Idolatry Obsessions: Another Intersect Between Faith and OCD

Scrupulosity Video Post

Jaimie Eckert

Published on Apr 12, 2022; Updated on Jan 25, 2024

Do you struggle with idolatry obsessions? Maybe you’ve never heard that phrase before, but that’s ok! Idolatry obsessions, for a person with OCD, are very different from a typical believer’s struggle against idolatry. Let’s look at a case study that illustrates a very typical expression of this issue.


Nayla looked at her phone, paralyzed with fear. A text message from her boyfriend asked if she wanted to come over to his parent’s house after Bible study for a family bonfire. Nayla wasn’t sure what to respond.

She wanted to go, but at the moment she picked up her phone to reply, a thought had popped into her mind.

If you go to your boyfriend’s house after Bible study, you’re idolizing him.

Where had that voice come from? Was it from the Holy Spirit? Was it a random passing thought?

Nayla wasn’t sure.

Even if it was just an anxious thought, wouldn’t she be agreeing with the thought by going to his house? And wouldn’t that mean she was assenting to the idolatry?

idolatry obsessions

Before she knew it, Nayla felt herself twisted in a spaghetti bowl of confusing thoughts. She often experienced “if/then” thoughts that turned everyday scenarios into high stakes religious barters:

  • If you eat that piece of pie, you’re blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
  • If you don’t go out of your way to witness to that stranger, you’re going to hell.
  • If you don’t count to 14 before going through the door, God will let your mother die.

Nayla’s latest if/then statements were weaponizing her fear of idolatry against her, and she didn’t yet realize that this was incredibly common for people with religious OCD.

What Are Idolatry Obsessions?

The easiest way to define idolatry obsessions is to first define idolatry from a Biblical perspective. Then, if our anxious thoughts create a picture of idolatry that is different from what Scripture tells us, we’ll know we’re dealing with an obsession rather than a conviction.

By the way, here’s a good working definition of “extremism” and “fanaticism:” extremism in religion is simply to add to what God has said.

And yeah, guilty as charged.

Those of us with a predisposition to OCD can end up in some really fanatical positions.

To reverse this trend of unintended, fear-driven religious extremism, we have to know clearly what the Bible says, then sweep away all the manmade extras we’ve added to it.

So what is idolatry in its simplest and purest form?

A Basic Definition of Idolatry

The prophet Isaiah worked hard to warn his people against idolatry. He tried to turn them from their idolatrous ways, cautioning them that Babylon would carry their people into captivity for 70 years. But nothing seemed to move the Israelites. They continued burning incense on the high places and bowing before idols.

One of the themes in the book of Isaiah is judgment against idolatry. The prophet decries idolatry, saying,

Their land is also full of idols;
They worship the work of their own hands,
That which their own fingers have made.
People bow down,
And each man humbles himself…

Isaiah 2:8-9

Idolatry is thus seen as something that inappropriately “humbles” a person, bringing them to worship that which their own hands have made.

Isaiah looks forward to a time when God’s truth and justice will be seen throughout all the earth. It will be a time of justice, a vivid moment when idolatrous people will cast away their futile idols.

The loftiness of man shall be bowed down,
And the haughtiness of men shall be brought low;
The Lord alone will be exalted in that day,
But the idols He shall utterly abolish.

They shall go into the holes of the rocks,
And into the caves of the earth,
From the terror of the Lord
And the glory of His majesty,
When He arises to shake the earth mightily.

In that day a man will cast away his idols of silver
And his idols of gold,
Which they made, each for himself to worship,
To the moles and bats,
To go into the clefts of the rocks,
And into the crags of the rugged rocks,
From the terror of the Lord
And the glory of His majesty,
When He arises to shake the earth mightily.

Isaiah 2:17-21

Throughout his prophetic book, Isaiah defends the uniqueness of God as the only One worthy to be worshipped. He does this by commenting on three themes that describe why it is ridiculous to worship anyone other than God:

  1. Only God can create
  2. Only God can predict the future
  3. Only God can save

These three themes begin to help us understand idolatry and idolatry obsessions.

Theme 1: Only God Can Create

A Pakistani friend once told me a story that is in the Qur’an. In this story, there is a Jewish town where the people know they are not permitted to go fishing on Sabbath. In a tempting turn of events, the fish only appear on Sabbaths.

Obviously, the fishermen are sorely tempted and are itching to go fishing on the Sabbath. Eventually, they give in to the temptation, and God punishes them for fishing on Sabbath by turning them into apes.

My friend told me there is much discussion as to whether the Qur’anic story means they were literally turned into apes or whether it was a figurative expression for being shamed in some way. But, he told me wryly, “It does not really matter. Look at society today, how the people believe in evolution. They say of their own accord that they come from monkeys. You see, Sabbath was originally given to help us remember that God is our Creator. Once we forget our Creator, we don’t need to be turned into monkeys–we will stoop so low as to call ourselves monkeys!”

Understanding God as our Creator is a potent shaper of our worldview, values, self-image, and beliefs. Isaiah knew that the creation narrative would protect God’s people from idolatry. He wrote,

Truly You are God, who hide Yourself,
O God of Israel, the Savior!
They shall be ashamed
And also disgraced, all of them;
They shall go in confusion together,
Who are makers of idols.
But Israel shall be saved by the Lord
With an everlasting salvation;
You shall not be ashamed or disgraced
Forever and ever.

For thus says the Lord,
Who created the heavens,
Who is God,
Who formed the earth and made it,
Who has established it,
Who did not create it in vain,
Who formed it to be inhabited:
“I am the Lord, and there is no other.

Isaiah 45:15-18

This leads us to the understanding that, in part, idolatry must be in some way a negation of God’s role as Creator. Idolatry may be seen as antithetical or competitive to God’s claim to be the only Creator.

idolatry obsessions: God as Creator

In this sense, there are a few philosophical positions that would seem to fit this description, such as the various non-theistic suggestions for the origin of life or pagan creation myths.

Responding to the panic-driven if/then statements of OCD can hardly be considered a negation of God’s role as Creator.

Theme 2: Only God Can Predict the Future

Isaiah’s second reason for insisting that only God is God and idols are worthless is the fact that God accurately predicts the future.

Predictive prophecy is an extremely unique feature of Biblical scholarship, one that has made many atheists into theists. While our weather apps can predict next week’s weather with about 50% accuracy, Biblical prophecy correctly outlined future events hundreds of years before they happened.

Isaiah wrote,

“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.
And who can proclaim as I do?
Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me,
Since I appointed the ancient people.
And the things that are coming and shall come,
Let them show these to them.
Do not fear, nor be afraid;
Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?
You are My witnesses.
Is there a God besides Me?
Indeed there is no other Rock;
I know not one.’ ”

Tell and bring forth your case;
Yes, let them take counsel together.
Who has declared this from ancient time?
Who has told it from that time?
Have not I, the Lord?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A just God and a Savior;
There is none besides Me.

Isaiah 44:6-8, 45:21

God asserts Himself against idols by His ability to predict the future. This is a key difference that sets Him above and beyond all competition. No one else can declare what will happen.

Idolatry, then, must in some way involve attempts to predict the future through other means.

I, for one, would consider it idolatry to try knowing your future through tarot cards, palm readings, tea leaf readings, or other type of psychic activities.

There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you. 

Deuteronomy 18:10-12

In case the word “soothsayer” in the above passage is an unfamiliar word, it means one who attempts to foretell the future. Today, we might use the word “psychic.”

