When Suffering Hardness of Heart, Severe Condemnation, Doubt or Vile Thoughts
What Must a Christian do?

Can I understand the Bible?

By Grantley Morris

This Page in German

When terrifyingly oppressed by what feels like hardness of heart, or devastating feelings of guilt and condemnation, or the vilest of thoughts, what should a Christian do? Nothing. Yes, you read that right.

chilled out cat

Christians have so much to worry about that they should be almost as stressed out as my cat. Despite an overwhelming urge to panic, beg forgiveness, run to a pastor, beat yourself up, or believe you are doomed, the most Christ-exalting counter-attack to such feelings is to do all you can to ignore them.

I am acutely aware that choosing to do nothing in this situation is both exceedingly difficult and the exact opposite of what feels like the correct response. Note, however, that if doing what comes naturally were the answer, you would not be reading this; you would already be free from these attacks. You need a radically different approach – probably one you have not even considered.

Regardless of how intense, prolonged and repeated your awful feelings or thoughts are, it is perfectly safe to treat them as if they did not exist or had never happened. As shocking as it seems, you should view them as being of not the slightest consequence.

You have grown so used to letting these things alarm you, that reacting in fear has become a deeply ingrained, unthinking habit. And habits are hard to break. In fact, as ridiculous as it is, not being afraid can seem scary. It is time to break the cycle by choosing to act as if these unwanted thoughts and feelings were not even happening. Don’t interact with them in any way. Don’t fear them, don’t be ashamed of them, or worry about them, or fight them. Don’t even ask forgiveness. Just, as much as you can, remain relaxed and unconcerned, and move on.

Not only does acting in fear achieve nothing positive, it achieves less than nothing. It ramps up fear by reinforcing in one’s mind the lie that there must actually be something to be scared of.


Doing nothing does not mean wanting nothing. It is not, of course, losing all desire to please God. It is ceasing to imagine that human effort can ever save anyone. Neither is it giving up on God. On the contrary, it is believing in God more than ever – not merely believing in his power and willingness to forgive some people but in his power and eagerness to forgive you as you currently are, no matter how atrociously you have messed up.

It is abandoning all hope of anyone ever being good enough for God, and redirecting that hope and faith into believing God is good enough, powerful enough and loving enough for you. Cease imagining you must somehow try to compensate for any inadequacies or reluctance in God’s ability to save you. Instead, realize that the almighty God of love is infinitely more that you will ever need to override your every inadequacy, no matter how gross or extreme your inadequacies could ever get.

He’s your heavenly Father; the perfect guardian who totally outclasses any human attempt at parenthood. He’s the loving, competent one; you’re the helpless infant. No matter how much we grow in Christ, you and I always remain utterly dependent upon him and he is always up to the task. In Christ, the Almighty’s power and eagerness to forgive is always boundlessly greater than your power to mess things up. No matter how passionately and desperately you yearn for God’s acceptance, his yearning to accept you and his power to do so, is stupendously greater. And that is all that matters.

As explained elsewhere, vast numbers of people have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) without even realizing it, and this is precisely the weakness that the enemy of our souls exploits when Christians are plagued with doubts, unwanted thoughts, and so on. Let’s look at this spiritually: OCD is fear-driven, which leads to what the Bible calls ‘works’ – our own desperate attempt to save ourselves.

What makes doing nothing the perfect counter-attack for Christians is that the spiritual opposite of both fear and ‘works’ is faith. Deliberately doing nothing in response to these attacks is faith in action. It is declaring to the entire spirit world that there is nothing to fear and that Jesus, not your efforts, is your Savior.

Fighting the symptoms gives the illusion of helping because it can temporarily ease them. The sad truth, however, is that it actually ends up worsening them by reinforcing the unspiritual notion that you should act in fear, rather than in faith. Since fear fires the problem, you need to put out the fire. Instead, frantically fighting the symptoms – reacting as if there were something to fear – fans the fire and so inflames the problem.

* * *

I mentioned in a previous webpage that I once hyperventilated. Let me describe what happened. It vividly illustrates why choosing to do nothing when terrified by doubts, despicable thoughts and so on, is the ideal response.

