OCD and Christianity

“I just don’t understand why God allows OCD to happen,” the young woman said. “He’s supposed to be a God of love! Why do I need to have these terrible thoughts that I don’t want to have? This can’t be God; it has to be the devil. I try as hard as I can to fight, but nothing helps. Why won’t God help me?”

Martin Luther, who in his early years suffered painful OCD, speaks directly to this  question. “God sends a variety of trials,” he explains, ”in order to train His own and mortify them in their own righteousness and presumption. God does this in order to recall us from ourselves back to Himself… He thoroughly afflicts us, He purifies so that we may learn to rely on Him.”

Luther says that God allows OCD in order to cure us of “righteousness and presumption.” That means, essentially, to cure us of too much boldness in what we claim for ourselves. We think we ought to be able to control our circumstances so that bad things never happen to us. We want our will to be done, and God to help us out with that. Yet, this is completely self-centered.  What God wants is for us to rely on Him. How are we going to do that if we are stubbornly relying on ourselves? It is fine to hope and pray for what we think would be good for us, but we cannot regard it as our right that it should happen. We need to leave room for God. Sometimes, we need to let God be in complete control.

In order to bring us to a proper position of humility, God has custom designed this painful trial called OCD. What could possibly be a better way to cure people of self-righteousness and presumption than to give them a terrifying disorder that seems both senseless and completely out of their control? We must let God purify us, refine us, through OCD. We must let God have complete control of the occurrence of obsessional thoughts, as well as the severe anxiety and uncertainly that accompany them. Only through taking this risk can we be cured of self-centeredness. God is the surgeon here, and we are the patient. Our part is to allow God to operate. That means no compulsions: no acts to save ourselves, and no reassuring ourselves that everything is fine. God tests those he loves. “Not my will, but thine:” This is the surgeon’s knife; the fire that produces pure gold.

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