Let’s remember, though, that psychic readings are a supernatural attempt to know the future. Other non-supernatural attempts to predict the weather or economy appear to be different because they rely on scientific observations of God’s created world (meteorology) or observations of patterns within financial trends (economics). This seems to be a valid use of human wisdom. Jesus saw weather predictions as a good thing, although He tongue-in-cheek cited weather prediction as rationale for why the Pharisees ought to have recognized His coming.

He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.

Matthew 16:2-3

So no, not all predictive activities are bad, but attempts to supernaturally foretell the future–something only God can do–would seem to be an expression of idolatry.

OCD may tell you you’re committing idolatry for not obeying its arbitrary if/then suggestions. But this is hardly what the Bible describes as idolatry.

Theme 3: Only God Can Save

Isaiah’s third rationale for why idols are worthless is that God alone can save. He wrote,

Those who make an image, all of them are useless,
And their precious things shall not profit;
They are their own witnesses;
They neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed…

The craftsman stretches out his rule,
He marks one out with chalk;
He fashions it with a plane,
He marks it out with the compass,
And makes it like the figure of a man,
According to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house.
He cuts down cedars for himself,
And takes the cypress and the oak;
He secures it for himself among the trees of the forest.
He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it.

Then it shall be for a man to burn,
For he will take some of it and warm himself;
Yes, he kindles it and bakes bread;
Indeed he makes a god and worships it;
He makes it a carved image, and falls down to it.
He burns half of it in the fire;
With this half he eats meat;
He roasts a roast, and is satisfied.
He even warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm,
I have seen the fire.”
And the rest of it he makes into a god,
His carved image.
He falls down before it and worships it,
Prays to it and says,
“Deliver me, for you are my god!”

…“Remember these, O Jacob,
And Israel, for you are My servant;
I have formed you, you are My servant;
O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me!
I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions,
And like a cloud, your sins.
Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.”

Isaiah 44:9, 13-17, 21-22

The prophet Isaiah uses cutting humor to mock the futility of idol worship. He notes how men burn half a log for warmth and food and then turn the other half into a carved idol. How can this, the works of their own hands, save them?

In the midst of this scathing observation, Isaiah breaks into a rapturous description of God’s own ability to save.

The idolatrous craftsman cries out to his idol, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” But when God speaks, it is reversed. There are no worshippers begging Him for His attention. It is God Himself who extends His power: I have blotted out, like a thick cloud, your transgressions, and like a cloud, your sins. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” God needs no persuasion, no rain dance, no child sacrifice. He is the One who calls us.

This is a God whose very nature is to save.

The third theme we find in Isaiah’s discussion of idolatry is that we must worship God alone because only He can save. Idols might promise protection and eternal security, but these are false claims. Only God can rescue us from guilt, shame, and judgment.

Any religious ritual designed to gain eternal life through any means other than faith in God could then be understood as idolatry.

Unfortunately, I hate to say that OCD can take on a very idolatrous flavor. How often are we convinced that our neurotic religious compulsions are necessary for our salvation? We end up depending on ourselves and our ritualized little salvation checklists rather than depending on the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

If we have idolatry obsessions, this is the area for us to be concerned about.

Not the fact that we really enjoy eating dinner (no, you are not idolizing food by having a good, solid supper every night) or the fact that we are really attracted to our spouses or partners. God never told us we can’t really, hugely, enormously enjoy life and the good things in it.

how to avoid idolatry

Enjoyment of clean pleasures is not idolatry, and should not produce an idolatry obsession.

Looking to anything else to save me, to predict my future, or to be honored as Creator is idolatry.

Idolatry in the Ten Commandments

The first two commandments relate to this concern with idolatry obsessions.

The first commandment, which is often not listed in its entirety, says,

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.

Exodus 20:2-3

God’s claim to uniqueness in our lives is based on the salvific work He has already done. He has brought us out of bondage and given us a life of freedom. Therefore, we must have no other gods that would compete with His singularity.

And the second commandment explains how we ought to apply this.

You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Exodus 20:4-6

God explicitly tells us not to create carved images to represent Him. We are prohibited from trying to access God through images.

(Probably someone who reads this will wonder about religious art. Please note that religious art, which is intended for beauty and religious education, is not the same thing as statues or icons that are used for veneration. In the ancient Jewish tabernacle, there were images and statues of angels, bulls, pomegranates, and almond blossoms, along with many richly textured fabrics and soaring architectural art. God is a lover of art and beauty–but He is not a lover of objects that receive our veneration.)

This is the simple and most straightforward understanding of the first and second commandments about idolatry. God wants to retain His unique singularity as Creator and Redeemer in our lives, and He doesn’t want to be venerated through images.

Common Idolatry Obsessions

Now that we’ve looked at some key passages about idolatry in Scripture, let us try to apply this information to our obsessive-compulsive lives. What we notice right away is that the things we worry about as people with OCD are very different from the idolatrous prohibitions we’ve just read about.

Some of the most common idolatry obsessions are listed below. These are the things we worry “might” be idolatry:

  • Loving someone deeply (spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, child, etc.)
  • Passionate interest in a hobby (sports, musical instrument, handicrafts, travel)
  • Much-desired purchases (house, pet, car)
  • Educational and career paths (attending university, pursuing a career in politics, working in any field other than Christian missions)
  • Everyday pleasures (eating a meal, having dessert, sleeping in on weekends, taking a hot bath, eating before having completed religious compulsions)
  • Preference of non-spiritual activities over spiritual activities (such as preferring to take the dog for a walk instead of read the Bible, often when one knows that reading the Bible is going to be anxiety-inducing)
  • Random “tests” of daily minutiae (if/then wagers are placed on the teeniest little details of everyday life, like, “if you blink, then you’re agreeing to commit idolatry)

Living with Zest

It is certainly right to lay everything on the altar before God. He calls us to be completely surrendered to His will, and sometimes He does call us to give up things we love.

But He also gives us things we love, and when He does, He wants us to receive them with joy. Enjoying His goodness and bounty is how we worship Him in our everyday lives. Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Solomon, who spent years in existential toil and agony while trying to figure out the meaning of life, looked back and recommended a simpler path than he himself had taken. He said it’s useless to get stuck in your head trying to figure out everything about the universe (see Ecclesiastes 1:13; 3:9-11; 12:12), and he admonished us to lead simple lives, enjoying what God has provided.

Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. As for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, and given him power to eat of it, to receive his heritage and rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

What about you? Have you spent a lot of time burrowing in your own head like Solomon?

Would you like to be able to eat, drink, and enjoy the simple pleasures of life without obsessing?

Solomon repeats this advice multiple times in the book of Ecclesiastes (see Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:13; 5:18; 8:15; 9:7). His final argument for why we should enjoy a simple, wholesome life is that one day we will die, and there is no goodness or enjoyment in the grave.

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works. Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil.

Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life which He has given you under the sun, all your days of vanity; for that is your portion in life, and in the labor which you perform under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.

Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

Solomon reminds us that our simple life should be:

  • Enjoyable (“merry heart”)
  • Pure and wholesome (“let your garments always be white,” a metaphor for purity)
  • Non-stingy (“let your head lack no oil”)
  • Relational (“live joyfully with the wife [or husband] whom you love”)

And yet, this life is lived with a view of eternity. One day we will die. One day, all our works will be brought into judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Solomon is not giving us a license to live sinfully or selfishly; he is simply reminding us to enjoy life fully and wholesomely while we have it.

This life is “vanity.” There is no hidden esoteric meaning we have to extract from it, so there’s no point in being stuck in our heads. Life is a lovely, chaotic, beautiful paradox–it is “vain” but also “abundant,” “meaningless” but also “joyful.” God tells us to live morally and with zest.