I was feeling a little unwell and began to focus on my breathing. Thinking I needed a little more air, I breathed slightly deeper. That did not seem to help, so I calmly breathed still deeper. That make me feel as if I needed even more air. I breathed even quicker and deeper. Soon I was caught in a vicious circle in which I found myself gasping for more and more air. Then my hands began to uncontrollably clench and go numb. Thinking I must be having a stroke or something, I panicked even more, which further affected my breathing. Someone with nursing experience placed a paper bag over my face (not recommended these days). Certain that I needed more air, I tried to fight her off.

When it was all over, I was flabbergasted to learn that the entire incident had been fear-driven. Every part of me had seemed to be screaming that I needed more air and that I was having a medically dangerous episode. It turned out that it was not that I needed more oxygen, but that I was actually getting too much. I simply needed to calm down (not easy when so worked up) and act normally.

That’s what it is like with OCD. When in the midst of it, panicking and trying harder and harder seems the appropriate, Christ-honoring response and yet it drives a vicious circle that makes everything worse. As counter-intuitive as it seems, you actually need to do the exact opposite of what fear tells you.

This is the safe, God-honoring thing to do, but it will not feel that way. Fear feels like a friend that keeps you safe and helps you be a better person, when it is actually an insidiously cruel parasite that sucks spiritual life out of us and robs God of the glory he deserves. So reverse this. Choose to honor God by accepting that, regardless of all your turmoil, through Christ you are accepted by God.

chilled out cat

Why is fear dishonoring to God? When Christ died for the sins of the world (including your every sin) the God of the impossible achieved the impossible. You are washed clean – spotlessly pure – and totally accepted by the Holy Lord, not because of what you have or haven’t done, but because the eternal Son of God swapped places with you on the cross. When Almighty God looked at his innocent Son on the cross, he saw not Jesus’ perfection but your moral filth. Then God unleashed all his wrath upon Jesus until not a speck of anger remained. Finally, Jesus was able to gasp, “It is finished” and he died (John 19:30). He suffered all this so that when you simply look to him in faith, the astonishing exchange is complete. Now, when the Holy Lord sees you, he sees not your sin but the purity and moral perfection of Jesus. This staggering truth is summarized here:

    2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

The exchange occurred not so that we could have our pathetic attempt at righteousness, but God’s righteousness. Moreover, as Jesus declared, it is finished. No need to struggle, beg, plead, shed tears, or whatever. It’s all over. You are divinely accepted and approved, because of Jesus.

Despite this spiritual reality, OCD causes us to panic and continually focus on a molehill until it looms in our mind as enormous as a mountain. So honor God by doing the opposite. Let even the molehill shrink to nothing by disregarding it.

OCD is like having the most annoying itch that incessantly demands to be scratched. If, despite that intense urge, you leave it alone, it will eventually calm down. Give into its demands, however, and do what feels like the natural thing to do – scratch it – and you will feel temporary relief but the itch will soon return even stronger than before. With eczema, for example, scratching can even cause infection. Enduring that irritating itch and refusing to scratch it, is agonizing and feels so unnatural, but it is the only way to stop it from getting worse than ever.

This is the dilemma you face: will you do what feels natural and give the guilt feeling, unwanted thought, or doubt, the attention it seems to demand, or will you trust that God can handle it? Will you act out that faith by deliberately doing nothing, despite the infuriatingly strong urge to believe the deceptive feeling or thought, or to fight it, ask forgiveness, or whatever you have been doing? Will you put your faith in Jesus or in your own efforts? Will you, by faith, accept that what seems to you a terrifyingly enormous mountain is nothing because of your almighty Savior? Or will you act as if he is pathetically weak and needs you to sweat, struggle and strive?

