Question: "How should a Christian view Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?"
Answer: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) was formerly classified as an anxiety disorder but is now categorized separately by the American Psychological Association. OCD is characterized by obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsive behaviors. The thoughts are invasive and feel uncontrollable. Furthermore, the thoughts are anxiety-provoking, compelling the person to carry out certain behaviors to temporarily relieve the anxiety. Both the thoughts and compulsive routines interfere with daily life to varying degrees. Researchers have not found a cause for OCD, but they have identified parts of the brain that seem to be involved.
In popular culture, we sometimes use “OCD” to describe people with an A-type personality or who may have excessive worry. But it is important to distinguish true Obsessive Compulsive Disorder from a heightened affinity for organization or cleanliness and from chronic worry. OCD is a real mental illness and is most often helped through specific forms of therapy and medication. That being said, it is important for those suffering from OCD to look at what the Bible says about anxiety and the trustworthiness of God.
The root of OCD, or OCD-like behavior in those not actually suffering with the illness, is anxiety. While OCD is not mentioned by name in Scripture, the word worry occurs 36 times (NLT). The consistent warning is not to worry. Worry is sin because it ignores the power of prayer and obstructs faith (Philippians 4:6). Those who have never trusted Jesus as their Savior are slaves to sin such as worry and cannot free themselves (Romans 6:17–22). Believers who struggle with chronic worry have yet to understand their freedom in Jesus to have victory over sin (Ephesians 6:10–18). Once we have received Jesus as our Savior, we are a new creation in Christ. Christians must walk in the Spirit in order to put off their earthly nature and begin to think and act like Jesus (Colossians 3:1–10). This is also called having the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15–16). With the mind of Christ, we can set our minds on things above (2 Corinthians 10:5; Colossians 3:1–3; Philippians 4:8). More importantly, as we grow in Christ, we begin to understand God’s sovereignty and His character. We come to trust Him more fully and can therefore give up our worries.
Those suffering with OCD can be greatly helped by recalling the truth of Scripture. When confronted with an invasive thought, they can combat it with truth. A firm foundation in God’s Word will prove a reliable base from which to evaluate thoughts and compulsions. Sufferers can also be helped by therapeutic protocols designed specifically for OCD, through counseling and the use of pharmaceuticals. There is much hope for those suffering with OCD. Often, it is a combination of personal Bible study, medication, and discipling with a biblical counselor that leads to freedom. Regardless of their troubling symptoms, those with OCD can rest in the love of God and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to give them grace to walk the path before them (2 Corinthians 12:8–10).