Let’s not waste time with idolatry obsessions. If you enjoy your dinner, or your marathon, or your puppy, God is not jealous.

He’s joyous.

OCD and enjoying simple pleasures

How to Identify Idolatry

Let me share a principle that may be helpful for a naturally obsessive-compulsive personality to determine whether an idolatry obsession is worth worrying about.

Principle: if God asks us to sacrifice something, it’s because it’s wrong or harmful, not merely because He wants us to give up things we like.

To illustrate this point, let me create two hypothetical scenarios which will sound very familiar to the scrupulosity community.

Pat and Paul are two Christians who have scrupulosity. They both like reading books, and they are both struggling with idolatry obsessions regarding their reading choices.

Pat likes to read Harry Potter and stories about vampires and teenage witches.

Paul likes to read historical accounts of medieval kings.

Both Pat and Paul feel anxious when they read. They worry that they are idolizing their books above God because they enjoy their reading very much. They also experience the intrusive if/then wagers that tell them they are agreeing to idolatry if they read.

Pat and Paul decide to study God’s word on the matter. They come to a better understanding of what idolatry really is, and they study what kind of entertainment is safe and wholesome for Christians. Paul comes to the conclusion that historical reading is a beneficial realm for reading. Pat, on the other hand, comes to the conclusion that reading about witchcraft and magic is not appropriate for followers of Jesus.

(Side note: I know Harry Potter is a sensitive subject for some believers. I don’t write this to make anyone anxious, but if anyone feels the need to describe why they feel it is appropriate for believers to read or watch stories that involve witchcraft, my only request is that you please share Biblical references in your comment.)

Now, as Pat and Paul have come to their conclusions, we see two things: first of all, Paul might still feel sinful and idolatrous by continuing his historical readings. This is the nature of having an anxiety disorder that attacks our spirituality. But if the activity he’s engaging in (reading historical books) is safe and appropriate for a believer, he should push forward and ignore the feelings.

God is not playing games to see if you love Him enough to give up things you enjoy.

God’s not like that. (And wouldn’t that make Him sound mean and petty?)

The second observation is that Pat, if she encounters Biblical truth that says, “what I’m reading is not healthy for my spiritual life,” and yet continues reading, this becomes sin. This is what many preachers mean to say when they talk about idolatry as “anything you love more than God.”

Certainly, any sin, persistently cherished, can become an idol.

But please notice, it is SIN that becomes an idol, not innocent gifts of God! This is the main difference I want you to notice.

I have talked to some clients who are really in gray areas with their idolatry obsessions–certain things they feel the need to give up that do seem sinful. But I’d say the majority of scrupulous people who describe their idolatry obsessions to me are worried about completely innocent things.

What About Abraham’s Sacrifice?

Of course, someone is wondering, what about Abraham sacrificing his son? Isaac wasn’t something sinful. He was the son of promise. Why would God ask Abraham to give up his son unless it’s true that God sends random tests to see if we love Him enough?

I would respond by saying that Abraham’s case was unique, and we have to be careful what interpretive hermeneutics we’re using if we try to take Abraham’s exception and make it the norm.

Abraham was a prophet who, on multiple occasions, spoke to God directly and intimately. (There’s also nothing that suggests he had a mental health disorder that was regularly distorting God’s voice, as it does for us). Abraham’s experience on Mount Moriah was also a salvific drama that foretold the coming of the Messiah. This is why, after he saw and sacrificed the ram, Abraham renamed the place Jehovah Jireh, “The Lord Will Provide.”

Many centuries later, Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). When and how did Abraham see Jesus’ day? In the mount.

The Mount Moriah narrative was an incredible drama that foreshadowed salvation by faith in the Old Testament. This was executed by a prophet of God who, like all of us, struggled to have faith. But God was carefully calibrating the depth of his trial and did not, in fact, let any harm come to his son.

It would be hard, on so many levels, to take Abraham’s singular case and make it normative for all our idolatry obsessions.

Note also that idolatry was never part of Abraham’s story. It just wasn’t.

Giving up your garlic bread, your puppy, your house, or your university career (all real examples from people I’ve spoken with) in order to prove that you’re not idolatrous doesn’t match the meaning and purpose of Abraham’s experience.

A Word to the Anxious About Idolatry Obsessions

Some of my readers struggle with idolatry obsessions more severely than others. For just a moment, I would like to address those whose idolatry concerns are the stickiest and most terrifying.

If you already feel you’ve been helped by what’s been written, feel free to sign off. What I’d like to say next is for those who tend to feel help-resistant, as if nothing that’s said on this topic makes any sense at all and doesn’t stick longer than five minutes.

support for OCD's help-resistant

I would like to ask you a question, and I realize that this question could be understood in two different ways depending on the intonation of my voice.

That’s one difficulty with writing instead of speaking–it’s hard for me to transmit the tone of my voice. But please be assured that I am asking the forthcoming question with the tenderest tone and the gentlest intentions.

My question is, “Who, my dear friend and fellow sufferer, do you think you are?”

Who do you think you are?

When you listen so carefully to those if/then statements in your idolatry obsessions, it sure seems like you think you’re a prophet of God.

After all, a prophet is God’s mouthpiece, one who receives messages from God. And it seems like you are getting direct messages from God.

New, private little laws of God that only apply to you and no one else. New rules. New demands.

See, if you come up with new rules and laws that aren’t in the Bible’s 66 books, that’s going to mean you are either a prophet or a person suffering from a mental health disorder.

And if you’re a prophet, and those weird if/then statements are really from God, you need to first pass the tests of a true prophet. Because, don’t forget, the Bible warns us against false prophets, and you don’t want to let your OCD turn you into someone who is prophesying falsely against your poor blessed self!

So why don’t you check out these tests of a true prophet. There are just a few of them.

  1. A true prophet may come with new information, but it will never contradict Scripture, only elaborate upon it (Isaiah 8:20).
  2. A true prophet will lead you to confess Jesus Christ and look to Him as your only Savior (1 John 4:1-2). A true prophet will never lead you to look to yourself for salvation.
  3. A true prophet will bring forth good fruit in their life and revelations (Matthew 7:15, 20), not misery and confusion.
  4. A true prophet’s predictions will always come true (Jeremiah 28:9). If any of your complicated if/then compulsions and idolatry obsessions have not come true, even just one of them, you can be sure your self-prophecies are false and can be ignored.

Don’t fall for OCD’s tricks. I know it sounds like it’s from God and it comes with so much anxiety. But please, go back and compare with Scripture. The Bible is our only safeguard against religious fanaticism.

And Scripture is calling us to be balanced, joyful, and free.

Idolatry Obsessions: Conclusion

We’ve talked about a lot.

This blog post got a little out of hand–I was planning to write a short treatise on idolatry obsessions and here I am 5,000 words later.

This has been a much-requested topic, so I hope it has been helpful in some way. We’ve looked at Isaiah’s three main themes against idolatry, in which he argued that only God can create, only God can predict the future, and only God can save. Presumably, idolatry would involve looking to any statue or icon or ideology to as the source of my existence, the foreteller of my future, and the savior of my soul.

We’ve talked about the first and second commandment in their simplicity, and we’ve seen Solomon’s advice for living a wholesome life with enjoyment and zest. We’ve also seen a few principles for trying to apply Bible truths to our idolatry obsessions.

At the end of the day, here is what I would love to see happen in your life.

I would love to see you study the Word, non-compulsively and with a calm spirit, to see if there is sin in the thing you fear is “idolatrous.” Please do not try to do this when you feel anxious, because it will strongly bias your research and will also make you miserable. Sometime, when you are in a “sound mind,” search the Scriptures. Talk with a church member or family member who has a strong relationship with the Lord. Try to ascertain if there is sin in that thing that seems like idolatry.

