OCD and Christianity

Martin Luther offers this advice for dealing with the tormenting thoughts that we call obsessions.

When you pass an entrance where a dog is sleeping, quickly pass by the sleeping dog, or if he is barking, do not irritate him, for the more you oppose him, the more frenzied he becomes. You must do likewise with the ambushes and deceptions of the devil. Let them pass by. In short, I give you this advice (for I speak as one who knows): You must completely despise such thoughts and arguments of Satan. For Satan is in the habit of disturbing the tenderest consciences in this way.

This is a really insightful passage. Luther astutely observes that obsessions become worse the more we fight them or do anything else to oppose them. They are like sleeping dogs who turn vicious if awakened. Therefore, the best strategy for dealing with them is to tiptoe by and ignore them. Luther shows great respect for obsessions. They come directly from the enemy, and we are simply incapable of fighting them. We need to leave them to the Lord. Best strategy for OCD: #1 Recognize obsessions quickly. #2 Attribute them appropriately. #3 Do not respond to them in any way.

Luther completes his remarks by relating a memorable incident he witnessed as a child while attending Catholic Mass. It involved a “very virtuous girl” who suffered an intrusive, blasphemous thought at the solemn moment when the priest was holding up the communion bread and turning it into the body of Christ.

While the host was being elevated in the Mass, she thought, “What a great rascal is elevated here,” and with this thought she fell to the ground and almost died. When she finally got up, she told what had happened. If such thoughts arise, let them go quickly. We must become like one of the least of the children (Matt. 18:3).

Pretty dramatic scene. This girl falls flat to the floor like she was shot, because of being struck by a blasphemous obsession. I have talked with many people who have been hit while  in church by vile obsessions directed against God. They can be terrifying. The more we react to them, the more OCD torments us with them. Thankfully, in the case of this girl, it appears she was given comfort and reassurance after she explained what happened. Luther finishes with more great advice: Become like a child. The more we OCDers recognize our littleness, our powerlessness, and our complete dependence on God, the better.



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