OCD and Christianity

God allows some of us to have a fear-system disorder called OCD. Why would He do that? Martin Luther occasionally discussed the terrible anxieties he had suffered as a monk in the years before he experienced his reformation breakthrough—what we would now call clinical obsessions. For instance, he would again and again be struck by the fear he had grievously sinned, and feel the need to confess. While confessing he would try to report every possible sin he might have committed, splintering them into smaller and smaller transgressions, terrified that he would forget one. Despite confessing for up to six hours at a time, he could get not relief. “No confessor wanted to have anything to do with me,” Luther writes. One day he spoke with his spiritual director, Dr. Staupitz, about his agonizing fears.

I was sad and downcast. Staupitz started to talk to me at table and asked, “Why are you so sad?” I replied, ‘Alas, what am I to do!’ Then he said, “You don’t know how necessary this is for you; otherwise nothing good will come of you.” I took his words to be like Paul’s, ‘A thorn was given me in the flesh to keep me from being too elated; my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I accepted Staupitz’ words as the voice of the Holy Spirit comforting me.

Luther was forever grateful for Staupitz, remarking on another occasion that he might have died from despair had Staupitz not provided counsel to him. Luther’s striking insight was that his terrifying fears represented his own ‘thorn in the flesh.’ They were just as necessary for his Christian growth as Paul’s thorn was for him.

We need to appreciate OCD as part of God’s plan for our salvation. He puts the disorder in our lives for a reason: so that his power will be perfected in our weakness. We want, therefore, to cooperate with this plan. We want to allow ourselves to be weak when we are struck by obsessional fears, so that God’s power can be made perfect. Practically, this means not responding to obsessions through the performance of compulsions and avoidance. This requires courage, as it seems a great risk at the time. But we must take the risk and wait for God’s power to be manifest. If we do that we will find faith, and with that peace.



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12 Response Comments

  • Shawn   at

    So God allows these thoughts for our good. But just to be clear OCD is not of God, but a tool he uses help us trust in his power right?

    • Shawn   at

      I’m sorry you make it sound as if God gives afflictions. That’s probably not what you meant I’m just confused on your point.

    • admin   at

      Some people look on God as the direct cause of everything including afflictions, but more commonly afflictions are viewed as something God only allows as a part of his plan for our salvation.

  • Krys   at

    I’m wondering if what I’m experiencing could be OCD.

    I have a premature baby in the NICU. I’m already nervous about bringing her home. I found some mold in our windowsills and am cleaning them, but now I’m all consumed with the fear that there is mold elsewhere in our apartment or building or that I won’t clean be able to clean it all and that it will serious harm her when she comes home. It’s all that I can think about for days now. I’ve been reading on it constantly online. I can barely function, I’m depressed and cry I feel like I’m on the brink of a panic attack. I’m not sure if my fear is rational (even if it may be a somewhat legitimate fear) or if I’m being over the top. I’m prone to obsessing over a lot of things for a season, but having a baby in the mix feels like a whole different level.

    • Isaac   at

      Hello Krys,

      I wonder if you are dealing with “nesting” tendencies, which compel some women to clean and set in order their home in preparation for their baby. If so, it is completely normal and goes away in time (especially if you have another baby).
      The other symptoms could be related to post-partum depression/anxiety. This can be more serious though again this is not unusual. I would encourage you to talk to mature mothers and/or a counselor.

    • Marie   at

      I think this sounds like OCD. A lot of people have fears of harming others, and I think it’s also common to obsess more after having a baby. If you haven’t already, feel free to join the Facebook group “Christianity and Anxiety Disorders.” I’m a member there, and I think it’s a good source of support for people with OCD.

    • Star   at

      Please rest assured it is nothing but baseless thoughts nothing but thoughts. So when they occur stay calm and let them pass. Don’t worry all will he fine. Keep ur prayers going.

  • Kendra   at

    I’m still struggling with salvation doubts. It’s hard to not ask to be saved. I have so many triggers, like hearing someone’s testimony and how God changed them drastically, or if someone says “if you are a child of God…” . Just that if part of the sentence bothers me. I want to hear God’s voice, I was reading a devotional that said ” you can only hear God’s voice if you belong to Him”. So it scared me that because I’m struggling to hear him, that could mean I’m not saved. There are just too many triggers to even explain. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit is another thing that bothers me, because I don’t know what it is or feels like. I want to be close to God but I fall asleep during my quiet time with Him. I struggle with sin, I know we all do, but if I lack patience, gossip, get annoyed, or anything, and if I especially keep asking for help to not do it, but I still do it, it just makes me doubt that I’m saved. On memorial day I think God spoke to me, in that moment I felt like it was Him, but then I started to wonder what if I was just hearing my own thoughts or forcing it or something , and people told me to ask God to confirm if it was Him speaking. I asked God to give me confirmation, nothing happened though. I just feel insecure in my relationship with God for various reasons, lack of spiritual fruit of the Spirit, animosity toward people, not hearing his voice, lack of desire to pray and read the Bible though I push myself to do it, and the list goes on. All these things make me unsure about if I’m saved. I was told I had OCD and this has been a battle for several years with this doubt, and I have seen it get really bad to the point that I was severely depressed. But still I wonder what if it’s not OCD, what if God really is not with me. I’m scared to just let go and believe that im saved. I pray to be saved. Pastor said that you have to believe and accept who Jesus is and believe and accept what he did by dying on cross and paying for sins.the part I struggle with is believing and accepting he died for me.i know Jesus is the way to God, he’s the Son of God and is Good too. But I just try to have faith that he died for me, but it’s like my head or mind just gets a blockage when I try to have faith that he died for me.they say believe with your heart, I don’t know how to believe with my heart, I feel like the thought is just head knowledge, stuck in my head and I can’t get it in my heart. Don’t know if it makes sense. Please pray for me.i just want to be right with God and have a close relationship with Him, I want to change and develop fruit of Spirit

    • Shawn   at

      As the word says if you believe that Christ is your savior and believe that God rose him from the dead then you are saved. Just listen to that. After all remember the thief on the cross all he had did was say “LORD remember me.” And he was saved. We all struggle with sin and we need to remember God’s promise to us. He did not say you will become perfect but that he will start working within you. Remember faith is not a matter feeling but of the will. It’s sounds more like an emotional problem than a spiritual problem. I would look up the Thomas Factor by Gary Habermas maybe that might help

      • Shawn   at

        Also as a side note, I would only listen to your pastor if you trust him enough. People who are saying, “if your a child of God…” or you can hear his voice might come from a different theology than yours. Nowhere in the word did God promise to speak to you audibly he speaks through his word and other Christian. Don’t get me wrong sometimes he speaks to us audibly but personally I think that’s few and far between. Another issue I have with God speaking audibly is as OCDers is intrusive thoughts can masquerade as God. Things that might sound like it came from God might not be him at all so be careful of people who say that they regularly hear from God as we are taught to discern the spirits. On plus side maybe it’s good he’s not speaking to you in that way because he knows your condition and your mind may not be the best place. Perhaps he wants you get into the word more or fellowship with others. There is more than one way that God can communicate with us.

  • Daniel Smith   at

    Let us all in any case adore the absolute sovereignty of God and the justice of his ways. Nothing can happen without him allowing it, and he is faithful.

    • Quintin   at

      I love this!