As you do this, also analyze the idolatry obsession itself. Try your best to isolate the if/then wager that often comes packaged with the obsession. Write out your idolatry obsession in the following format.

My idolatry concern is that IF I ______________, THEN God will/I will ________________.

Once you have identified your idolatry concern and you have studied to see if there is “real” sin in it, you’re ready to move forward.

(And please note: having a mental health disorder like OCD makes you predisposed to see sin EVERYWHERE. Try to check your conclusion with someone else. Some of you who are reading this can probably already say, “Oh, if I ask my wife, she’ll say this is ridiculous and unbiblical and I’m moving entirely from nervous energy.” If that’s the case, be humble. Accept the input of others.)

If the thing you’re concerned about is not sinful and you have no biblical reason to believe it needs to be cast away, then enjoy it.

Enjoy it with gusto and an extra spritz of lemon.

Because God’s like that. He’s a God who creates flowers and pretty birds, just because He likes nice things.

God wants us to be happy

Do not permit your anxious brain to distort the character of God. Do not permit it for one moment. Force yourself to eat if you must (I think I will need a whole separate blog post for discussing the intersect between scrupulosity and eating disorders). Force yourself to relax after a long day of work. Force yourself to just sit in nature and bask in the beauty and wonder of life.

As you sort out your struggles with idolatry obsessions, may it all be done in view of our loving Creator, who wants us to be happy. “Serve the Lord with gladness,” says Psalm 100:2, and all around us we see evidences of God’s desire for us to find joy and abundant life.

May you not only walk the narrow road in truth and righteousness, but walk it with abounding joy.

Best wishes on the journey,

jaimie-eckert-signature
  • Hi Jaimie,

    First off, I want to voice my appreciation for all you do to help people with their OCD/obsessions issues.

    I've read this post a couple of times. Initially I thought it was very helpful because I was dealing with a similar issue. However, after reading it a couple of weeks later, I think there are some things that are incorrect when compared to scripture.

    1. You say: "But if the activity he’s engaging in (reading historical books) is safe and appropriate for a believer, he should push forward and ignore the feelings." The problem with this is Romans 14:23 which says: "But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." It's the latter part that conflicts with your view. If you doubt and push trough anyway, it doesn't proceed from faith and is therefore a sin. Paul made clear the activity itself, (eating meat offered to idols) was not a sin in previous verses. But when you feel like it is a sin, it becomes a sin for you because you don't do it from faith.

    2. You say: "But please notice, it is SIN that becomes an idol, not innocent gifts of God!" This cannot be true. How then do you explain people worshipping the sun, for example. The sun certainly could be described as an innocent, yes even an amazing gift of God. And yet, many people groups have worshipped the sun.

    3. The Bible holds us to a VERY high standard. We are to glorify God in EVERYTHING we do. If we fail to do that (which sadly everyone does), we sin.

    I post this in all humility. The reason I wanted to post this, because idolatry obsessions is something that I deal with, and initially this post helped me with it, untill I discovered from Scripture that some of the things you mentioned seem to contradict especially Romans 14. I would really like to hear your thoughts on this. Or maybe my interpretation is just wrong, I'm sure you have WAY more knowledge of the Bible than I do. I'm not trying to nitpick and to be right, I'm just trying to make sure we are not going against Scripture.

    Lastly I want to make a humble request for you to make a blog on Romans 14 verse 23, and James 4 verse 17. I think these two verses can really trip people with scrupilosity up, so I think it could be really helpful if you reflect on those.

    • Hi Steven! Thank you for your kind and humble post. I think when it comes to an issue like scrupulosity, which spans two major areas of life — mental health and spirituality — we are ALL learning as we go! I think your request for a blog post about Romans 14 is definitely one I need to add to my list, because I tend to get a lot of questions on it. In regard to your three comments, I believe we are are the same page but maybe looking at the elephant from different angles. 🙂 Let me see if I can reply back to each of your points.

      1) My understanding of the conscience is that it is something which is sacred and should be respected, which is why I am against forced religion. Christianity has some pretty dark blotches on our religious history in cases where the church has tried to force “heretics” to violate their consciences. I disagree with any sort of force or compulsory measures in religion. The conscience is VERY important, and maybe that point did not come out clearly enough in this article. However, I also recognize that the conscience can be wrong and may need to be re-educated by the Word of God. I have met people who sincerely believe the wrong thing on non-gray-matter things, and I am sure you have, too. My position may change in the future, but at this point I do not believe that Romans 14 can be effectively applied to most people with scrupulosity. The reason being, Paul specifically talks about each person being “fully persuaded” in their minds. This is a point of security and settledness that most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder cannot reach in the “doubtful” issues that Romans 14 is talking about. Take, for example, one young lady I’ve worked with who really struggles with Romans 14 and not going against her conscience. She feels that she must dress in sloppy ways to avoid pride, and that if she washes and fixes her hair nicely it is sinful. But some days, she feels like it’s normal and is a better witness for Christ to appear neat and tidy, so she does her hair. Other days, she’s not convinced anymore, when the chronic doubt creeps back in. So she wavers, back and forth, never really “sure.” That doesn’t seem to fit the injunction of Romans 14 to be “fully persuaded.” We have a weakness in our brains that makes it very hard for us to reach that point. So, I recommend that if we are wavering back and forth, and even if we often feel uncomfortable with something that we otherwise rationally can see is supported in Scripture, we should push through the feelings in our attempt to re-educate the conscience. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, as I am always learning more and growing in my views, but this has been my position up to this point!

      2) I had to smile at the example you brought about sun worship, because isn’t it just like the OCD mind to drill down to the obscure exceptions to every argument? There is always a “yes, but…” to every discussion. I would humbly suggest that the OCD brain tries to find an objection to every helpful thought, and that might be what is happening in this case. The main point I am making in this part of the article is to say that just because we enjoy something (or even enjoy it a LOT) does not make that thing an idol. People with scrupulosity MUST become comfortable with RECEIVING the blessings of God and not feeling guilty about every good thing that comes to us from the hand of God. Otherwise, we need to strip out about one-third of the Bible which talks about God’s past, present, and future blessings to His people. His blessings are not merely spiritual. They are real, tangible, physical blessings–food, homes, the fruit of the womb, safety, health, love, and yes, even the sunshine. He causes the sun to rise on the righteous and on the wicked, right? And we turn our gaze upward at the warm sun and we enjoy it, especially on a warm spring day after a long winter, we bask in that sun and say, WOW God, that’s amazing, I love that! We might even like the sun enough to take a beach vacation and try to get a tan (I plan to do that in a few weeks myself). But intense enjoyment of something God has given does not necessarily mean something is an idol–and that is what people with scrupulosity tend to be so afraid of. We need to worry more about the “real” sins in our lives and learn to accept the lemon pies, sunny days, and new electric drills as coming from God’s hand of blessing.

