Religious Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

The Little-Understood Reason for Doubting One’s Salvation


By Grantley Morris

This webpage crystallizes what we learned in the previous webpages. For the full picture, start at Scrupulosity: Oppressive Guilt Feelings.

Literally hundreds of Christians write to me with this question plaguing them:

    If I’m truly forgiven, how come I still feel guilty?

So many people grapple with this question that I have devoted enormous time to writing thousands of words on the subject. My dilemma – and God’s dilemma – is that no matter how much the Bible and spiritual teachers emphasize it, people keep worrying about their feelings instead of following the spiritual, biblical course, which is to ignore feelings and live by faith.

In such webpages as Feeling God’s Love For You and When God Seems Far Away: Spiritual Wilderness Survival Guide I go to great lengths to explain what a spiritually deadly trap it is to look to one’s feelings. I point out that if someone unexpectedly handed you a check for a million dollars you could easily find yourself in disbelief or shock or some psychological affliction such as depression that could keep you emotionally numb. Whether you feel rich or poor or miserable or uneasy has no bearing whatsoever on how rich you really are. What is of critical importance, however, is that you choose to believe that the check is genuine and bank it. If you think it is a hoax and never bother to cash the check you insult the giver and will foolishly continue to act poor.

So it is with spiritual issues. What matters is what you choose to believe, not what you feel, and if you look to your feelings instead of the integrity of the God who has offered each of us his spiritual check, you will insult God’s generosity and will foolishly continue to act spiritually impoverished.

It does not take a spiritual genius to realize that each of us is relentlessly subjected to temptation and that what gives evil powers greatest delight is to trick us into doubting that God has forgiven us and so miss out on all the spiritual riches Christ has made available to each of us at the enormous cost of his sacrifice.

This webpage briefly examines the psychological vulnerabilities that cause some people to suffer unusually strong and constant doubts and guilt feelings. Obviously, spiritual enemies that try to con us all out of our spiritual inheritance by tempting us to doubt, will delight in exploiting any such weakness they find in us. So let’s explore these vulnerabilities.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D.) is called the doubting disease, and it goes to absolutely ridiculous lengths. When O.C.D. takes a religious form, the unfortunate victims continually doubt their salvation or are excessively anxious about some aspect of their walk with God.

To understand religious Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, consider someone whose O.C.D. causes him to check locks over and over. He locks the door and is sure it is locked. Then in just a couple of minutes’ time he begins wondering if he really locked it. The doubt grows until, rather than put up with the doubt he decides to “put his mind at rest” by checking. Phew! It’s locked. He is now at peace and can get on with life. But then in a couple more minutes he begins to wonder if maybe the door had not been correctly locked. He puts up with that nagging thought for a while but soon decides he had better “put his mind at rest” by checking. It would only take one check and then he would be really sure and will never have to check again that night. He checks and feels so much better. Then a couple of minutes later . . .

What feeds this ridiculous addiction to checking is that checking temporarily feels good because it relieves all the anxiety. But like all addictions, the good feeling is short-lived and it just inflames the yearning for more. Like any other addiction, the only way to break this addiction is to stop feeding the habit. In this case, it involves refusing to ease the anxiety by checking.

In the case of religious Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, people will feel strongly tempted to ease their anxiety by seeking additional confirmation that the blood of Jesus covers their sin. Seeking confirmation that they are forgiven or accepted by God becomes an addiction that they must break. Like breaking any addiction, it will be agonizingly tough, but everyone afflicted by it must resolutely put up with the anxiety and refuse to relieve it. Eventually – after days or weeks – the anxiety will begin to fade.

I already have over fifty webpages on the subject, carefully expounding the Bible’s emphatic teaching on this and citing huge numbers of Scriptures. So when people write to me asking for still more assurance that they are forgiven despite some atrocious sin or blunder, it is important for their sake that I don’t feed their religious Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by setting their mind at rest. And I beg them not to dare feed their Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – and hence inflame it – by, for example, going to other websites. Any peace they manage to feel from such reassurance will be short-lived and the craving to gain further reassurance will only grow stronger. This is because the anxiety comes not from rational thought – and most certainly not from God – but from something very different.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder comes about because some people suffer abnormal anxiety. Normally, people are anxious only because there is a genuine possibility of something undesirable happening to them. When people suffer from a chemical imbalance in their brain, however, they experience that same feeling of anxiety when there is no external threat. Let me emphasize this critical point: anxiety caused by this chemical abnormality feels identical to anxiety caused by genuine danger, even though the person is completely safe.

