OCD and Christianity

John Newton is the 18th century English minister who wrote “Amazing Grace.” Another of his poems is called “Prayer Answered by Crosses,” which has also been put to music (“I asked the Lord”). An OCDer recently sent me a copy of this poem, noting that it contains a good description of his situation. Newton’s poem goes like this:

I asked the Lord that I might grow in faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know, and seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray, and He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way, as almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour, at once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r, subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell assault my soul in every part.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried. Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?
’Tis in this way, the Lord replied, I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ, from self and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy, that thou may’st find thy all in Me.

We don’t know what type of trial Newton was forced to endure, but there is a lot here that rings true for OCD sufferers. Newton is concerned about his salvation—that is, in one form or another, the matter that most often torments Christian OCDers. Just like an OCDer, Newton asks for help. Yet, his prayers are met only with strong “assaults” on his soul. Newton talks of feeling the “hidden evils” of his heart. Again, this sounds like what an OCDer might tell me. Maybe these are what led him to be concerned about his salvation in the first place. In any case, that’s the way it is with OCD: You just want to know a little more about your salvation, and you end up being assaulted by the powers of hell.

But then Newton receives a revelation! It is a marvelous one, and it pertains to every OCD sufferer. “These inward trials I employ,” says the Lord, “from self and pride, to set thee free.” That’s as good as it gets. We need to realize that obsessional fears are arranged by God for our sanctification. We need to stop trying to deal with them ourselves through compulsive behaviors. We need to allow God to use our fears to “break the schemes” of the the old self (especially pride and self-reliance), so that we can become free in the new self.

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