      3) I think your third statement is ambiguous enough that I am afraid to comment on it for fear of misunderstanding your meaning. 🙂 When you speak about glorifying God in everything we do, which we all fail to do, what are you meaning, exactly? Are you speaking of the doctrine of sinless perfectionism in this life, or of biblical sanctification? In one sense, we can say that yes, we all have sinful, fallen natures which mean there are deep, hidden roots of selfishness inside us all. That is why sanctification is the work of a lifetime–and yet, because of justification, I do not view myself as being in a constant state of sin or lostness. Otherwise I’d be petrified to die in a car accident for fear of being lost. The mystery of the gospel is that we are “already and not yet.” We are already justified by the blood of Jesus and stand before God as if we are perfect; this gives me comfort and confidence for every day. But I am “not yet,” in the sense that I do not fully reflect God’s character in this world, and I am in a growth process to become more like Him. This means I sin often and must come to Christ for forgiveness and cleansing as I learn, constantly, how deeply these roots of selfishness go. At the same time, we need to be very careful not to MANUFACTURE new burdens that God has not set for us. Jesus warned the Pharisees about how they were creating burdens not from God: “For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matt 23:4). We can do this to ourselves and create a false witness for God as a burdensome taskmaster. And so, somehow, there needs to be a healthy tension between recognizing God’s high standards for us, while not overshooting the mark in our attempt to be “so sure” that we eradicate the need for faith and dependence on God.

      I don’t know if those thoughts help clear anything up…I always appreciate thoughtful readers bringing up these kinds of nuances, because I don’t always address every little detail in the blog post and it can be helpful to hash it out further in the comments section. Let me know if any of that makes sense or if we want to keep hashing it. 🙂

      Thanks always and blessings on your day!

      Jaimie

      • Hi Jaimie,

        Thank you very much for your reply.
        I really appreciate the time you take to reply, since I figure you must be pretty buisy.
        I think I'm first just going to spill my guts here, since I'm still dealing with this issue for quite some time now. I also actually never talked to anyone about this, I know keeping it to myself will always leave me stuck in my head so here I go.
        I kind of recognize the wavering back and forth you described about the girl. For me, the issue at hand is reading books. Only physical, paper books.
        To illustrate how this came to be, I have to go back a year or so. This might get a long post, but I'm going to try to keep it as short as I can.
        So, a year I go I stopped playing video games. This is a whole story of itself which I won't go into too much, but looking back on that, I'm thankful that the Lord helped me to stop playing them so I can spend my time in service to Him.
        After I quit, I started cultivating a new hobby. Reading.
        Over time, a couple of months, I started thinking about collecting hundreds of books. (I only ended up getting around 30 or so in the end) I was definitely engaging in it an unhealty amount of time at this point. I was mainly reading Christian fiction.
        I was also developing an obsession about my book collection getting eaten by silverfish. Then I got my daily Bible verse from my Bible app, which was Matthew 6:19. That verse really hit me, and I really think that God spoke to me trough that text, and looking back, I'm thankful for it because it prevented me from hoarding up tons of books.
        Initially I thought that I just needed to ease up on buying books and I determined to stop buying books untill I had read the ones I already had, and I took a week off from reading all together.
        After I had done that, I kept on reading, although not as much. And I still had obsessions about silverfish from time to time, if I didn't worry about if it was sinful or not, I worried about silverfish.
        During this time I also started thinking that maybe God wanted me to stop reading paper books altogether, and only read digitally. I personally greatly prefer paper over digital.
        A couple of months later I bought a second hand set of Matthew Henry's Bible Commentary, thinking that must be ok since then I can get to know the Bible better.
        I doubted a bit before buying since it's also available online, but I thought that if God doesn't want me to have it, He'd make sure it won't get delivered (I purchased it online). It did get delivered.
        Initially I saw this as a sign that it must be ok, but that idea eventually faded.
        I did start reading it, passages about Farao hardening his heart, and Abraham's sacrifice were convicting and hard for me. I prayed that if God wanted me to give up the books, He would take them away or bring someone who wanted them in my life.
        That didn't happen. Then I read your blog post and it really helped me at first, as I mentioned in my first comment, I had relief for a while, but every time I heard taught about repentance, or willfull sinning, I got afraid that that could be what I was doing and that I had to repent of reading paper books.
        Then I read Romans 14:23. It convicted me because I always kind of doubted whether God wanted me to read physical books or not.
        Then, when thinking to bring the books to the thrift store, since it is better to be safe and make sure you're not going against God, I have a kind of resistance to doing so. Like I'm just unable to do so. Which also gives the confirmation that it is indeed something I love too much.
        I then pray if God wants to take it away from me trough some other means, but then I read James 4:17 "Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." So that sent me spinning again, since the right thing to do was probably to bring the books to the thrift store.
        The last few weeks I have gone without reading physical books, even my personal Bible, only reading on my tablet with the Logos app. But it didn't give me peace, since I now felt like I had to bring the books to the thrift store, which gave resistance in my mind again.
        All of this happened in the timespan of about a year. It doesn't impair my life noticeably, it just keeps going in my head and I feel like I'm wasting way too much time thinking about it. There have been a few times where it got kind of bad emotionally, but I suppose nothing like you see with people you work with on a regular basis.
        Now the core of the problem is, I don't know if this is a legitimate fear I'm dealing with, or if this is an obsession.
        According to the test on this website, I have a low likelihood of having scrupilosity. I'm not clinically diagnosed with OCD. I am clinically diagnosed with Autism PDD-NOS, tho. I'm not sure if there is a connection between that and OCD.
        Because I don't have OCD, I'm worried that I might be using the idea of it being an obsession as a license to sin and disobey God.
        I know that reading books is not a sin in itself, that's not the issue. But because I doubt when I do it, it is sin according to my understanding of Romans 14. About being fully persuaded, I think Paul means you have to be fully persuaded something is right to do in God's eyes. If you're not fully persuaded, you doubt, therefore you don't do it from faith, therefore you sin.
        I know the solution would be to sell all my books and just read everything digital. But that gives resistance, because it goes against my preference. But I know it's not about my preferences, It's about submitting to God's will. There is a battle there and it sometimes just feels like a physical wall I can't break trough.
        I realize it got pretty long, I kind of strayed away from the original comment, but I think I finally needed to let my heart out. I kinda feel guilty of using up your time in this way to be honest. And after reading my comment again it feels sort of rediculous that such a small thing has become such an issue for me. But I hope maybe you are willing to share your thoughts on this and if you think this is a legitimate concern, or if this is an obsession.
        I know you can't answer that with certainty, since you don't know my heart, but I pray that maybe God will use you to give clarity and peace on this issue, in whichever way that may be, even if it goes against my own desires. Because I know that Jesus calls us to deny ourselves.
        Lastly, could you please pray for me, that I might get the strength and the will to deny myself, if that's what God calls me to do in this case?

        Kind regards,
        Steven

        • Hi Steven,

          Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this matter–I am sure other readers will greatly benefit from the exchange. And no, your concerns don’t seem ridiculous or so small–most of us in the scrupulosity community struggle with really small things that we turn into giant things through means of rumination.

          As you have mentioned, it is not a sin to own paperback or hardback books or read them. Having a set of Bible commentaries is a great thing to own! In the beginning when you mentioned “reading,” I thought, “oh no, another Harry Potter debate…” but we are not even talking about that. This is really innocent stuff we are talking about, buying Bible commentaries. I would like to point out some scruple-ish behavior in your post. Looking for “signs” from God, such as whether a package of books is delivered or not, fixating on certain passages like Pharaoh and Abraham’s sacrifice, feeling resistance against the compulsive urges that come up…these are so typical for the scrupulosity experience.

          As for whether you have OCD or not, I am not the correct person to tell you that. As a non-medical professional, it’s beyond the scope of my expertise to diagnose mental health disorders. The quiz I have on this site doesn’t say whether you have OCD or not, it just suggests likelihood for you to check further with a mental health provider. The point is for me to suggest, from a spiritual perspective, whether certain behavior is “off” for a typical religious experience. I have a 2.0 version coming out soon which I think is much improved, because there are some people with scrupulosity “symptom clusters” who only struggle with one specific issue in scrupulosity and can be debilitatingly affected by it but still score low in the probability quiz. I’m hoping to have that out when my website update is published in the next few months. But again, the quiz is just a brain teaser to help us think about likelihoods and commonalities to help prompt us to see a therapist and get a formal diagnosis. Based on what you’ve written above, and the commonalities between your story and those of others who DO have a diagnosis, I would certainly encourage further investigation in this area with a licensed OCD specialist. I do not know about connections between autism and OCD, but that would be interesting to know more about.

