3 Surprising Truths Your Pastor Never Told You About Faith and OCD

Principles to remember when treatment feels counterintuitive.

Written by Dr. Jaimie Eckert

3 Surprising Truths Your Pastor Never Told You About Faith and OCD

01 Dr. Jaimie Eckert is a Biblical coach for Christians seeking to overcome scrupulosity.

02 In this article, she explains roadblocks that may prevent people with OCD from pursuing treatment.

03 While OCD may make exposures or mindfulness seem “sinful,” Jaimie shows how treatment and faith can go hand in hand.

George* came to me for Biblical coaching because he couldn’t stop worrying about his salvation. He prayed the sinner’s prayer dozens of times each day, desperately trying to get it “just right.” He went to the front of the church for the altar call almost every week. He had been baptized five times. Each time, he felt a temporary sense of reassurance, but rapidly began to doubt his salvation once more. By the time we met, George was utterly exhausted and hopeless. He felt sure that his soul was in eternal jeopardy.

George was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but he didn’t know how to move forward. He worried that treatment for his OCD would threaten his salvation. Together, we began to look at Biblical principles that support the OCD recovery process and help him feel confident about seeking therapy.

While religious OCD strikes people of all religious backgrounds, what I shared with George — and what I will share with you in this article — will be most relevant for readers from a Christian background. However, these principles have an almost universal appeal to spiritually inclined individuals all around the world.

What is Religious OCD (Scrupulosity)?

Principle #1: It’s Okay for People of Faith to Have Doubts

People with scrupulosity may be triggered when pastors ask pressing questions like, “Are you 100% sure that you are saved?” While these questions are well intended, they can exacerbate the OCD sufferer’s tendency to engage in black-and-white thinking. It helps to remember that our favorite Bible characters themselves were plagued with uncertainties, asked tough questions, and wallowed in doubt.

Just take a look at Asaph and Habakkuk’s daring questions against God. Think of Job and his cyclical uncertainties, ruminating endlessly for chapter after chapter. Think of John the Baptist, stuck in prison and doubting whether his whole mission to announce the Messiah had been a self-deception. Think of “Doubting Thomas,” whom Jesus did not zap on the spot but rather drew him close in comfort and assurance.

God doesn’t get angry at us for having uncertainties. In fact, uncertainty is the context in which true faith exists. Faith is the bridge that carries us over life’s unknowns

God doesn’t get angry at us for having uncertainties.

Instead of going up for another altar call — just to make sure we’ve been saved — it’s okay to tell God, “I have a lot of uncertain feelings right now, but I’m going to stay in my seat and trust that You’ve got this all taken care of.”

Principle #2: God Isn’t Offended by Your Intrusive Thoughts About Him

Many people with scrupulosity come to me for spiritual coaching because of terrible intrusive thoughts against God. Much of their struggle stems from a belief that God is mechanically judging us without any insight into our real issue. 

However, the Bible tells us, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile” (1 Corinthians 3:20). Notice that it doesn’t say that bad, foolish people have futile thoughts. It says that even wise people — good people, people that God applauds — have futile, ridiculous thoughts. And God understands that.

If we have bad thoughts about God, He is not mechanically judging us like a sorting machine that pulls out the bad apples from the good. He sees the shades of nuance; He looks into our souls and minds and knows exactly why we suffer. 

Instead of racing to neutralize or argue against our unwanted thoughts, we can rest in our belief of God’s omniscience. Do we truly believe that God knows everything? Then He knows why, and how, your brain is malfunctioning. It’s okay to tell God, “I’m having really terrible thoughts against You, but I’m not going to argue against them. I can trust that You understand where they come from, and that You aren’t offended by my mental static.”

Principle #3: Spiritual Feel-Good Emotions Are Overrated 

Many of scrupulosity’s ruminations are triggered when we don’t sense the right spiritual emotions. We might analyze ourselves to check whether we love God enough, whether we feel passionate about our devotional practices, or whether we were sincere enough when helping a person in need. We tend to think that a true believer will be on a constant high of spiritual passion and ecstasy.

However, the Bible seems to suggest that the Christian life involves natural ups and downs. Most of us are familiar with the story of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus had a mountaintop experience where He was transfigured in glory, surrounded by light, and met by heavenly visitors and the voice of God from a cloud. Then, the glory faded away, He went down into the valley, and there He had to deal with a big mess that His disciples made. If we follow His example, we can see that there will not always be warm, glorious, mountaintop experiences — and that’s okay. That’s normal.

We are told to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). This means we should help people, even if we don’t feel generous. We should pray even if we feel anxious. We should keep on doing the things that believers do without stopping to analyze how we feel about them. Checking for the right feelings and motives — constantly trying to affirm through human methods that we are safe — is a form of walking by sight. Instead, it’s okay to tell God, “My feelings are out of whack and I’m not sure I’m doing this for the right reasons. But I can trust that when You said You are the ‘Author and Finisher of my faith,’ You meant it, and You’ll make me into whatever I need to be.”

Finding Healing Through Trust

OCD pushes us into a ceaseless round of checking, ruminating, and controlling. But the message of the gospel is one of release. It is a message of trusting a higher power rather than our feeble, exhausted selves.

It’s true that scrupulosity can be triggered by well-meaning sermons, books, and fellow believers. But let’s look beyond the static and remember that the core message of Jesus is the same message that will help us overcome OCD: let go and let God. 

*Not his real name



Dr. Jaimie Eckert works as a Biblical coach for Christians seeking to overcome scrupulosity. She holds a doctorate in missiology, a theological specialization in the history and strategy of Christian mission. She has worked intensively in mission and ministry since 2009, a path which led her to finally recognize and seek treatment for her own scrupulosity. She now runs a blog at scrupulosity.com and shares theological insights that support therapeutic interventions for religious OCD.

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