OCD and Christianity

When struck by a powerful fear, we ought to put our trust in God and take comfort in his promises: He will not test us beyond what we can bear, he is all-powerful and merciful towards us, and all things work together for good. Normally, we can strengthen our trust through activities such as prayer and Bible study. But when a fear escalates into an obsession, sometimes nothing works. No matter what we do, we are not able to get a sense of assurance that we can rely on God. This is the trial of faith, and it is part of God’s plan for our perfection. Through it we learn to rely on Him for everything, even faith itself.

Luther believed that the greatest sin of mankind is presumption, and the worst form of presumption is to think that we can get anything we want through our own efforts and reasoning powers. The most important thing in life is to have is faith; and sure enough, we assume we can get that any time we want. But God is the giver of faith, and he insists on being recognized as the giver. In his commentary on Isaiah 41:20, “that people may see and know,” Luther writes,

God sends a variety of trials, heresies, and the cross in order to train His own and mortify them in their own righteousness and presumption. He mortifies His own in various ways to the point of despair, and then He lifts us up again, so that by experience we are compelled to say, “I did not do this, though I expended all my strength, but the hand of the Lord did it.” Therefore He thoroughly afflicts us, He purifies us well so that we may learn to rely on Him completely.

In his commentary on Genesis, Luther makes the same point: We learn to trust God through experience.

I have often seen excellent men horribly vexed by terrors, afflictions, and the severest persecutions, so much so that they nearly experienced despair of heart. But these things must be learned. God seems to be shunning you, but sometime later you will see his face. This is what it means for Him to love those whom He chastises. This love must be learned from experience.

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12 Response Comments

  • Jonathan   at

    Great message. Personally, I have found that the equation of Faith + Hope = Trust.

    When dealing with co morbid factors of tOCD such as depression, it can make hope look very far off.

    Trying to rest in God’s grace that even when I don’t feel Hope, I put my faith in God that he will manifest hope in my life in due time. Passionate patience is required.

  • Katherine Shaver   at

    What is your definition for faith? If God is the giver of faith and we can’t make yourself have faith then what does it mean and look like for us to wait for God to give it to us? The more I learn about OCD I learn that I need to stop doing compulsions and wait and trust the Lord but what does that look like because I would assume that doesn’t mean we just sit back and do nothing?

    • admin   at

      Well put—that’s a good question. Let’s take this definition of faith: Confidence that God exists and is merciful towards me. You could also say: confidence that the promises are true and apply to me. As the blog suggests, God allows that confidence to be attacked by doubt so that we learn faith itself is a gift and that we can trust him with everything. That doesn’t mean there is no volitional element to faith. What we can do is keep hoping and keep patiently waiting. Patience is key, because sometimes God deems that a lengthy trial of faith is the best thing for us. We can also choose to live our lives as much as we can on the assumption that God exists and is merciful towards us, even in the presence of major doubts. We can also keep up our spiritual reading and church activities. Importantly, we can keep an eye out for times when we do feel a sense of some bit of confidence, when the biblical message has the ring of truth to us, when can say, “Even though I’m not sure, I’m thinking just maybe it IS true. That’s what you are looking for: just a ring of truth; not certainty. That’s when God is giving grace, and we need to recognize those times and be thankful for them. What do you think?

      • Katherine   at

        Thanks! I feel like the hard part isn’t necessarily believing that God exist or that he is good but that his promises are true for me. I think the OCD is constantly telling me that I am not saved and that God doesn’t love me. So I need to know what God really thinks of me and learn to believe that instead of what the ocd is telling me.

        • Quintin   at

          Katherine, you may also take hope in that “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” – Romans 8:1. The Holy Spirit does not accuse. If you have confessed that Christ is your Savior and believe in your heart that He is Lord, you are saved and your sins are forgiven. Period. Now, I understand completely that OCD sucks. I’m in the boat with you. It plays with our emotions and tries to confuse us with doubts. But we can take heart that Christ doesn’t not change and His word is true. So when those doubts hit and our emotions seem to get the best of us, we must take heart that He is still as faithful to us as He has been for all eternity, even though we may not feel it. His providential goodness to us will never end and will only result in our becoming holier and more trusting in Him. Peace, sister.

          • Katherine   at


  • Jonathan   at

    Dr.O, I just picked up the biography of Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas. So far it’s an interesting read. Didn’t know if you had any thoughts on the book if you’ve had a chance to read it?

    • admin   at

      I’ve read two other recent biographies of Luther, but not that one. What do you like about it?

  • Jonathan Paul   at

    It does a good job of covering his early life and religous experiences prior to and after challenging the Catholic church and it’s dysfunction.

  • Katie   at


    Thank you for your posts! I want this long dark night of the soul to end. The pain is nearly unbearable, and I try to do what the counselor told me, and just shrug the doubts off with, “Maybe so”, but it’s so hard to agree with the thoughts I abhor. My current obsessions are existential and are also centered around my faith in Jesus. I’m so worried I don’t really believe in Him, because nothing feels real to me so much of the time. Do you have any advice for me? I’d greatly appreciate it. How I long for the assurance that I do truly believe in Jesus. I keep choosing to follow Him as best I can without feeling assurance. He is everything to me. How I envy those who don’t struggle with these heavy doubts. I won’t go into the other fears, as I don’t want to trigger anyone.

    • Noemi   at

      Hi katie there is a book, i hope it will help us. He loves me by wayne jacobsen. I feel you it is the exact feeling that im going through in fact i have a lot of physical pain because of the anxiety

  • David   at

    I am the son of a Preacher. Since the age of 14, I have had several severe bouts of obsessing over the unpardonable blasphemy. I am now 51. Have been really struggling for about the last 2 years. Pray for me to be able to think of other things, things that are good, and get on with my life.