Religious OCD/Scrupulosity – Sin or Affliction?

I remember arriving at the end of John Bunyan’s account of his long struggle with severe doubts and blasphemous thoughts and feeling a kinship with him as he described the experience in this way,

“These things I continually see and feel, and am afflicted and oppressed with; yet the wisdom of God doth order them for my good.”( a.)

It took a long time for Mr. Bunyan to call the experience an affliction. He’d struggled long and hard, supposing it to be a crisis of faith, a spiritual attack, or a sinful stronghold. But in doing so, he’d only dug himself deeper into the pit of a disorder which thrives on the attention given to the questions, doubts, and intrusive thoughts that it creates. He stayed stuck in the mire of OCD right up until he decided to stop treating the doubts and thoughts as worthy of his attention.  

The problem is that it’s tough to ignore something that feels like a legitimate threat. That’s how OCD manipulates us into doing its bidding. The anxiety that accompanies these thoughts is so intense that the sufferer will feel that they must attend to the matter. That’s what OCD does with every obsessional theme.
“Am I sinning when these thoughts come? Is this because I don’t possess saving faith? Is this God’s way of warning me? Is this Satan trying to get me to turn from God?” 
Those questions are just a tiny sample of what people with OCD/Scrupulosity feel they need to address. But in addressing them, they are treating their disorder as though it’s a spiritual issue rather than an affliction. And, if you know anything about OCD, attending to these questions is the very thing that feeds the disorder.
Can OCD be oppression, as Bunyan suggested? Yes, it can, but not in a different way from any other kind of illness or affliction. The Bible teaches that Satan can and sometimes does oppress those who trust God, as seen in the examples of Job and the apostle Paul. However, in both instances, it wasn’t due to sin. God was still sovereign in His work in their lives through suffering.

If we want to make any headway toward alleviating the suffering of OCD, we must treat it as a legitimate affliction. We can be patient and teachable in distress while taking advantage of treatment strategies just as we would for any other illness.

Astonishingly, Mr. Bunyan concluded that what he was experiencing was an affliction. This mindset did wonders for him because he left off doing battle with the thoughts, which in turn relieved much of his suffering. He didn’t have the luxury of a diagnosis and effective treatments as we do today. But the first step in learning to manage OCD/Scrupulosity is to acknowledge it as an affliction and stop treating it like a spiritual issue that demands spiritual correction. If John Bunyan could do that some 350 years ago, so can we!  

(a. “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners,” John Bunyan, Penguin Classics, Pages 83-84)

For more on how I managed my OCD please check out my book at:

One thought on “Religious OCD/Scrupulosity – Sin or Affliction?

  1. mikeloncono December 1, 2022 / 10:31 pm

    Love this. Needed this.

    Mike Loncono, CEBS, MBA
    Senior Vice President

    HUB International Gulf South
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