith…”? I just don’t understand how it’s a decision we’re supposed to make and yet we can’t make since it has to be given us. Doesn’t make sense….

        Mostly I’m just scared that I won’t be able to be saved sinceI can’t seem to muster up enough faith that Jesus will save ME. I believe with alk my heart that Jesus is Lord and that he died for our sins and rose again. I just struggle to believe he’s going to save ME. I can’t figure out why and the intense feelings of anxiety have completely taken over my life. Now it sounds like you may be saying that God may choose to never give me faith. Unless I’m misunderstanding you…..

        • admin   at

          Hi Alison, I don’t think that you are asking the question of why God does not save everybody… we do not fully know the answer to that one. The concern you have is whether you have enough faith. It takes just a “mustard seed.” In my experience, most all ministers and priests view the simple desire to be saved as evidence of sufficient faith to be saved. You probably ought to approach your pastor with these questions. Maybe other people want to chime in.

        • Samantha Barton   at

          Allison, it sounds like your OCD is attacking your faith and leading you to seek reassurance. Rest assured that you do not have to anxiously grasp your faith, or your Heavenly Father in this way. He is holding you. Even when you doubt. He never does. He is the same, yesterday today and tomorrow. You are loved.

  • Austin   at

    Buying your book as we speak. This website is a blessing!