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Scrupulosity, pride, and how humility helps

C.S. Lewis wrote something which I think goes right to the core of religious obsessions: "Humility is not thinking less of oneself. It's about thinking of oneself less."

That is Law, and as always is the case with Law, it functions for our good only when, as Paul put it, we "use it lawfully." It can do damage if we misuse it.

Being obsessed with the self is pride. OCD will seek occasion to make us feel guilty about obsessing because it means thinking about ourselves. It will lose track of the fact that we obsess because of a neurological condition which can have spiritual ramifications, not a spiritual condition as such. And of course, it will lose all sight of the fact that the whole problem is that a person who is paying attention to how he or she is doing spiritually is fixated on himself (or herself) and isn't looking outward, to Jesus, Who is the only righteousness we have or ever will have, and to our neighbor.

But that's the whole point! We don&…

"Sad alumni of the Church"

I wish I'd heard this talk by Dr. Ron Rosenbladt before I went looking for answers for some of the very experiences he describes in places where answers weren't to be found. But if you have a problem with scrupulosity, I have a hunch that Dr. Rosenbladt has something to say to you, too.

In fact, I think you'll probably wonder how he knows your life story.

Hopefully you aren't an "alumnus" of the Church; after all, you're reading this. But even if you are- especially if you are-  this is meant for you.

And if you are still within the Church, I have a hunch that this is still your story. And Dr. Rosenbladt has the only answer.


The only place you can run from God

Obsessions are not unbelief. They're a symptom of a medical condition. That said, existential trust (aka "faith") is finally the only answer to religious obsessions.

I'm going to try not to get too technical or too theologically partisan here, but I just got done on Facebook with an exchange with a Calvinist who couldn't understand how, since Luther also believed in predestination, he didn't teach that God predestines people to hell. I explained that basic to Luther's theology is the understanding that God's thoughts are not our thoughts, nor God's ways our ways. Figuring God out even on the basis of Scripture just isn't possible. We know about Him only what He tells us. He's told us about predestination. He's also told us that He isn't willing that any should perish.

It's not for us to figure out how both things can be true. It's for us to believe Him.

But how? Luther's position was that you shouldn't try to under…

He has you covered

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. --Titus 3:4-7, ESV

The shrinks call it "rumination." Or sometimes "perseverating." It's the habit OCDers (and others) have of "chewing on" things- going over and over them, examining them from all sides, assessing and re-assessing them.

Thinking is a good thing. But we can overdo it. People with OCD often overdo it. That's where the "obsessive" in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder comes in. To "obsess" is to become preoccupied with something, to be so concerned with it that it not only crowds out other things we need to be thinking about but domina…

Scrupulosity: A Sonnet

This is a sonnet by a Scrupe Group member who has given permission for it to be shared here. It's his hope, and mine, that it will speak to you and perhaps for you as you strive to deal with this cross that we in the Group bear.

Scrupulosity

I’d fret about the rules I shouldn’t break
and made up new ones that I thought were good
and gave myself an existential ache
with fear that I would not do what I should.
I’d fret about my every thought and feeling
that didn’t match what I considered pure
and tried to crush the ones that weren’t appealing,
and it seemed that I would be damned for sure.
But while I couldn’t face that I was flawed
and that my thoughts were full of rot and death,
I focused on myself instead of God
and faith He’d pull me from my hellish depth.
My sin appeared so mighty and immense,
but it’s not God, with Love’s omnipotence.

"On my blog, the sonnet includes a photo I took that I think captures something of the feeling of the way this experience blocks our sense…

It's not just OCD. It's human nature

Martin Luther's opponents accused him of taking the easy way out when he proclaimed the message of Jesus and Paul that we are saved by grace through faith.  But faith, as Luther never tired of pointing out, is never easy. It's believing what one cannot see while rejecting what appears to be obvious. It's holding on by letting go. It's exactly what Hebrews 11: 1 calls it: "the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen." Moreover, it's trusting God for something our fallen human natures really don't want: a righteousness that comes from outside of ourselves, that we have done nothing to deserve, which we are powerless to obtain by anything we do, and which has as one if its most essential prerequisites a recognition of one's own unworthiness and helplessness.

It's not just people with OCD who have trouble with faith. It's all of us sinners. We all want, in Bonhoeffer's phrase, to "stand before God and say, '…

Get over yourself!

The Babylon Bee is a Christian satire site sort of similar to The Onion. Except, you know,  Christian. And this particular bit of satire is just what the OCD doctor ordered for scrupulous Christians.

Martin Luther and Thomas More may have agreed about very little else, but they did agree that the most effective thing you can do when the devil vexes you is to laugh at him. Pride is his Achilles heel, and being laughed at is something he simply cannot stand.

