Both before and after I became a Christian I was a worried adolescent. I was terrified that I’d done something dreadful – much worse than other people. Forgiveness and acceptance might hold for the other folks: but in my case, well…I’m wasn’t so sure. In my head, there were all sorts of reasons why I didn’t deserve the grace given to others.
For some people, this is an ongoing and painful reality. They’re literally obsessed with their sin – believing that just thinking something (e.g; blaspheming Jesus) is the same as the action itself. When these obsessions take over, sometimes it gets to the point of a psychiatric diagnosis: ‘religious OCD’ or ‘scrupulosity’. Patients experience distress around the idea that they may have done something wrong or improper, so they may consult the Bible or religious authority figures over and over to see if they’re doing things right. They may also avoid churches or institutions because of the anxiety that surrounds the condition. Of all OCD sufferers, the religious version of it is estimated to affect up to 33%.
That sounds like quite a lot, but as someone who has suffered with OCD in the past, I think the figure’s more like 100%. Every time we’re driven by fear into self-atonement, we’ve bought into religion. Every time we trust in certain behaviours or systems to make sense of our world, it’s a religious kind of trust. We might be staunch atheists, but when we find ourselves compulsively performing rituals in order to make life “safe”, it begins to look a little superstitious doesn’t it?
So what’s the answer? Abandon all religion? Well, sort of, yes. But beware – you will find religion lurking everywhere. In the diets you must stick to, the house and garden you must maintain, the lifestyle you should follow, the relationship advice you must take, the routines that promise order and safety. Religion is everywhere – not just in religions. I’d say that all OCD is religious – before you ever think about holy books and ceremonies. Certainly I was religiously obsessional long before I met Jesus.
But, slowly, Jesus has helped me out of it – out of OCD and out of the “religious” thinking caught up with it. Meeting the real Jesus allows me to live with uncertainties in the rest of life – if He is my Rock, it’s ok that other things feel like sinking sand. If He is my righteousness, it’s ok if the rest of my life doesn’t feel right. If He is my sanctification, it’s ok if I feel a bit dirty. If He is my Lord, it’s ok if the world feels a bit out of control.
I still struggle at times – checking things, getting caught in routines and thought patterns – but the answer is not some fail-safe technique. Fail-safe techniques are OCD thinking – religious thinking. But Jesus lifts me up out of that and sets me on my feet. He says “I’ll be your perfection, you can get on and live.”
If you’re struggling
For friends and family of sufferers
For clergy seeking to help sufferers