Today’s guest post is from Jennifer Jill Schwirzer, LPC–a personal friend of mine and a respected Christian professional. She is an author, private practice therapist, and the CEO of Abide Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of faith-based mental health. Jennifer loves learning about Jesus, creating music, growing flowers and food, helping people, and riding her bike around her neighborhood in Orlando, Florida. Today she’s been gracious enough to share her views about the origins of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
I have often joked that Obsessive-Compulsive and Old Covenant have the same initials. Could there be a more than an alliterative connection between the two of them? I think so. Let us go back to the origins of the Old Covenant to see that connection. It’ll teach us something about the origins of OCD.
First, an overview of covenant history: What the Bible calls the “Old Covenant” actually came into human experience during Moses’ time after the New Covenant, which came through God’s promise to Abraham.
So, here’s the chronology:
God called Abraham out of idolatry to worship and follow Him.
“Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).
So we can see that the Abramic covenant focused on all God would do for Abraham. The only thing Abraham would do is get out of his country so he could receive it. Oh, and “Abraham believed God” (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3).
Years later, God gave Moses a covenant at Sinai:
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6).
All God asked of Moses was to “obey” and “hear.” Those words are shama, which literally means “hear,” and shamar, which means “guard” or “keep.” In other words, God asked Moses to pay attention to and appreciate all God did in bearing the Israelites on eagle’s wings, and making them a special treasure, a kingdom of priests.
What response did the people give? They said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (vs. 8).
God’s promise to Moses essentially reiterated God’s promise to Abraham because it is the “everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:7), the only covenant God knows how to keep. He calls it the New Covenant because He keeps reiterating it, even after we again and again try to morph it into an Old Covenant.
Why do we do this? Why do we keep trying to make our faith about our promises to God rather than His promises to us? Let’s look at the origins of our self-salvation in Genesis Chapter Three.
The Origins of OCD…and Self-Salvation
Adam and Eve had fallen into sin. We’re told “the eyes of them both were open, and they knew that they were naked” (vs. 6). Nakedness symbolizes shame. Most of us stripped of our clothing in public would feel embarrassment, a type of shame. Adam and Eve knew for a naked nanosecond they had no righteousness of their own. The horror of that shame sent them into a self-saving frenzy in which they grabbed fig leaves to make themselves garments.
These fig leaves put the guilty pair’s self-righteous hearts on display. They symbolize the post-fall human attempt to cover our shame with self-righteousness. These fig leaves take different forms for different people. For people with OCD, they take the form of hypervigilant purity and perfection. If I can just do things thoroughly, and make them oh-so-right, I myself will be right.
But the effect of resorting to fig leaf righteousness is the deepening of shame. In other words, if we try to make ourselves better apart from God, we will actually make ourselves worse. Let me use one of my fig leaves as an illustration. As a new believer, I deeply desired God’s favor. I learned about fasting, and decided I would try it. Restricting food seemed to alleviate the howling shame in my conscience. Actually, it deadened me emotionally as my nervous system economized on superfluous activity. I wasn’t really shame-free, I was spaced out due to low blood sugar! One day I realized I had made my faith look like torture. Then the shame returned in a tidal wave. Broken in body and mind, I saw that my own shame-reduction program had become an embarrassment.
God’s Solution for Our Shame
Now we have arrived at the million-dollar question: How do we resolve shame? If shame drives us to fig leaves, which generate more shame, we’re doomed. Our loving Father must have a solution. Let’s go back to the garden to see what it is:
“They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Genesis 3:7, italics mine).
“The Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21, italics mine).
They made and they clothed themselves with the fig leaves.
But God made, and God clothed them with skins.
God had taken the skins from the animals surrounding Adam and Eve in the garden. Their pets. As they stood in those lush skins, symbols of God’s robe of righteousness, they knew that for them to be covered required the death of their innocent friends. In that moment they began to understand the Cross. To be covered, a sinless Someone they loved would have to die.
These many years later, we know Who that Someone is. The innocent Jesus bore our sins on the Cross so that He could cover us with the lush robe of His righteousness. As we contemplate that, our compulsion to self-cover ebbs away. Why should we strive for what we already have? The cure for shame-driven self-righteousness is Jesus’ righteousness.
I’ve always wondered something about that fig leaves-to-skins transition. Did God ask Adam and Eve to remove their fig leaves first? Or had the leaves dried and crumbled off by then? In any case, it’s likely that the shame-filled pair stood naked before God for a time.
In order to receive His righteousness, we must do the same. We must trust Him with our shame. We must go to Him at the very time we want to run, and in the vey condition we wish to hide. We must believe the promises of the new covenant, which tells us all God has done, is doing, and will do for us. Resting in His righteousness, we abandon our own.
I’m really glad Jennifer Jill shared this post with us on the origins of OCD! I would like to direct my readers to one of her unique and beautiful resources that I think you’ll find very helpful in your OCD journey. You may have heard that “meditation” is helpful for reducing anxiety. But many of the meditative practices you hear about in the mental health world are full of eastern mysticism, which many Christians (including myself) find objectionable.
Is there anyone who can help us figure out how to meditate in a Biblical way? Yes! Jennifer Jill has produced the Jesus Meditations, which will guide you through a meditation that fills your mind with God’s word instead of empties it. These meditations are Bible-based and built on the latest psychological research. Not to mention they are incredibly calming! Please take a look at this resource, and be blessed!