Are you afraid you might be guilty of accidentally cursing God? In my work with scrupulosity, I’d say at least one-third of my clients deal with a crippling fear of blasphemy. See if you can identify with any of these case studies:
- Joyce is paralyzed by unwanted thoughts in which she is cursing God with vile cuss words. She is constantly “fixing” these thoughts with mental replacements to help her feel better.
- Tony avoids listening to praise and worship music, because his brain switches out the praise words with curse words. He constantly thinks “no, no, no” to avoid having the wrong thoughts.
- Alicia genuinely wants to follow the Lord, but struggles with a certain sin. Every time she’s tempted, she gets a feeling of resentment and thoughts of cursing God.
- Roy has been resisting these curse words for so long that he sometimes has nightmares in which he blurts out blasphemy. He wakes up in a panic, wondering if he actually cursed God.
Cursing God: A Biblical Overview
If you can identify with any of these case studies, you’re not alone. Many people with religious obsessive-compulsive disorder–also known as scrupulosity–struggle with fears of accidentally or purposely cursing God. Let’s talk a bit about what the Bible says on this topic.
The Death Penalty for Blasphemy
Perhaps one of the scariest passages about cursing God comes to us from Leviticus 24. Here we read a story of a half-Israelite, half-Egyptian youth who had accompanied God’s people during the exodus. He is unnamed; only his mother is identified: Shelomith, an Israelite woman of the tribe of Dan.
This unnamed young man was apparently not the most docile kid. We might call him a ruffian, a hoodlum. He went into the camp and began quarreling with an Israelite.
Now, as part of the “mixed multitude,” Mr. Pick-a-Fight didn’t have full privileges as a Hebrew citizen–not yet. After the third generation, an Egyptian convert could be included in full spiritual fellowship (see Deuteronomy 23:1-8). But for now, his place was on the outskirts of the camp. We don’t know exactly what the fight was about. Rabbinic literature suggests that he was actually trying to pitch his tent within the camp, where he didn’t belong, and that he cursed God when a Hebrew told him it wasn’t his place.
But this is Rabbinic literature, which has some historical value but is not seen as authoritative in Christian thought. So, to go back to the Bible, it would be speculation to say what the fight was about.
What we do know is that Mr. Pick-a-Fight “blasphemed the name of the Lord and cursed.” He was then put into custody while Moses asked God what they should do with him.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take outside the camp him who has cursed; then let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. Then you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. And whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall be put to death.Leviticus 24:13-16
If you haven’t already read this passage, now you know why I started out by saying it’s a little scary!
What people with scrupulous anxiety fear: that having an unwanted, ego-dystonic intrusive thought against God warrants the death penalty–or some other terrible punishment from God!
What we can notice in the text:
- Notice that this guy verbally, publicly cursed God. We know this because the text specifies that “all who heard him” laid their hands on his head before he was stoned. This is hardly referring to the intrusive thoughts that are so common to religious OCD. This was verbal and public.
- Notice that this consequence was meted out during a time when Israel was a theocracy. Moses was apparently unsure what to do in this case, so verse 12 tells us he was put “in custody” until the Lord would instruct them what to do. Why is this interesting? Because A) we no longer live under a theocracy, and B) we no longer live under Old Testament civil laws that governed Israel.
Here we can see that directly, intentionally blaspheming God with cursing was considered a severe offense. However, we need to remember that we cannot directly compare obsessive-compulsive intrusive thoughts against God (which are considered ego-dystonic and unwanted) with the impulsive, angry words of this boy from the mixed multitude. Plus, we do not live under the civil laws of ancient Israel!
The practical, uncomplicated takeaway from an Old Testament passage like this: cursing God is not good. Don’t use expletives that evoke God’s name when you stub your toe. Don’t say things like “I swear to God–!” And even better yet, get a profanity filter on your TV so that you don’t have to listen to others saying things like this. (I’m often surprised how many Christians don’t know about this option!)
But don’t let your mind trick you and overcomplicate this passage. It doesn’t mean you are condemned for having intrusive thoughts or temptations to curse. This is not what it means at all.
Sacrifice for Cursing God
Another passage that speaks about cursing God is in the book of Job.
You’ll remember that Job had ten children, and the Bible says,
And his sons would go and feast in their houses, each on his appointed day, and would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did regularly.Job 1:4-5
Here we see Job engaging in a loving, parental, “just in case” sacrifice.
He didn’t know of any specific sin that his children had committed; nor do we have any Biblical evidence that a parent’s sacrifice can sanctify the adult child. In fact, Ezekiel 18 makes it clear that parents can’t take care of their child’s sins, nor vice versa.
This passage probably serves to illustrate that Job goes above and beyond “normal” spiritual behavior, which heightens the narrative’s focus on Satan accusing a just man.
What I find interesting about this passage is how the word “cursed” is being used.
In Leviticus 24, we saw that the death penalty was instituted for someone who had publicly, verbally cursed God. But here, we see Job sacrificing just in case his children cursed God in their hearts.
I am sure someone with OCD is panicking as they read this, wondering if those ego-dystonic, unwanted thoughts cursing God would be considered “cursing God in their hearts.”
I’m not so quick to jump to that conclusion.
The Hebrew word here for “cursed” doesn’t literally mean to curse. If your Bible has footnotes, you’ll probably see a little explanation that this word means “blessed, but in a negative sense.” The Hebrew word is baraka, which literally means “to bless.” This ancient semitic word is still in usage today. For example, when I lived in the Middle East and learned to speak Levantine Arabic to a modestly fluent-ish level, we used the verb barak and the noun barakat to speak about blessings. (Hebrew and Arabic share lots and lots of vocabulary, which is why you’ll often see some word studies comparing the Hebrew word with usage in Aramaic, Arabic, or Syriac.)
