OCD and Christianity

Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Eph 6:16 NIV)

Ephesians 6 describes the spiritual battle, and how it should be fought. The metaphors chosen by Paul seem to be especially appropriate for the battle that is called OCD–the flaming arrows being the crazy fears that scream for our attention. They are, indeed, ablaze; because OCD delivers them in the manner that will cause the most harm, shrewdly attacking us in whatever fearful area we are most vulnerable.

Recently, a young OCD sufferer explained to me how he had been helped by the shield of faith. “Ephesians 6 suddenly made a lot of sense,” he said. “Using a sword doesn’t work against arrows. You’re going to get killed if you try that. What works is take cover under God’s shield until the arrows stop.” He then described how he employed this strategy every day: “So, what I do now is to let the arrows bounce off me. When an obsession hits, I take shelter, and let God do the fighting. It has really helped tremendously to cut back on compulsions.”

This is well done, because fighting directly with OCD courts disaster. Attempting to force obsessions from your mind only makes them stronger, while employing compulsions—anything we do repetitively when an obsessional fear strikes—also only emboldens the enemy. The shield works and it is biblical. All good.

There is one caveat. We must remember that what Paul is talking about is faith. When obsessions hit, our goal is to put our complete trust in God, to leave everything in his hands. Paul’s image points us very nicely in that direction. It is possible, however, to conjure up the metaphor compulsively, over and over, simply to relieve anxiety. This is neither pleasing to God nor good for OCD. Fortunately, in my experience working with Christians, this happens rarely, and when it does it is easily recognized.

Paul’s image is a powerful one. It illustrates the security that is ours when we trust fully in the Lord. Get under that shield! We are not called to battle obsessional fears by fighting them directly and by ourselves. God allows these arrows to be shot at us in order to teach us to turn to him.

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