OCD and Christianity

The most terrified people I ever see are those suffering from clinical obsessions with sexual, violent, or blasphemous content. A loving mother is changing her baby’s diaper when she suddenly has the thought of performing sex on him. A good man is strolling through a park when, upon stopping to enjoy the site of a child at play, an impulse flies into his mind to run over and stab the child. The devout mother fears that she is directing her for her prayers to Satan, while at other times she hears herself in her mind cursing God.

Nothing is more frightening to OCD sufferers–a timid and guilt ridden bunch–than obsessional ideas, images, and urges of a horrid or evil nature. “How could I ever be thinking such thoughts?” That’s the most common refrain. I’ve had people come to me and say quite seriously, “Lock me up somewhere…I’m either dangerous or I’m going crazy.” For the devout Christian with OCD, it’s even more than that. These thoughts  are not only awful, repugnant and a knockout blow to self-esteem, they are also taken to be an indication of a horrible sin. Sin so bad that one could easily question salvation.

Are these thoughts sinful? Let’s take a look at that. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement and very influential in the development of protestant theology, defined sin as ”an actual voluntary transgression of the revealed, written law of God.” In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read that mortal sin is “to choose deliberately–that is, both knowing it and willing it–something gravely contrary to the devine law.” The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church provides a nice concise definiton of sin: “The purposeful disobedience of a creature to the known will of God.” We find in all the accepted definitions of sin the concept that sinning always involves making a “purposeful,” “voluntary,” or “deliberate” choice.

What about an obsessional thought, be it everso horrendous? Is a deliberate choice involved? Is it a sin just because it comes to mind? Certainly not. These thoughts are involuntary and intrusive; not chosen in any way. They jump into the mind unexpected, unwelcomed, and unwanted. In fact, the occurrence of obsessional ideas, images, and urges is normal. OCDers are often astounded to find this out, but research proves it. Most people have such thoughts fleetingly at some time in their lives, and dismiss them quickly. The human mind is a trash bin.

Well then, is choice involved (and therefore sin), because the horrendous thoughts stubbornly stay in mind? Often, it feels to OCDers as if deliberate choice must be involved, because the harder they fight the thoughts the more they come back. Here, we must stress the difference between a desire and a fear. A thought may stay in mind either because you like it or because you fear it. Sins have to do with desires. Obsessions, on the other hand, always have to do with fears. Obsessions are not sinful. They are not kept in mind by choice.

This distinction between desire and fear becomes most difficult to make with obsessional urges. An OCD sufferer with homosexual obsessions, for instance, may experience a sudden impulse to touch a same-sex person in a sexual way. It seems to the OCDer like a true desire, because it is a genuine urge. But urges do not always spring from desire. Obsessional urges, like obsessional images and ideas, are fear-based. An example is the common impulse to jump off a tall building when one gets too close to the railing, or to jump on the subway tracks as a train approaches. (Winston Churchill had this latter obsession and always tried to put a subway pillar between himself and the tracks while waiting for a train.) The individual certainly does not want to jump, and never would. This is not an actual desire. The urge is completely fear-based, and is not a sin.

Obsessions with evil sexual, violent, or blasphemous content are extremely common. Most of the Christians I work with nowadays suffer from these sorts of gut wrenching obsessions at one time or another. This is not surprising, since obsessions always take the form of what ever thoughts would potentially be the most fearful for us, and for Christians, horrible thoughts that would offend our Lord are the worst that they could think. My OCD friend, you must realize that evil or horrid obsessions are no different than common obsessions such as a fear of germs on the hands. All of them have to do with our fears. None of them have to do with sin.

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11 Response Comments

  • Daniel Waduka   at

    Thanks so much my dear. I now feel relaxed.

    I was also questioning my salvation, but now I have gained confidence.

    I will even pray more.

  • Scott Whittaker   at

    Thank you!! What a relief! God bless you.

  • Anonymous   at

    THANK YOU! I don’t feel so awful and crazy after reading this.

  • Toni   at

    Thank you for this article. It helped me to relax.

  • Jurith   at

    Thank you friend may God bless you

  • J   at

    I can see obsessions as not being a sin but what about cumpulsions? If I obsess about the definition of a word that I doubt I understand, that’s one thing. But if I act on that obsession by googling the word, I feel like I’ve acted out of worry and sinned because I see worry as a sin.

    • admin   at

      I would think there could be a lot of good answers to this, but here’s what occurs to me. Agreed, it is possible to see worry as a sin because it indicates a lack of faith, and compulsions are definitely performed out of worry. Yet most clergy would not call worry a sin, I think. If it is, it’s universal, except among psychopaths who don’t have the conscience to worry at all. But we are all sinners, in any case. So, the thing is that we Christians are saved despite being sinners, and as a result of that, and our gratefulness to God for it, we try not to sin. So, from that perspective, that would be a pretty good reason not to do compulsions.

  • Steve   at

    I had to say thank you for writing this. It helped 🙂 God be with you kind sir

  • Jenny   at

    Besides what this ..ocd is doing, I’ve tortured myself for so long. I’ve tried so so hard..worried so very much. I was even fearful to click on this article to read. Bit it helped..and gives me hope. Thank you!

    • Aracely   at

      It’s crazy because I’ve dealt with intrusive sexual thoughts and after 8 years there was a preacher who came from across the country and prayed over me. The crazy thing was that the first thing she told me was that the devil was abusing me and that he was a liar. She spoke that over me over and over giving it so much emphasis that I couldn’t contain the feeling of God taking over me. In that moment the devil had no grip on me. She also told me that whenever those thoughts came to my head to just say that I am a child of God. These thoughts were intrusive keep in mind she knew nothing about me. The last things she told me was that I needed to let it go to just let it go. This article helped me. Even though this word was given to me a year ago I can help but still feel tormented by those thoughts. The craziest part of all of this is those thoughts began when I was only a a 12 year old child. At times I doubt the words given to me by that preacher. The thoughts of oh that word was not mean for those thoughts it was meant for something else strike my mind but whenever I pray and surrender and recall that moment I feel ok. Can anyone tell me if I’m just going crazy or if that word was mean for me and for what I am going through ?

      • Andy   at

        I’m sure the word was meant about the thoughts you suffer from. Accept it and be free. I too suffer from obsessive bad thoughts since I was about 11 and I also need to constantly keep coming back to take the freedom Jesus has won me as it’s so easy to fall back into fear. This article and the one on selfish Christians belie helped me greatly. Thank you.