Whenever I say “God bless you” in Arabic, I use this verb. How strange, then, that Job 1:5 translates it as “curse.”
To be quite literal, baraka does not mean to curse. It is translated as “bless” in a host of other verses. Why does it get translated as “curse” in Job 1? Simply because the context denotes something paradoxical–that Job’s children might commit sin and their hearts are not completely right with God. Whether this behavior that is translated as “cursing God in their hearts” is meant as mockery or simply the presumption of sinning whilst paying superficial homage to God, we do not know.
But again, this can hardly be considered the ego-dystonic intrusive thoughts of OCD.
The fact that Job feels compelled to make “just in case” sacrifices for a hypothetical, imagined scenario shows that his children are either A) unaware of the fact that they’re cursing God, or B) they don’t care.
Neither of these attributes would fit the person with religious OCD.
Impossible to Curse God
It would be very difficult to curse God.
He has already been cursed so thoroughly that the Bible says He “became a curse” for us. He has already borne all the mockery, scorn, cussing, and vileness that humanity as a collective can throw at Him. The Scriptures tell us,
Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.Galatians 3:13-14
Many of us view curses in a superstitious way, as if the bad and unwanted thoughts passing through our minds had a magical sort of power.
We’re like the pagans with their face paint and loincloths, pricking pins into voodoo dolls and expecting that the words we say (or think) actually have power to affect another person–or even God Himself. At the very least, we think the curses we hear in our minds really tick God off.
But let’s stop and remember that on a literal, objective, ontological level, your words are no more than a house of sticks in God’s sight. Remember Balaam? He was utterly powerless to curse the people of God. How much less can you actually, literally curse God Himself?
I could tell you stories of missionaries in foreign lands whom the locals tried to curse. When the spells and curses of the witch doctor failed to work, entire villages would be converted to Christ. They saw that curses had no power against this new God.
We, too, would do well to remember that profanities or hate speech against God doesn’t actually budge Him. Certainly, if you meant it, it would hurt His heart. (But I know, and deep down you know, that you don’t mean these obsessive-compulsive thoughts.) So in a very literal sense, your unwanted profane thoughts against God are nothing, they do nothing, they cause nothing, not even a single ripple in the ocean of perfection that surrounds God’s throne.
How wonderful, how sublime it is, that Jesus Christ–far above this cursed world with a cursed race living under a cursed law, would become flesh and take the curse upon Him. Willingly! How it brings tears to our eyes to consider that He stretched out His arms of mercy and gathered to Himself all the bitter thorns, all the harsh epithets, all the abuses and crimes, and every single curse word ever thought or uttered by every human being in history.
In fact, imagine for just a moment that you did mean the curses against God that your OCD brings to your mind. Imagine you meant every single one of them–that you hurled them in anger against God and meant them all from the bottom of your soul.
I would say, “so what.”
That is not the end of your story, because He bore all these curses. In fact, He who once sat enthroned in celestial majesty, untouchable by any profanity, the One around whom the angels covered their faces and cried out “Holy, Holy, Holy!” became a despicable curse for us.
He did this willingly, for you and for me.
Why, then, do we fear when our unwieldy minds run out of their course? Jesus has already proven that there is no depth too low that He will not reach us there. If you were so low, lower than low, buried at the pitch-black darkest place at the bottom of earth’s lowest spot in the Mariana Trench–oppressed by nearly seven miles of water above you–in a place where little more than crustaceans can survive, Jesus would have become a crustacean to reach you.
And really, that’s what He did.
For the divine Son of God to become human is even more unthinkable than for us to imagine becoming a lowly crustacean. But He came.
He carried the curse of the law. He became a curse for us.
And He died, freeing us from judgment and fear.
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.Hebrews 2:14-15
If you have purposely cursed God–either in your mind or verbally–you may ask forgiveness and receive it immediately.
Do not think that God holds you afar off until you “prove” your worthiness. If you have profaned God’s name intentionally or in a moment of anger, repent. Tell Him you are sorry. Ask Him to wipe you clean and set your feet on solid ground.
If you have sinned, God will forgive.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:9
Or, if you are like thousands of others who suffer from religious OCD, and your obsessions center on fears of profaning or cursing God–and yes, perhaps you’ve even broken down from anxiety and verbalized the feared utterance–there is no need to repent.
God knows your heart, and this is not sin.
He understands the difference between intentional sin and a mental health disorder.
You may simply pray and say, “Lord, I know you understand my heart. You know I don’t want this and I don’t mean it. Please help me trust in Your gentle heart and your all-knowing mind.”
This is particularly important for OCD, where we can get caught in an overwhelming round of trying to “fix” our thoughts. We may try to neutralize bad thoughts by making sure we have the “right” thought, or we may feel the need to compulsively chant prayers of forgiveness nearly every waking moment. We may try to “fight” the thoughts, as if we are holding back a giant, ready-to-collapse dam that will flood through and destroy our spiritual lives.
All this is a self-focused, self-reliant picture. Let us remember:
- In a moment of sin, the act of faith is to come, believing that God will forgive.
- In a moment of intrusive thought, the act of faith is to ignore the thoughts, trusting that God knows the difference and will fix what needs fixin’.
Dear friend, I know your obsessive-compulsive fears about cursing God are terribly strong and vivid. I hope this article has given you a few reasons why you may safely rest your case in God’s hands. Be encouraged!
Until next time,