OCD and Christianity

Obsessions often take the form of tormenting doubts. For Christian OCD sufferers, these most often deal, one way or the other, with issues of righteousness and assurance of salvation: “Did I really accept Jesus as my savior;” “What if I didn’t confess all my sins?” “Could it be that deep down I want to commit blasphemy?” Unable to attain a  sense of comfortable certainty that they are in God’s grace, OCDers resort to debating and analyzing their situation over and over—in other words, they end up doing hours of mental compulsions in futile efforts to overcome their fears through reason.

But they can’t find relief, because God arranges it that way. This is the “trial of faith’’ that God assigns to a few of his children to bring them closer to Him. God teaches us that we must rely on Him for everything—ultimately, even faith. We are mistaken if we think we can always conjure faith up through our reasoning powers. It is a matter of our taking too much pride in our wisdom, which is not good, since, “God destroys the wisdom of the wise (1Cor 1:19).” Martin Luther writes,

If God allows faith to remain weak, one should not despair on                      that account, but rather recognize it as a spiritual trial by means of which God tests, prods, and drives a person to cry out with the father of the possessed boy in the gospel, “O Lord, help my unbelief.” Thus does a person come to learn that everything depends on the grace of God, [including] faith.

In a striking rendering of Psalm 32 (“I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go”), Luther pulls no punches in explaining how our wisdom must be destroyed in order for God’s wisdom to be grasped.

Not you, but I, through My Spirit and the Word, will teach you the way you must go. Things must go not according to your understanding, but above your understanding. Your thinking harms you and hinders Me. Submerge yourself in a lack of understanding, and I will give you My understanding.

This fits with the clinical model of OCD. When we are stuck in the agonizing uncertainty a strong obsessional fear, no amount of reasoning is going to bring the desired feeling of safety. The reasoning becomes compulsive. What we must do is stop attempting to think our way out of the fear—that is, resist performing compulsions. Only then will our fears be relieved.


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6 Response Comments

  • Josh   at

    Thank you Dr. Osborn. May I ask where you pull most of your Luther quotes? I’m struggling to find which references/books these might be from and would like to purchase one.

    • admin   at

      These are almost all directly from Luther’s Works..55 volumes..edited by Pelikan. For instance, “If God allows faith to remain weak…” is from a work called “The Sacrament of Penance,” Volume 35, p 19. “Not you, but I, …” is from Luther’s Penitential Psalms book, volume 14, p151. Occasionally I use quotes from biographies that are not in Luther’s Works (it only has about 60% of his writings), but not often.

  • Shawn Boahene   at

    Hello here’s something from C.S.Lewis I usually listen to when I have ocd doubts and fears about faith… I hope it helps


  • Bob   at

    Thank you for this encouraging article. I am recovering from OCD salvation doubt struggles but often get hung up on Romans 8:16, where Paul writes “The [Holy] Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” I can’t say with certainty I have ever been aware of the Holy Spirit testifying with my spirit that I am God’s child, yet I am trusting in Jesus alone for salvation, and have for many years. He is my Lord. I know we should never depend on feelings, but I keep trying to align Romans 8:16 with my experience and cannot close the gap. Thoughts? Thanks!

    • Jared   at

      The Holy Spirit testifying with our spirit is not a feeling, for then we would not be sure if we had such a feeling. No, the Holy Spirit always points to the finished work/salvation of Christ. For the believer, the Holy Spirit often brings to our hearts(thoughts of the mind), of Christ’s accomplished salvation on the cross/resurrection. We focus on that in recognition that yes indeed, there He fully paid all my sin debt, I have no sins left to pay for, such grace. No one who isn’t a child of God would or could recognize that what Jesus has already done IS their salvation, for God opens our eyes to that and is the author and finisher of our faith, revealing the truth to us as our faith recognizes and responds/chooses, yes, my salvation!

  • Ben Delp   at

    Thanks Dr. O for these blog posts you do. Very helpful