OCD and Christianity

Faith, a heartfelt trust in God and his mercy towards us, is the most important thing in a Christian’s life. A good argument can be made, in fact, that it is the only important thing, because faith is what pleases God more than anything else. Furthermore, it is faith that gives us salvation, creates all of our good works, and brings us peace of mind. Faith is pretty much the whole ballgame. We must, therefore, cling to it with every fiber of strength in our will.

Here’s the problem, though. Occasionally, faith is nowhere to be found. No matter how hard we try to make it appear, it doesn’t happen. Such an apparent absence of faith occurs frequently with obsessional fears. At that time, we OCDers can try our hardest to make ourselves put trust in God, yet find that our fears become only stronger. It seems God is not available. We are left grasping and grasping for faith—indeed, our attempts at finding it become compulsive. What can God have mind here? What are we to make of this situation?

Martin Luther wrote that faith sometimes “crawls away and hides.” He knew this from his personal experience of obsessional fears. Luther concluded that in these times, God is teaching us a difficult lesson: Faith is a gift, and not something that we can produce by ourselves. If we think we can give ourselves faith through our own efforts, can we view it as a gift? When we are trying hard to make ourselves have faith, who are we relying on? Is it God or ourselves? The point is that God wants to be recognized as the giver of faith.

When there is no faith to cling to, we must put our hope in God to provide it, yet do nothing ourselves. When we find ourselves compulsively seeking faith, we must stop and wait for God to give us grace when he pleases. God in time will give us the gift of faith, and then we will have learned the lesson that He is, indeed, completely trustworthy. From our perspective, of course, the big problem with this plan is that it requires us to wait for an indeterminate period of time on an enormous cross of fear and uncertainty.

Luther says that before faith is revealed, “man must utterly despair of his own ability.” This is his “Theology of the Cross.” Luther felt that it is in fearful despair that we find God; because it is there that we find Jesus, who is suffering the same thing as us (“Oh, God, why have you forsaken me?).” “Our theology stops at the cross,” wrote Luther. The good news is that if we die with Christ in fear, we rise with him in faith.

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11 Response Comments

  • Luther would add that the very act of looking to God for faith is faith. Faith finally is looking away from ourselves to Jesus. And even the smallest and weakest faith receives the whole Christ.

  • carrie   at

    I really like that statement “even the smallest and weakest faith recieves the whole Christ.” Well said.

  • lynne   at

    I read somewhere on site re 12 therapeutic tips re ocd but cannot find them. Would you let me know where they are please. Many thanks x

    • admin   at

      Hi Lynne, I’m don’t know where that is. On the website under “therapy for OCD” there is a “ten strategies” section. That would fit what you are looking for…but sorry, only ten not twelve.

  • Terry   at

    I am a “newbie” here and started with a response to Luther then an additional comment or comments if I may. As I have struggled with OCD and my sense of lacking faith which I also interpret as lack of trust in God, I found the book on tapes, “In Search of the Invisible God,” by Philip Yancey to be an incredible resource, and sure gift from God for the dollar I paid for the set at a local Christian thrift store. Bottom line, as you and others have already said, even a little faith is faith. And is there such a thing as a little faith? Can one describe the universe, or God, as small just because we are looking at it through a pinhole? One more comment then a quote:
    I just started started reading your book, “Can Christianity Cure Obesessive Compulsive Disorder?” Haven’t completed the introduction, yet, but still convinced this book what what I expected of it. Thank you. Question: you speak of some of the giants of our faith….Luther, Bunyan, Therese? Has anyone every written about the Biblical giants– David for starters, Jacob the deceiver, Paul, Moses? David to me is one who clearly had “issues,” but perhaps Paul’s emphasis on grace is also in response to his own guilt issues. Rather than diminish the power of God’s revelation, I think it only enhances its power as it reveals His character through broken us…..I close with the quote by George MacDonald. A quote I have cherished and that has sustained me off and on for most of my adult life: “That man is perfect in faith who can come to God in the utter dearth of his feelings and low desires, without a glow or aspiration, with the weight of low thoughts, failures, neglects, and wandering forgetfulness, and say to Him: ‘Thou art my refuge.'” (George MacDonald, “An Anthology,” C.S. Lewis, Ed.

    • admin   at

      Thanks for that, Terry. Regarding the Biblical figures, I think its unlikely any of those people had what we now call OCD. The disorder is cultural to some extent, as I explain in the book, and I don’t think that was the culture that fosters OCD. In any case, not enough said by them in the Bible to support any diagnosis.

      • Terry   at

        Dr. Osborne:
        Thank you for your response. A good motivation to get back to the book. Always more to learn.

  • Damaris   at

    Hi, I have been noticed that the theology of the cross was written when Luther was still a monk and not born again, isn’t it?

    • admin   at

      That’s an interesting question. Luther continued to wear the robes of a monk for several years after he had made the essential “reformation discovery” that salvation is by grace through faith alone. The theology of the cross was developed either after or at about the same time as the reformation discovery took place, therefore it is considered to be a definite part of Luther’s mature theology. As far as using the term “born again,” that’s tricky with Luther as he continued to believe in infant baptism his whole life. These points are fleshed out by major Luther biographers such as Oberman and Brecht. Bottom line: Luther’s theology of the cross, which I think has special relevance for OCDers, is an important part of his reformation theology.

  • Nick W   at

    Hello and thank you very much for this helpful article. I have suffered with Scrupulosity/Christian OCD for years now but am gradually getting better. One fear that constantly distressed me in the past was the fear that I didn’t actually believe I was a sinner. 1 John 1:8-9 comforted me because it says that those who recognize they are sinners will confess their sin, which is something I did and still do (though now not compulsively). My question is this: I now am fearing that I don’t really believe in the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (I am a protestant. I am aware Catholics don’t have this doctrine). How do I know if, like my previous fear, I really do believe in the doctrine or am actually lacking faith like this article speaks of? Thanks!

    • admin   at

      That is a tough obsession, Nick. It’s also a common one in its general theme. So taking on an obsession like that requires some real work on OCD and understanding of OCD. A simple answer would be “you can’t know for sure.” That is, of course, very unsatisfying. But the Lord tests us in this way, allowing us to remain in terrifying uncertainty, in order to show us that “self-made” faith doesn’t work. Faith is in its essence a gift. The basic approache is to keep hoping, stop relying on yourself, and wait for the gift of faith. Quite a few of my blogs deal with this sort of problem. It simply cannot be handled in a few sentences, unfortunately. Hang in there!