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Scrupulosity OCD & Mending Your God Image

Scrupulosity OCD can badly distort how you view God and how you think He relates to you. Plenty of terms get thrown around that describe this condition when it comes up in a discussion. They may include:

  • Religious OCD
  • Extreme Christian anxiety
  • Moral OCD
  • Religious intrusive thoughts
  • Intrusive thoughts about God
  • Spiritual OCD
  • Religious obsession
  • Christian OCD
  • Religious fear
  • Several others

Regardless of how you describe it, when OCD and religion collide, its effects on how you or someone close to you view God can be devastating. It can quickly erode your faith experience and overall quality of life.

Anxiety and Christianity

Have you ever overanalyzed a friend’s body language or a particular social interaction and concluded your friend was angry with you, didn’t like you or the relationship you thought was secure may not be so sure after all? The biggest kicker was you couldn’t think of what you did to cause the rift. Or, your ‘offense’ was so insignificant that your friend never thought twice about it.

That’s a reasonably common experience since we’re all prone to misinterpret situations.  And because of our brokenness, it wouldn’t be overly surprising if our fears about our relationships at least occasionally turned out to be true. We prepare for the worst, but most of the time, things turn out to be OK.

For the religiously scrupulous person, these fears aren’t centered around our imperfect human relationships, however. Instead, they’re focused on God who’s at once perfectly loving and just. And for the religiously scrupulous person, these worries of offense become all-consuming. A faith meant to bring comfort often leads to the exact opposite for the scrupulous. Religious obsession and anxiety can become difficult to shake.

The fear of offending our Heavenly Father is a weighty matter for anyone who takes their faith seriously. No relationship is as valuable, foundational and vital as our relationship with God. If this relationship isn’t in right standing, nothing else matters.

But when an individual with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) faces this question, it can feel paralyzing, terrifying, perpetually tormenting and seemingly impossible to resolve. What is a significant roadblock we have to address when this happens? Taking a look at your God image is a great start.

What Are Your ‘Gut Level’ Feelings About God (God Image)?

How do you feel about God? How do you think He views you? Your God image is far more than your head knowledge or Biblical understanding of your Creator. A good definition of God image is your ‘gut level’ feelings about how you believe God feels toward you and relates to you.

Our God image is heavily shaped by our relationship with our major attachment figures, life experiences, losses/traumas, and by our emotional struggles.

We all struggle to reconcile our head knowledge and heart beliefs about God in this life. We’ve been disappointed by others and have also let others down. We’re tempted to assume God operates like a flawed human when, thankfully, that isn’t close to accurate.

However, it can seem like you have to continually perform to gain God’s favor when struggling with religious scrupulosity. You feel the pressure to obsess over doing everything exactly ‘right’ or things could go terribly for you. But the sad truth is, you feel like no matter how hard you strive, it will never be good enough. That you’ll always have to suffer through the frowning countenance of a God who could’ve smiled upon you (If only you’d tried harder).

God Seems Top-Heavy in Judgement but Light in Love

Because of our limited understanding as people, all of us struggle to comprehend the balance between God’s love and his justice. On the one hand, we know God must judge sin or He ceases to be good. On the other, He is a forgiving God, full of love.

For the scrupulous individual, a God full of judgment is easy to picture. It’s the default perspective. A loving God who exhibits amazing grace is difficult to imagine despite all the Bible verses pointing to this truth.

When How I Feel Takes Precedence Over Fact

The scrupulous also tend to focus too much on feelings when it comes to their faith. Now, I don’t want to discount feelings. God created them and they’re an essential aspect of life. As people created in the image of God, we, like our Creator, exhibit emotions so completely discounting them isn’t healthy either.

Unfortunately, our brokenness has made our emotions unreliable at times. Imagine, for instance, if you made all your major life decisions based on emotions. If every time your job, marriage or role as a parent became difficult, you just gave up. In the same way, feelings left to themselves can lead you in the wrong direction in your faith.

As a child of God, your relationship is far more secure than how you feel moment to moment. It’s based on the authority of God’s word. And He’s perfect at keeping his word.

If a broken human relationship is robbing you of joy and needs to be resolved, take it seriously. If unconfessed sin has distanced you from the closeness of God you could experience, make it right. However, if you find yourself making repetitive confessions or ruminating and obsessing over spiritual matters, scrupulosity may be interfering.

God’s Love is a Greater Motivation for Obedience than Fear

A helpful question to ask yourself if you’re struggling with scrupulosity is, “What is my motivation for doing what’s right?” In my work with individuals wrestling with religious or moral scrupulosity, I find a common motivation is fear. The specifics of that fear may vary from person to person. For instance, one may fear the loss of their salvation or another the judgment of their church family. But fear is the unifying motivation of these obsessions.

There’s no doubt that we are to fear God’s judgement of us apart from the forgiveness of Jesus. Still, fear shouldn’t be our primary motivation for obedience to God as his children. It should be love.

If you were to ask the scrupulous individual if God is loving, they’d give you the right answer. They’d wholeheartedly agree God is full of love. That is accepted Christian truth, and they’d be meticulously careful not to go against God’s teaching. They would also be glad to tell others that God loves them, but would have difficulty applying that same level of confidence in God’s love toward themselves.

Their ongoing inner turmoil would show considerably different ‘gut-level’ beliefs, however. They’d be tormented by thoughts of a God that, thankfully, doesn’t exist. One that is so heavy in judgment and light in love that they’re obsessed about doing the ‘right’ thing.

That obsession with doing the right thing may sound very devout at first glance. There’s just one primary concern though. The regular motivation for spiritual devotion is fear of judgment or punishment instead of a loving response to God’s divine kindness.

Now, we are to have a healthy fear of God just like we should take a lightning storm seriously. Jesus told us not to fear people, but to fear God who determines our soul’s destiny.

“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Mathew 10:28

At the same time, a faith life dominated by the persistent fear of a God who is just waiting to ‘backhand’ us is a very skewed view of our loving Heavenly Father.

God is not some shady ruler of a tyrannical regime. No doubt, fallen angels’ interactions in the spirit world must all be motivated by a hopeless fear of punishment. They live in terror while terrorizing others.

But is that how God deals with his children? Oh no, brother or sister, not in a million years would God operate that way. You don’t have to live with such a weight around your neck!

“But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth.” Psalm 86:15

Is It Possible You’re Struggling with Scrupulosity OCD?

Apostolic Christian Counseling and Family Services (ACCFS) is devoted to your OCD recovery process. We strive to combine Biblical obedience and clinical excellence with the compassionate, loving approach God has for individuals who deal with such intense inner conflict.

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