Basically, to have OCD is to be controlled by fear. The precise nature of the fear varies from person to person (and from time to time). With religious OCD, it usually boils down to a fear of being – or becoming – unforgivable. This, in turn, usually leads to people becoming enslaved (addicted) to some type of ritual they vainly hope might reduce the fear. Religious examples are begging for God’s forgiveness, confessing to someone, seeking someone’s reassurance, or beat oneself up (despite the fact that Christ was beaten for us). It often includes avoidance of things that could trigger fear, such as Bible-reading, church attendance or prayer. Fear becomes such a monster that even stopping the foolish rituals or avoidance becomes terrifying.

* * *

You cannot stop fear from taunting you but you can stop yourself from doing what it says. It is not your choice whether fear follows you wherever you go but it is your choice whether you turn around and follow it, making it your god by doing whatever it screams. What fear does is up to fear, but what you do is up to you.

Christians have serious problems.
  They have to be serious
  because if they smiled
  we’d see they have no teeth.

                – Grantley Morris

The goal is not to try to stop fear but to disobey it. Don’t wait for fear to stop bothering you before deciding to no longer let fear control your actions – you would be waiting forever if you chose that path. Instead, press on regardless of fear’s presence. Let fear roar. It’s a clawless, toothless tiger. Despite every appearance of being ferocious, it is merely a feeling. It is harmless. The only way it can hurt you is if you give into it by doing what it says. To let fear order you around is to needlessly let a mere feeling become a life-controlling tyrant.

None of us want to dethrone God in our lives and replace him with fear as our source of truth (the one we believe) and the one we obey. Nevertheless, it’s a hole we easily fall into. Thankfully, reversing this catastrophe can happen in an instant – just like at any moment an alcoholic can say no to a drink. What is difficult, however, is keeping fear off the throne – just like it is exceedingly hard for an alcoholic to keep saying no, day after day. Whether it is an addiction to obeying fear or to obeying the urge to drink, the first week or so is the hardest. Thereafter, however, occasionally the temptation to revert to old ways will again be agonizingly intense. That’s just the nature of a past addiction. Hold out during these times and life will get better and better.

To squander one’s energy on trying to fight doubts, feelings and thoughts would be like an athlete in the midst of a marathon race continually running off course to scold random people for not applauding you. Focus your efforts on the real enemy: fear. The real battle is won by refusing to let fear bully you into obeying it, and by believing that through Jesus you have already won. That’s challenging when obeying fear has become a way of life. Nevertheless, you can do it. If you are on a journey, it is easier on yourself if you never slip and fall. Ultimately, however, what matters is not how often you slip up, but how often you get up. No matter how hard it might seem, if you get up each time and keep going, you will make it.

    Micah 7:8 Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. . . .

    Proverbs 24:16 for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again . . .

A righteous person? That’s you because of Jesus.

My wife, who has suffered greatly from anxiety, has found using the Lord’s prayer this way astonishingly effective. What especially surprised her is that, until the Lord showed her, she had never seen this prayer as a way of finding much-needed relief. She had been taught to see the Lord’s prayer as being self-focused and involving considerable effort, rather than God-centered and effortless. Then there are all those for whom the prayer has connotations of a meaningless ritual. For it to work, you, too, might need to use this prayer in what for you is a new way. It could be a wonderful adventure.

Try imagining yourself in Moses’ sandals, looking after his father-in-law’s sheep, hour after endless hour, month after month, as they wandered on the far side of the desert. No crowds. No phone. No movies. No canned music; just the occasional bleat of a sheep or the distant cry of a bird of prey. No rush hour traffic; just the slow rhythm of the seasons. Think of David growing up as shepherd boy, or others waiting for their crops to grow. What a contrast to today’s pressures. What a relief it would be to have one percent of their stillness and laid-back lifestyle.

As you ponder the Lord’s prayer, try to free yourself from the pressure to perform. Let go of any need to achieve anything within a certain timeframe. Ease yourself into it. It’s perfectly okay for an hour to pass with your mind drifting in and out of awareness of just one word of the prayer, with thoughts often wandering off-track like grazing sheep and little of consequence seeming to happen.

If possible, get yourself comfy. You might even like to synchronize this prayer with calm breathing. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth. That can help settle a tense body.

