OCD and Christianity

“God has imposed the cross on all Christians to cleanse and to purge them well,” writes Martin Luther. One of God’s most painful crosses—one that Luther suffered himself—is the agonizing fear and uncertainty of what we now call OCD. We must understand that this disorder is for our good. Through it we are purified and made into the type of people God wants us to be (See last month’s blog.) Of course, OCD sufferers will ask (because they need to have everything figured out), “Exactly what is it that I am being purified of?” Luther, in speaking of Christians who “tremble so much that they are afraid even of a rustling leaf,” says,

We are reminded of our weakness in order that no matter how great the gifts are that we possess, we may not exalt ourselves but may remain humble and fear God.

OCDers, more than most people, need to be reminded of their weakness. We ‘exalt’ ourselves continually, although we don’t realize it. The proof is in the fact that we keep relying on ourselves to deal with our obsessional fears, failing to put trust in God. We exalt ourselves so much that we keep relying on ourselves, doing our compulsions over and over, in spite of the fact that they don’t work and actually make our fears worse. What we need purified from is the inordinate trust we put in our own abilities. We need to get rid of our prideful self-reliance. What we need is faith.

God has imposed the cross on all Christians to cleanse and to purge them well, in order that faith may remain pure. For we really need such purging and affliction every day because of the coarse old Adam.

Our compulsions are an affront to God. They represent inordinate, self-centeredness—‘old Adam’ to the extreme. We must understand God’s purifying process: Terror and fear will remain until we stop trusting in ourselves. Not until then will we be gifted with a faith that is pure. Luther, in addressing people who are “deprived of peace of conscience and quietness of heart,” explains,

You must know that it is a benefit to you to be confined and perplexed this way; but you must see to it that you use your confinement correctly, that is, for the sake of the faith to come. For God does not want to trouble you in such a way that you remain in trouble…He wants to trouble you so that you may be humbled and may acknowledge that you need the mercy of God and the blessing of Christ.

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11 Response Comments

  • Jim Robbins   at

    I agree that there is an element of self-justification that OCD exposes. I’ve seen it in my own life; manifested as a relentless need to avoid any behavior or thought that could be lead to a finding of fault with me.

    But because OCD has biochemical/structural roots in the brain, and hereditary roots that are enflamed by circumstantial and relational triggers, perhaps the purging of pride isn’t the only possible reason God allows OCD? After all, we don’t fault people with brain tumors for behaving strangely.

    What if the process of sanctification is about releasing an already-present God-given good beneath the surface of all the mess? What if there’s something more noble and holy underneath all that self-reliance; a noble beachhead that God established in the redeemed person’s heart? Maybe OCD is meant to expose that new goodness, even more than it is meant to mortify fleshly pride?

    I’m open to your thoughts.

    Thanks, Dr. Osborne for your book, “Can Christianity…” The therapy of trust has lead to a new level of hope for me.

    • admin   at

      Great point, and thank you for the comment. Yes, isn’t the “something more noble and holy” nothing less than faith? That is the object, to grow in faith. So, I agree, it’s not just purification from, it’s sanctification to…something wonderful. And that wonderful thing is faith which is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Agree?

  • Jim Robbins   at

    I like how you just put it, “…not just purification from, but sanctification to something wonderful.”

    I agree also that faith is one of those wonderful things God can release in us when we “transfer responsibility” and it’s attendant guilt onto His shoulders. Faith is one of those internal New Covenant resources God has placed within the redeemed heart; an often dormant resource that the therapy of trust can tap into.

    I recently spoke with a therapist who raised the issue, “What if your reluctance to trust is actually coming from your OCD brain, rather than being an issue of sinful pride?” In other words, what if the broken chemistry and neurological structures of my OCD brain are wired for distrust, causing me do doubt God’s mercy when in actuality, as a new creation I want to trust Him?”

    This was a huge revelation to me. Though I do agree that people with OCD, like myself, still have the power to choose faith or reject it, our brains hijack our desire to trust, making it all the more difficult.

    I’d be interested in your take on this. Thanks again. Your work uniquely addresses Christians who have OCD in a way that no one else is offering them.

    • admin   at

      One thougt. It seems like the issue is being raised of our free will and God’s omnipotence: how much are we responsible for our OCD? On the one hand, I think OCD is a neurological disorder just as you note above. It is is under God’s control, and he uses it in order to sanctify us according to his design. On the other hand, I also agree that we have real choice in the matter, as well. There’s no satisfactory answer short of heaven for completely reconciling God’s omnipotence and our choice…they are just both there, as is emphasized in the Bible. We OCDers don’t have any problem with taking responsibility for our choices (we take all too much!). So, I think we have make a special attempt to remember that God is in control, and letting him be in control. I like what Augustine says about the issue: “God would not allow any evil to exist the world unless his omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.”

  • Jim Robbins   at

    Agreed. There is the tug-of-war between our free will as we respond to OCD and God’s sovereignty over the broken creation [including our brains.]

