Gripping Thoughts

The Mayo Clinic website defines “obsessive-compulsive disorder obsessions” as “repeated, persistent and unwanted ideas, thoughts, images or impulses that you have involuntarily and that seem to make no sense [and which] typically intrude when you’re trying to think of or do other things.” OCD sufferers lead lives dominated by fear–usually of some particular bad thing happening–and by repetitive actions to relieve the fear or prevent its object. Always the relief is temporary; always the fear returns.

To some degree, all of us suffer from OCD; it comes with the sin nature. St. Paul said it best: “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…. When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:14-15, 18-19, 21-24). 

Shortly before the above passage (in Romans 7:7-10), Paul notes how simply being told “Don’t do it” can set off obsessive craving to sin. It’s worth noting that the specific sin he cites–coveting–is a sin of thought. Ultimately, even those who manage to refrain from sinful actions struggle with sinful thoughts–and for those of us who are prone to obsessiveness, those thoughts have a way of sinking their talons into our brains and refusing to let go. Hard feelings over someone’s thoughtless remark, guilt over our own mistakes, or fear the doctor’s “perfect health” diagnosis was a mistake can ruin weeks of sleep. One might well ask, “Do you have obsessions or do they have you?”

When Paul, who made no bones about the difficulty of battling such gripping thoughts, urges us nonetheless not to give up the fight, he does not say we bear full responsibility for replacing these thoughts with better ones. Acknowledgment of God’s strength for us comes first: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. [Once we let God arm us with these weapons,] We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)…. “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus…. [Once you are strengthened in that peace,] whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:7-8). 

By God’s power alone can we be freed from obsessive sinful thoughts and fill our minds with holy ones. Our strength is in surrender–to Him.

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7 Comments

  1. That’s interesting. I thought OCD was primarily requiring things to always be in a certain place and actions always done a certain way.

    Reply
    • Jan– That’s frequently true, but as with autism, mental retardation, and clinical depression, the exact symptoms vary from person to person.

      Reply
  2. This is true! And to worry is a sin, when we do it compulsively. This is a grea article and well written.

    Reply
    • Carol– Interesting how we tend to assume that people can’t be held responsible for what they do “compulsively,” while the Bible makes it clear that sin itself is a matter of compulsion.

      Reply
  3. Great article Katherine! I’m learning to “let go and let God”….. and it’s something that I’m always working on.

    Reply
  4. Ekaette

     /  May 11, 2011

    This is a very relevant and pertinent article. So many are battling fear! We must continue to renew our minds in Christ daily. If our hearts and minds are stayed on him, that is how we can have peace.

    Reply
    • Remind me to put up a post sometime soon about not growing weary and losing heart: a tough point for those of us who like everything linear and neatly laid out. How often have I wished that I could just “put on the armor” once and then coast through the rest (pun semi-intended) of life!

      Reply

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