Our Father in heaven

This is the focus any distressed person needs: letting go of the earthly – even if only for a moment – and dwelling on the heavenly; looking not at human inadequacy and concerns, but at our triumphant Lord reigning on high. Moreover, he is not aloof, but your father. Forget about human counterfeits: he is perfect. Let your worries vaporize: your well-being is your Father’s responsibility.

may your name be kept holy.

Let his concerns replace your own.

Let your Kingdom come.
Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Lose yourself in the bigger picture: all that really matters is God’s perfect will. Surrender to him like a shivering person to a warm bath.

Give us today our daily bread.

Unburden yourself. Hand over to him responsibility for meeting your needs, and even for determining what your needs really are. He is your provider, not just materially, but in every other way. He will take care of your needs, one day at a time. Don’t be distracted by the future. The eternal Lord has that in hand. All that matters is today.

Forgive us our debts,
as we also forgive our debtors.

You are not in the presence of a condemning God but a forgiving one. He holds no resentments. Rest in that, and likewise let your own resentments melt away. The welcome relief will be like ridding burrs from your socks.

Bring us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

Let the God of boundless wisdom, the one who alone has infinite intelligence and knowledge, be your leader. Hand over to him control of your life.

For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

What matters is not your power and glory but his. Lose yourself in the greatness of the Almighty, the God of the impossible, the supreme Victor. Through Christ, you have spiritual union with the Perfect One. Like a vine and its branch (John 15:), you are a part of him, and he is a part of you. Through that union, you have his righteousness, his wisdom, his power. Bask in it. Rather than beating yourself up for your failings, let your heart fill with praises to him. Delight in him.

Incidentally, the prayer begins not with my father – as thrillingly true as that is – but with our father, and continues in the plural throughout the prayer.

Maybe no one on earth knows, or cares, what you are going through (actually, countless thousands would care if they truly knew) but no matter how isolated or rejected you feel, you are not alone. Accept it or not: you are part of Christ’s body:

    1 Corinthians 12:15, 21-23, 26 If the foot would say, “Because I’m not the hand, I’m not part of the body,” it is not therefore not part of the body. . . . The eye can’t tell the hand, “I have no need for you,” or again the head to the feet, “I have no need for you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. Those parts of the body which we think to be less honorable, on those we bestow more abundant honor; and our unpresentable parts have more abundant propriety . . . When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.

Consider these renditions of the beginning of 1 Corinthians 10:13:

    No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. . . . (NET)

    No testing has come to you that other people do not have. (Worldwide English New Testament)

There are further helps for anxiety but to move on too soon would be counterproductive. Merely reading this and the previous webpage would achieve little more than being prescribed medication and leaving it on the shelf. Both webpages are like reading about how to get physically fit. They will not help until you practice doing what they say, and there will be no instant changes. You need to keep practicing until it becomes an ingrained habit, and then a way of life for you. That takes time and commitment, but you can do it.

Do not wait until stressed out to remember to do it. The more stressed you are, the harder it is to do. The key to practicing virtually anything is to start with the simple and then more to the harder as you get more proficient.

The following graphic is from an engraving produced at the close of the middle ages. It is intended to depict a saint’s calm in the midst of a horrific demonic attack. Given the unusual sensitivities of some people with OCD, I have zoomed in on the saint’s face so that this might be burned into your brain, rather than being needlessly alarmed by grotesque depictions of demons. There is, however, nothing wrong with seeing an artistic impression of demons. If, after focusing on the saint’s face, you wish to see the full engraving, see Enlarged.


Reading this webpage is like reading about how to get physically fit. It will not help until you practice doing what it says, and there will be no instant changes. You need to keep practicing until it becomes a way of life for you.

Do not wait until stressed out to remember to do it. The more stressed you are, the harder it is to do. The key to practicing virtually anything is to start with the simple and then more to the harder as you get more proficient.

This Next Page is Important:

Are Feelings As Important as we Suppose?

Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2020 Grantley Morris. Not to be copied in whole or in part without citing this entire paragraph. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings by Grantley Morris available free at the following internet site www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give.

Vital Help

Scripture quotations are from the New International Version © Copyright, 1978 by New York International Bible Society

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