          I have another blog post that I’m working on today (it’s taking me a long time because I ended up having way too many things to add) but once I publish it, I’d be interested to know if it clears up anything for you. It’s about discerning God’s voice when you have OCD. While not directly addressing the Romans 14 passage, I think it will address some of the confusion you seem to be experiencing with knowing God’s will in regards to the books.

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts so candidly. I hope that in some way God will help you know what is true and right. I have prayed for you now as I click the reply button.

          God’s blessings,

          Jaimie

          • I’ll spare the saga of events and information I could type and focus solely on the one thing: video games. I have played them as long as I remember and have always loved it. When I started finding out about the Holy Spirit. Being a new creation and really increasing my knowledge of God and my faith walk I began to get a thought/thoughts I shouldn’t play video games anymore. It was reasonable to think it was the Holy Spirit because I did spend considerable time playing. I slowed down-never truly stopped-and always wondered about the issue. Should I quit? Slow down? Is it a sin? Did I hear from God correctly? Fast forward through tormenting thoughts of other things and a 6 month portion of my life and I gave up games all together. Would think about playing them sometimes but never did. Now, I’ve started to read these blogs and find out info on OCD and I hit the mark in SO many ways and am seeing a psychiatrist soon to really clear that up. But as I get a better grip on it I have this nagging feeling I should not play games. I rarely play them now. An hour or 2 at night. I think about if I should be playing sports games a lot now. I’ve asked God of course and maybe I’m arguing with his answer but maybe someone or you have heard of a similar situation because seeing someone else go through these things is the biggest help I’ve gotten. Thanks!

          • Hi Ryan,
            The Bible does not speak specifically to the topic of sports or video games, but there are some principles that we can apply to our modern-day context. There should be a balance between joyful living on the one hand and wholesome goodness on the other hand. Scrupulosity will try to negate the joyful living in Christianity and tell you that you must cease and desist anything that brings innocent enjoyment. Worldly culture will try to negate the wholesome goodness aspect. Generally speaking, I try to evaluate various forms of entertainment according to the following:

            – Does it encourage or glorify violence, sexual sin, or other forms of wickedness? (Psalm 101:3, Job 31:1, Romans 1:32)
            – Does it create such a sense of competitiveness that I cannot behave in a brotherly way with my friends (or frenemies)? (Romans 12:9, Philippians 2:3)
            – Does it diminish love and devotion for God?
            – Does it create a level of addiction that steals unreasonable amounts of time and affects my performance of daily duties?

            Note also that various forms of entertainment are rarely black and white. A “television” is just a piece of technology. It can be used to show both good and bad things. A “ball” is just a piece of stuffed leather. It can be used for an enjoyable and simple game, or it can be used to generate pride, create enemies, and show off. Each case needs to be individually analyzed.

            Generally speaking, if we consider the whole sum of all forms of recreation available in our world today, I believe there are few that are truly good and wholesome for Christians. However, the ones that I find acceptable, I enjoy with great gusto, and I think you should, too. 🙂

            Jaimie

        • I would be interested to hear your take on video games. As I read your post, your interest in books and feelings about them resemble my interest in sports video games

  • Hi Jamie. The content you write about helps me quite a bit from what I’ve seen so far. I feel having books on these things helps me to have a reliable source at home for when I struggle with scrupulous tendencies but do MUCH better having a hard copy. Is there any possible way you could contact me via email at discbiter@yahoo.com to help point me in the right direction. I would do anything I’m able to get my hands on a hard copy of that devotional book.

    • Hi Justin,
      I assume you’re referring to the free devotional book download at the top of the page, right? Well, your comment is coming at a very timely moment. My husband and I were just having a discussion this weekend about scrupulosity devotionals. I have completed my 30-day devotional on Matthew and we were talking about whether I should A) offer it as just an ebook or also offer it as a hardcopy, and B) whether I should plan to write more after that one. Publishing books for small niches like scrupulosity is quite cost prohibitive (I will be lucky if I break even on the Matthew devo), but if there is enough interest and if I hear back about it really making a difference for people, I’m more inclined to put my time and effort in that direction.

      So, my short answer is that no, I do not have any plans to publish the current version of Psalms for the Scrupulous in a hardcopy edition, but within the next month or so I hope to have “Gentle Jesus: A 30-Day Devotional on the Book of Matthew” available on Amazon in both hardcopy and ebook formats. If you’re signed up for my email notifications, you’ll get an email letting you know when it’s available.

      Best regards,
      Jaimie

  • Thank-you for your essay! I have read it several times to comfort myself during distressing thoughts.
    I have had terrible idolatry OCD since March. I have a collection of plushies and colouring books and all of a sudden my mind is like “you need to get rid of everything you idol worshipper! You can’t do and like anything other than God!” And I have been tormented because logically I know nothing and no one has ever been my number one the way God is…even when I feel distant from Him…I always place Him above everything.
    It’s still upsetting me and I keep wondering that maybe I find no relief because maybe I’m just guilty and I need to repent? But I have no hard evidence from my current life to suggest that I am guilty of this! I merely like to collect plush animals and I don’t even consider them that much during the day. They are just sitting around. I need help! I am so discouraged.

  • Hello there. Ive been suffering from odd obsessions for many years. Lately it is Chess. I have intrusive thoughts about it and sin and God. I am currentky hyper-obssessed with one particular topic. This is perhaps due to my Autism. But I might have OCD. I have nightmares about obsessions and worries. Thx

    • Sorry for not ellaborating; I really like the game of chess currently, it’s my new obsession. It helps calm me down. Also I have idolatry obsessions too. I worry whether God is angry at me or that Im doing something God doesn’t want. I wonder if heaven even exists. Outside OCD I struggle with intense obsessions, and intense sexual thoughts and feelings. One of them is having sex with my opponent and Garry Kasparov. I have thoughts and fantasies about chess. And I can not get myself to stop them. I feel like a sinner

      • Hi Soosie:)

        What I like to do is look through all the titles of the articles Jaimie has written under “Blogs” and see which ones I think are relevant to me:) I know she has written ones on feeling like God is angry at you and much of the other stuff you mentioned!

        Simply reading the Bible is also always a great guide:) It has been recommended to me to read any one of the Gospels to remember or rediscover who Jesus is and His heart. I hope this helps my friend!

        -Liz

  • I have a quick question. I LOVE Harley Quinn. She probably my favorite fictional character and I have posters of her all over the place. Not because o see her above or as a God but because I thoroughly enjoy her character. My OCD is telling me this is idolatry, and after some research, ended up on a extremist site ranting about how any form of art (including those depicting Holy figures) is idolatry. My question is, is having posters up considered idolatry? Cause I’m confused and worried that I’m sinning.

    • Hi James,
      I don’t know who Harley Quinn is, but let me make a generalized answer for artwork in general.

      There are a number of religious groups that consider artwork depicting any part of God’s creation to be sinful–two groups that come immediately to mind are conservative Amish and Muslims. There are varied reasons for why art may be considered sinful, but if we are beginning from a Christian point of view, we need to ask the Bible.

