This week, we’ll be talking about some painful and difficult circumstances, and I pray that you can’t relate to what is said. But if you can, then know that this is a place of love. The articles may raise some uncomfortable questions for you, and we encourage you to speak to a trusted friend or church leader about these. We will also recommend some helpful resources to think about all the topics further.
I imagine that a lot of you reading will identify with this topic. It’s one of the more accepted idols in our churches. Wanting to control your life, your salvation, your sinful nature…we can all relate to some element of wishing we could micromanage a situation. The other end of this spectrum can express itself in a well-known mental health condition, known as OCD. We’ll be talking about the less severe and more common end of the spectrum, but the biblical principles here can hopefully be applied to someone who finds themselves nearer the other end.
As mental health labels go, OCD is actually quite helpful in describing the problem. Alisdair Groves, a faculty member at CCEF, explains this well by highlighting that:
Obsessive indicates “I have a thought that won’t go. I’m obsessing about this concept and I can’t stop.”
Compulsive indicates “I want this thought out. I’ll do whatever it takes however many times it takes to get this obsession to stop.”
Disorder indicates “This is a problem. This is impacting my life and I’m experiencing distress.” Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
DISCLAIMER: Perhaps with this description, you feel a little pang of concern about using the term OCD flippantly when you line the TV remotes up, or switch the volume to an even number. OCD can be a debilitating and highly distressing problem, and one which is so much more than colour-coordinating your revision notes.
So in what ways are we on this spectrum? We probably wish we had more control over our lives, more knowledge about our future, and we’re probably more comfortable addressing imperfection in the world, and our actions, than we are the imperfection deep in our hearts.
But we are covenantal creatures, whose every thought has relevance to our Creator. The Bible does urge us to be self-controlled, not giving into our own evil desires, but what we’re talking about here is wanting to be fully in control of our own lives, trying to snatch the rule of our lives from God. So what does our desire for control, whether minor or clinical, say about our relationship to God?
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book, before one of them came to be. Ps 139:15-16
God is in control. When we have that random thought of ‘What would happen if I just punched this person I’m talking to? What if this train seat is contaminated with a deadly disease? What if I let out the evil inside me?’... God is in control. When we are overwhelmed by a need to address our thoughts, we have given our thoughts a power and significance they do not deserve. God is the only person you can trust to address your thoughts. When we grow in trust of our God who is in control, we don’t need to avoid the situation. Neither do we need to distract ourselves from the thought. Perhaps you pray when you feel out of control of a situation and you say to God “get me out of here.”
Think about what it would mean for you to pray instead: “meet me here”. When the fear rises up, and the compulsion to run or to distract or to cleanse arises, speak to your Maker:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24
In a world of ‘what ifs’ that could happen at any moment, God is our only certainty. When all we can see is chaos and failure, we have a God who meets us there and brings blessing:
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
This article was based on a two-part podcast conducted between Alisdair Groves and Mike Emlet, both faculty members of CCEF. You can listen to the podcast here: https://www.ccef.org/podcast/ocd-mike-emlet-part-1/