The same thing applies to religious OCD. It may not be what we want to hear, but sometimes the best thing we can hear while in the throes of scrupulosity is "Get over yourself!" The amount of absolutely ridiculous pride involved in thinking that one is the Greatest Sinner of All Time, the one sinner whose sin is so great that even the blood of Jesus can't wash my guilt away and even the love of God can't save is actually kind of funny. When we can see it that way, we also see how silly are obsessions can be.

Someti…

"Don't Be Afraid!" A Sermon for Easter Morning

This is a few weeks late, but I thought it might be worth posting anyway. --REW

The Resurrection of our Lord

And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. -Mark 16:8, ESV

What a strange text we have this morning! Here the Marys and Salome had gone to the tomb, mourning for a dead Lord, and expecting to complete the sad task of embalming Him. Instead, they found the stone at the tomb’s entrance rolled away, and an angel sitting next to it- with the incredible news that the One they mourned was alive!

“Go!” the angel said. “Tell His disciples. Tell Peter. He is not here. He is risen!” So did they go and do as they had been told? No. They didn't tell anybody. It's not that they were overcome with joy that Jesus wasn’t dead anymore. It seems that they're afraid.

Now, it’s a very human thing to be afraid. We live in a universe over which we have even less control than we tell oursel…

How we know that God doesn't speak to us through emotions

The issue isn't whether God CAN speak to us through emotions. He's God. He can do anything He wants. The issue is that, first, He hasn't promised to, and secondly, that since He is not the Author of confusion, it's a pretty safe bet that He won't!

God has simply not promised to speak to us authoritatively anywhere but in the Word. If we look for Him to speak to us through our emotions we are putting our emotions on the same level of authority as His Word. Since our emotions are, by definition, how WE react neurochemically to what happens in our lives, that amounts to equating to putting our own, often unacknowledged wishes and desires on the same level as the Bible!

Our emotions are fickle, unreliable, and everything God and His Word are not. And we just aren't up to the task of stepping into God' shoes and investing our own desires and inclinations with divine authority.

 Obviously, God wants us to respond to others with kindness and compassion. But we do…

Surely

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that bef…

Pastor Borghardt explains the unpardonable sin

It really makes sense, if you think it through: only by the testimony of the Holy Spirit to Jesus can we believe. In the last analysis, what Jesus is talking about when He speaks of the one unpardonable sin is final unbelief. It's unforgivable not because God is unwilling to forgive it, but because the person who commits it refuses to be forgiven the only way such a thing is possible- through faith in Jesus, enabled by the Spirit Who always bears witness to Jesus, and never to Himself.

Remember, I said final unbelief. One thing that Pastor B. doesn't say that should be emphasized is that Paul and C.S. Lewis and many other great Christians rejected Jesus at one time. Having done so at some previous time is not the unpardonable sin! The unpardonable sin is the persistent and determined rejection of the testimony of the Holy Spirit to Jesus which hardens a heart against Him. Testifying to Jesus and bringing about faith in Him is, after all, the Holy Spirit's main work.


A matter of simple logic.

Are you saved? It's the devil's job to create doubt about that. It's the Holy Spirit's to convince you that if you believe in Jesus, you are saved. After all, despite all the teachings and preachings of the doubt-mongers, that's what Jesus taught.

But do you believe in Jesus? Do you really and sincerely believe in Jesus? Give me a break. Where do you see all those adjectives in the New Testament?  I'm not even going to get into the question of whether you believe in Jesus enough because there is no "enough." Any faith in Jesus at all saves. And you're no more justified how well you believe than by how well you do anything else.

Salvation isn't about you. It's about Jesus. It isn't about what do. It's about what He has done.

But the fact remains that if we do what OCD tells us to do- to look inside ourselves to discover whether or not we believe- we will never find assurance there. The strongest faith is mixed with doubt. That'…

Jesus is the very opposite of "out to get you!"

In fact, I don't know how much more opposite His reason for coming could be!

As Jesus tells us in John 3, He came into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it. Folks with scrupulosity often act as if God were looking for an excuse to send us to hell on a technicality. Probably bad horror fiction plays a role in that delusion, as well as sick, sub-Christian religion. But the real God because a human being just like you precisely to keep you out of hell. He lived those thirty-odd years on this planet for you. He volunteered to suffer the punishment you had coming for your sins. He literally went through hell to keep you out of it!

I won't go into the Christological and sacramental misunderstandings which cause many Protestants to dislike the crucifix. other than to say that it's strange that they forget that the same God Who forbade worshipping graven images also commanded Moses to construct two metal cherubim to sit on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. And t…

Extra nos

The Reformers emphasized that in times of doubt and fear one should not look inward at the uncertainty of one's own heart or despair at the darkness of one's own soul, but rather outside of ourselves- "extra nos-" to Christ.

I highly recommend Edward Gene Veith's  The Spirituality of the Cross,which ought to be subtitled, "Christianity 101."