      In Scripture, we see much artistic expression. For example:

      1. Literary art (Psalms, wisdom literature, narrative literature)
      2. Architectural art (sanctuary, Solomon’s temple)
      3. Sculpted and metallic arts (articles of religious furniture within the sanctuary/temple, which included objects like golden angels on the ark of the covenant and later, brass oxen under Solomon’s pools. There is also a reference in Proverbs to “apples of gold in pictures of silver,” which may have indicated that the royal house utilized or at least was familiar with gilded metallic reliefs)
      4. Textile arts (decorative images woven into the veil in the sanctuary, fancy robes for the priests, Joseph’s robe of many colors, fine textiles used for sanctuary)

      These are just a few examples that come quickly to mind. I do not believe the Bible is against artwork or artistic expression. What is important is whether the art itself glorifies God or glorifies sin. Thus, a poster of the Grand Canyon would be quite different from a poster of a porn star.

      Hope this helps,

      Jaimie
      5.

  • I am a Christian & I struggle with religious scrupulosity. Thank you for the time, effort, real life examples, and scriptural references provided in this article. There is healing in these words. Be blessed!

  • I struggle with this subject past 7 years, I tried everything medication, therapy, giving things away, selling them, giving up and nothings works..
    I fear that I love fashion and nice things to much and non stop "hear" voice in my head telling me to sell everything or give it to the poor. And it truly sounds like God of course. As I did struggle in the past with spending too much time watching fashion I assume this is real idol for me even if now I do it in moderate. I treat fashion like a hobby and can not imagine giving it up completely so that's what true idolatry is.
    At this point I can not buy anything without guilt and thoughts telling me it is sinful and I care more about material things than God. I wish it would just leave me alone for a moment, it has been very exhausting especially when I struggled with harm ocd as well after delivering my baby girl. Bible doesn't help as well, after reading what Paul says about women not wearing gold, pearls and expensive clothes I feel really scared as I never knew we can not do it. It is not that I spend lot of money on things, I wear fast fashion and have a few expensive accessories bought used on ebay and I like jewelry but it is hard to find cheap and good quality one at the same time so it seems like it is all sinful as we shoudn't be buying more expensive things. I sold so many things I liked as I thought God was telling me to get rid of it but it is never ending circle. Even if I keep something I can not enjoy it as I know God is not approving it and it only brings guilt and fear. I try to talk to God about it all the time, asking Him in my mind if He agree for me to buy this thing but my mental answer is pretty much always no and also lack of peace. I truly don't know what to do anymore, this obsession make me fear God and not wanting to pray as I am scared what I am going to hear this time. I wasted time of many therapists, my family members, priests and friends and everyone is saying that this is ocd and just ignore it but I know there must be some meanin to it. It started when we bought our engagement ring and it was very expensive, at the time I had no idea we re not allowed to spend that much money on things if I knew I would never do that but I heard in my mind that I need to give it to poor to prove God I love Him more, since that it grew into full blow obsession about every single thing I buy or like. I tried to talk to God about this I begged Him to show me what He wants me to do but I don't know how to discern His voice in my head from His voice. At this point I really want just a bit of peace so I can function for my family.
    You mention about your clients in grey area between ocd and real idolatry, it really triggered me and I assumed I am one of those people. I like things, clothes, bags and I shouldnt like them much, I should think about heaven not material things. I still sometimes spend money on more expensive things because most of the time they just more pretty and bring me joy and fun, I wish I could just stop liking them, I asked God to change my heart, I try to do it in moderation I don't hoard and give everything I don't use away and try to have a small amount of things like one watch, few necklaces etc but I still hear in my mind God is not happy and I should spend this money better not on myself but poor, the thing is everything is expensive now and if u want quality thing u need to pay more even used on ebay. I once read that using designer stuff is sin so sold my lv bag I had, it was 10 years old but still had logo on it, I still have some designer stuff but with no or very invisible logo on, is it still sin?

  • Hi! Jamie thank you for your post!

    I'm currently struggling with many obsessions, to the point I'm not functional, I recognize them as obsessions and I would like to drop them but it's so difficult because they are doubts regarding sin and it's impossible to give them all answers. Would it be a sin if I just ignore them and start following my conscience? I feel like I'm uneducated in the Bible and I feel like I always need to follow what the majority of Christian say because I can't hold convictions. I'm never 100% sure as the Apostle Paul say should be over gray matters so OCD always stabs me with Romans 14:23.

  • Hello Jaimie!

    What do you think about being an archaeologist? They study ancient cultures and religion, which includes magic, witchcraft, and cults as part of their training, like specializing in Egyptology.

    I have this desire and passion for the study of Ancient Cultures, but I find myself OCD-ing especially when such matters are discussed in History. I love History and want to major in Biblical Archaeology, but does it mean it is dangerous to be one? Should I then give up this dream? Huhu

    What about for a Christian to work in a museum? Maybe there are some instances that artifacts themselves horrify curators or whatnot (I watched one documentary with a video footage of an Egyptian artifact literally moving).

    I look forward for your perspective! Thank you and may God bless you!

    • I am not an expert, but at least in my opinion, it is a different thing to be "academically" interested in defferent religions. In Finland, we study facts about different religions in school. Is that a sin? I don't think so. Learning about a religions and believing or being part of them are whole different things. Or so I feel lkke, at least.

  • Jamie,
    I never really thought much about it until I read this article, but I think the idolatry obsessions are my biggest issue with my scrupulosity. I have struggled with these fears for years. It has been so so hard to enjoy almost anything because my brain is constantly telling me it’s sinful or it’s wrong or I’m enjoying it too much. I feel like I always have to be in perpetual control of my thoughts and feelings and desires or else God will take away all the things I enjoy. A good example of my struggle is coffee. I discovered in the past two years that I really love Starbucks coffee. Having a cold brew is one of my favorite parts of the day! Often times I will enjoy a coffee with my family and that makes it better. But so often I wrestle with “oh no, what if I am loving this more than God?”
    It’s like that with everything I enjoy in life. Every time I do my devotional time with God, I feel afraid He will ask me to give up something. And I know, like you said, that sometimes He does ask us to give things up, and I want to be willing to do that. I want to love God more than anything. But it’s so hard to function when I am constantly worrying about whether I am sinning or making an idol out of something.
    It can be hard for me to know whether something I love has become too much of a distraction in my life. Like, when I do my morning devotions, I feel distracted because I’m also excited to have my morning cup of coffee or watch my favorite tv show afterwards.
    Anyway, thanks for your article. God bless 🙂

  • Hi, Jamie.
    Can I ask how this would apply in matters of personal conviction (what I've seen referred to as "doubtful" issues, Romans 14-type things.)
    You see, the thing I've been spazzing out (what I call it) about lately is one of these things. I just made a spiritual boundaries lists after finally reading your scrupulosity guide, and so far it hasn't been going well. This morning (Around 5 A. M., give or take) I was going through the motions of one of these things I do in my head and I don't even know why I was doing it but I couldn't stop when suddenly I just have a thought that I don't want to stop with the thing I'm spazzing about even if God wants me to. I was horrified the moment I realized what I just thought, but honestly I don't know if it was the regular intrusive thought or not. (Though it bounced around for a while after that.
    The thing is…my convictions on the matter haven't suddenly changed. So I confessed and repented of both going through the motioned and the thought itself and asked the Holy Spirit for help just letting it go (what my fiance told me I needed to do with my intrusive thoughts ages ago but am still having trouble successfully doing.) And asked for help to keep doing what I was doing I was doing like I never had the thought. Most of thinks I did the right thing in handing it this way ,but a part of me is still unsure.