    I think it helps me to acknowledge that in those times when I want to trust God – but find my brain hijacked by OCD – I can refrain from faulting myself for lack of trust. [ I already carry enough self-imposed blame, as OCDers often do.]

    Though lack of trust is embedded in my flesh, it’s not in my new nature. OCD wars against trust, and my flesh can certainly indulge in that distrust; but my redeemed heart wants to trust.

    Thanks for the great conversation. The issues are so complex. As you did, I find Therese of Lisieux’s childlike posture helpful. Her desire to have “stolen” grace like the thief on the cross, rather than conjured “grace,” was a great metaphor.

  • Kianni   at

    I think a big point to bring up is that human nature, the nature of the flesh is innately contrary to God (Like Paul talks about in Romans 7), whether we intend for it to be or not, and that is what God is showing us through OCD. If he does not have His hand over things, than people everywhere can only go that way. Human nature/ the nature of the flesh is always to believe and rely on itself over God. As I understand it, sin can be separated into three types; sin of the commandments (the law), sin of not believing in Jesus, and then sin of not acting on faith (Romans 14:23) The first two are before Salvation, and the other one, people that are saved can still commit, albeit are already forgiven.

    I am always a bit iffy on the whole “free will” thing, that is to say, God is omnipotent and knows how things will or will not go. So in some sense we can only choose, so far as He allows; including in having faith, as it is all through grace.

  • Jim Robbins   at

    Hi Kianni. I would definitely agree that human nature, apart from the intervention of Christ, is self-centered.

    Yet, the nature of a redeemed person [Christian] is utterly different. Ezekiel 36:26 promised, “I will give you a new heart/nature.” Christians can still sin, but they no longer do so from a diseased/selfish nature; rather, they sin when they cooperate with “sin in the flesh,” which is different than a Christian’s actual nature.

    The problem is, one of the most common Bible translations often regularly translates the Greek word, “sarx,” with “sinful nature.” However, it’s better to translate it as “flesh,” which isn’t the same thing. We do have a flesh, but no longer a sinful nature/heart/spirit.

    In that passage you point to in Romans, Paul makes an astonishing statement, twice: “It is no longer I who sins, but sin living in me.” He’s not denying that he still sins; but he is saying it’s no longer the real “Paul” who sins. Sin is no longer at the core of his identity.

    For the OCD person who already struggles with guilt and unworthiness, this can help lift the burden a bit.

    • Kianni   at

      You don’t think that humans no longer have a sinful nature? If that was the case, there would be no need for one to deny themselves and follow God, rather than their own hearts. I do agree with what you said about Paul, though there it might just be wording we disagree on, but he does say, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing…” (Romans 7:18) In this current life we can go the way of God, or the way of the World/ Satan. So yes, we are either led one way or another, either servants of Satan or servants of God. Paul makes the point in Romans 8:7 that the carnal mind is at enmity with God.

      So yes, we are righteous, we are redeemed, we are forgiven no matter what we do or have done; but in terms of living this life and the will of God, in some sense basically a separate matter of “dying” to your old self every day, and living in the image that God gave you. That is, you might believe Jesus died for your sins, but he also died for our sicknesses and by His stripes we are healed, so if we live according to that, how else might we go forward and live despite the OCD anxiety and guilt or “unworthy” feeling that Satan tries to put on us.
      We are unworthy of God’s gifts, actually, as it is all Grace, however it isn’t about what we deserve or want. At least, it “shouldn’t” be, but rather about knowing God’s true heart towards us. We don’t deserve it, but He still wants to give us these things. If He adopted us as His children, then we can look at His will towards us. Looking at Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life. Knowing that if we know him, we know God. Jesus is the manifestation of Grace on earth through his very being and atonement for us on the cross.

      Keeping in mind, God doesn’t expect any more from a human with their own heart (only evil continually, Genesis 6:5), so in that sense there is no guilt. There is no condemnation in Christ Like I said last time, it is all faith through Grace, and why we need to draw close to God, because we can only go astray if not for God’s Grace.

      • Jim Robbins   at

        Hi Kianni. I didn’t say humans no longer have a sinful nature. Only those who are “in Christ” no longer have a sinful *nature.* Christians still have “sin in the flesh,” but not a heart/nature bent towards sin. Jesus removed the root of the problem.

        Thanks for the dialogue, Kianni.

    • Kianni Bravo   at

      It is also not “us” who are the ones to really be overcoming these things or “trying” using out own humanistic methods at all, but that which is led by God.
      We are we are made perfect in Christ. (Hebrews 10:14) We can deny our own image in front of God, and not look at the situation and declare ourselves perfect and righteous and healed according to his word, despite the situation. As we believe before it becomes manifest in the “situation”. A couple pastors at my church reinforced to me before that I am to gain faith that the Word is true, that I am healed despite the situation. Despite what I see, anyone else sees, whether I want it to be or not because the truth is still

      • Kianni Bravo   at

        The truth regardless.