Because the feeling is identical to when there is real danger, the mind is tricked into thinking there must be danger somewhere and so it keeps searching for that danger until it finds some supposed threat that it can imagine is real.

Since the chemical imbalance is real, you cannot stop the feeling – except perhaps by medical intervention. All you can do is to use the rational part of your brain to remind yourself that the feeling is chemically induced and not due to genuine danger.

Yet another confusing thing is that anxiety often feels virtually identical to a guilty conscience and it is so easily mistaken for God telling you that you are in grave spiritual danger. Of course, when that feeling is simply a manifestation of a medical problem, it is not from God at all and is not the slightest indication that you are in any spiritual danger.

Anxiety is like an alarm that goes off, alerting a person to danger. Whenever an alarm malfunctions, going off when everything is safe, it is upsetting. It makes one want to keep checking as to whether some genuine danger set off the alarm. In addition, alarms are designed to be unpleasant – usually obnoxiously loud sounds and bright flashing lights – to ensure that you do not disregard them. Likewise, anxiety is most unpleasant. And if it is a chemically induced false alarm in one’s brain, it cannot be switched off, other than perhaps by medical treatment.

So, unfortunately, if you suffer from excess anxiety, you are stuck with it and you are stuck with your mind’s instinctive reaction to an alarm, which is to feel continually tempted to see if the danger is real. All you can rationally do is keep forcing yourself to not check, and to keep reminding yourself that no matter how persistent and unpleasant the alarm is, it is merely a chemically induced false alarm. It is quite hard to force yourself to keep ignoring the alarm, but if you keep ignoring it, you will gradually find more peace, even though the alarm will keep blaring.

Cognitive therapy is about teaching yourself to ignore the alarm. Medical intervention is about trying to soften the alarm (usually through the use of medication). Since either method is usually only partially effective, I recommend that you try both together. Using either method glorifies God because it is an act of faith. It is declaring that since Christ died for all sin, any feeling that contradicts this biblical fact must be false.

From a spiritual perspective, what is scary is that if you start looking for reasons to doubt God, the stench will attract demons from every direction. Sadly, through no fault of their own, people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder suffer exceptional pressure to go down this path – pressure that the average person cannot even conceive. Nevertheless, if you are willing to let one or two Scriptures sabotage your faith in Christ’s saving power, slimy hordes will rush to your “assistance” in finding Bible verses to bolster your doubts, just as Satan quoted Scripture to tempt Jesus (Luke 4:9-12). Rather than wrestle incessantly with the Scripture Satan cited, Christ considered it sufficient simply to quote another Scripture and cling to it. In contrast, the way to send demons into a frenzy of malicious delight is to refuse to accept the rest of the Bible as sufficient and focus on a distorted interpretation of one or two Scriptures; arrogantly demanding full understanding of obscure Scriptures before conceding the truth of all the other Scriptures that unambiguously insist that Christ gave his life for the forgiveness of every sin (for a large sampling of these Scriptures, see You’re Forgivable: Bible Proof).

Someone, thrilled by how much better he was feeling after reading these webpages, wrote:

    Your writings have helped me a great deal and I look forward to the day that I am completely free from the enemy’s attacks.

I inwardly groaned and I replied, “That is not the goal at all. Not even Jesus avoided temptation. The goal is to grow in faith so that you continue to believe in Christ’s power to keep you, no matter how strong the temptation gets to doubt your forgiveness and no matter how torturously you are assaulted by unwanted thoughts.” Our goal is Christlikeness and alongside that honor all pain shrivels to insignificance.

Once demons see that just one or two doubts is all it takes to undermine your faith in Christ’s power to forgive, they will delight in you as a soft target and pour their united effort into keeping you focused on doubts and the arrogant stupidity of demanding full understanding of every Scripture before you will put your faith in Christ. The only way out of this dungeon is to learn to refuse to cave in to the doubts that incessantly scream at you and keep clinging to faith in Christ’s saving power.

If you missed the beginning of this series about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, increase your understanding by reading Scrupulosity: Oppressive Guilt Feelings.

Here’s a webpage about natural alternatives to medication you might have missed: Natural Cures for Anxiety-Related Illnesses.

There’s Still More: The Real Reason for Blasphemous Thoughts

Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2010, 2011 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 Freely you have received, freely give.

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