    • Hi Katie,
      I do think you seem to be going in the right direction. We want to try making boundaries about gray areas so that we aren’t constantly trying to figure out what to do. For someone with OCD, this can easily take up hours and hours of our time without getting us any closer to the finish line. So just choose what you want to do, say, for the next year of life and then you can reassess and see if there is any new info that will bring your gray area matter any closer to black and white.

      Then, you’re correct. You need to go forward and just let go of the urge to tinker. “Letting go” is way harder than people imagine! But it’s doable with practice. The Bible teaches us to go on “from faith to faith.” What does that mean? It indicates that we all begin with faith, but we progress to a deeper level of faith…and then a deeper level still. Faith is always growing (yes, even when it feels like we are plateauing!) and learning to let go in our anxious moments is just one more “level” in the game.

      Now, regarding the thought you had. Honestly, Katie, I am just not concerned about these kinds of things. The mind is an unruly member, and it thinks all kinds of things. If the random thoughts that pop up in my mind were visible for the whole world to see, I would die with shame. But thankfully, I don’t need to identify with the passing thoughts. I don’t need to let them nest in my hair (which is what can happen if we pick them up and start analyzing them). So what? You had a rebellious thought against God. Leave it on the side of the road and keep going forward. Don’t even pay attention to it, don’t feel like you need to argue back or justify yourself. You belong to Christ; He has you in the palm of His hand. Stopping to argue will get you stuck in a ruminative fight that you don’t want (and God never called you to do that). If you are rebellious, He will soften; if you are stubborn, He will coax; if you are backsliding, He will heal (see Hosea 14). These are issues we just don’t need to focus on. Focus on Christ and His loveliness, Christ and His compassion, Christ and His willingness. These thoughts and problems will fall off in their own time without any massive battle, when we continue to look upward and trust GOD’S power instead of our own. This is our “work.” We are to “fight the good fight of faith,” which means that all our efforts are to put ourselves in continual remembrance of God’s promises.

      Hope this helps and encourages you a bit. Keep looking up!

      Jaimie

  • Hi Jaime, thanks for writing this stuff, always very encouraging. I've didn't even realize it but I was starting to worry about making an idol of a friend of mine. I've read a bunch of your blogs. I think I've got scrupulosity but being a minor there's not much I can do about it! Your blogs are like a breath of fresh air knowing I'm not alone. I have a couple questions though. Would you be willing to email me? As that's the only way I can communicate basically. If not that's ok.
    Again thanks! 😀

  • THANK YOU FOR THIS INFORMATION. I HAVE A BIG STATUE OF THE BLESSED MOTHER. MY HUSBAND PAINTED HER GOLD. ONE TIME I WAS UPSET ABOUT SOMETHING AND MADE A COMMIT WERE SOMEONE MADE ME MADE, WERE THESE THINGS IDOLATRY. I AM FEARFUL.

  • Yes, I have struggled with always feeling tested in regards to my loyalty and even tried hard not love anyone or anything too much. And yes, I always went back to Abraham's test and thought of the words "now I know that you fear God." Genesis 22:12. But as I read this blog, I thought, "wait a minute! Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son not because he loved his son any less than he did before, but because he knew and loved and trusted God so much, that he knew God would be good in this and every circumstance. Hebrews 11:17-18 is a good indicator of this. Part of it reads "He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back." I thought, "God is not trying to take good from me and then see if I still love Him. And in cases like Job, even if He did take something back from me as a "test", He is still good and is working even that out for my good. Because He is good all the time, I can trust Him."

  • So good, Jaime. I appreciate so much this biblically sound advice on topics that concern OCD. Thank you so much for allowing God to use you in this way.

  • Hi,
    I used to struggle with drinking too much coffee which was harmful for me and its been a long time since God convicted me in a gentle and soft voice.
    Now its like my OCD is bringing that back with "what if Im idolizing coffee, what if I cant live without it, what if.." and speaks in such different tone (worry, obsession, guilt).
    I love how coffe tastes, I really enjoy it its my fav, I dont want to give it up unless God wants me to. I dont seem to think that this voice is from God
    Im so anxious and scared every time i drink it please help :/

    • Jelena, I have struggled with this exact thing! One thing Jaime said in this article was about being humble enough to take the advice and input from those we can trust and who love the Lord. I've had to do this in this area. I had to bring this to my husband and I got, "I believe this is 100% your anxiety and not God." I then brought it before the Lord just praying, "Lord, you know I want to hold nothing back from You. I will give you whatever you ask of me, but I do not want to give OCD what it wants. I'm going to continue drinking coffee on the advice of my husband and trust that if You want differently, You will let me know in the gentle, loving way I know is You."

      Another thing I remind myself is that when it truly is the Lord prompting me to do something, I feel grateful and humbled that He would even speak to me…I feel loved and cared for, not panicky and confused.

      When your OCD keeps knocking at your door about coffee (because it will for a while), tell God, "Thank You, Lord, for this delicious coffee."

      • I have the exact same obsession. I wake up in the morning looking forward to my cup of coffee, then I get the thought, “coffee is an idol because you think about that before you think about God.” I have felt convictions to cut back on coffee at certain points and to enjoy it in moderation, but it feels like the whole idea of coffee being an “idol” is my OCD talking.

        • I guess a lot of us worry about coffee because that’s one of my worries too! Love love love my Starbucks and get it almost daily, but feel anxious and guilty that i feel these urges to go get some when I am trying to focus on my Bible or prayer… I have talked to my mom about this over and over and she has told me to enjoy coffee as a gift of God and not let my anxious mind twist it. My mom is spiritually strong and reliable so I am trying to trust her but it’s so hard!

    • I have religious OCD and I too struggle with the coffee thing sometimes. I feel like God is telling me some mornings that I'm not supposed to have coffee today. Or at least I hear a voice in my mind telling me that and I think it's so easy to attribute that to God. Often there those thoughts spark resistance and fear in my heart when I hear something about not drinking coffee today. We can go down a road then where we feel guilty about why we're not willing to give up something simple like coffee for the Lord and why we feel rebellious when we think we hear something like that. Yes that could be our flesh but I don't think God's voice will Foster fear about giving something up. Here is where we sometimes might need to rely on other people's voices and sometimes my wife will tell me that she think s it's fine if I have coffee. I think as long as we're drinking coffee in moderation it is fine. It can be easy to wonder if maybe I'm addicted or I have to have my cup of coffee in the morning. I think this is just OCD speaking and I really think Vanessa's response is a good one. I sometimes think of the verse in Timothy that God has given us all things richly to enjoy. We want to be sensitive to God but God is bigger than whether we have a cup of coffee or not and he will continue to work in our lives whether we have that cup of coffee or not. I think for those of us with OCD it is easy for us to believe that God is always asking for us to give something up or testing us and we forget that one of the fruits of the spirit is joy and I think God wants us to be thankful for the things that he has given us and enjoy them. Not in a selfish way but just being thankful for that hot steaming cup of coffee that he gives us each morning.

      • Hi Austin,
        Thanks for your response, I found it very helpful. Your described experience is pretty much exactly what I experience every day. I feel silly that i so easily listen to my feelings and thoughts. I feel like a bad person for not wanting to give up my coffee and wondering/worrying whether I love it more than God. Of course God means so much more to me than a coffee, but my brain always tricks me into “but what if you really do love Starbucks more than Jesus? What’s the matter with you? You’re such a bad person, that you would choose that over Your Savior”. It makes me feel so awful and afraid and sad that I feel tempted to avoid it although I have come to realize it’s OCD and will usually have my coffee anyway. I find it so hard as a person who struggles with Religious OCD to just enjoy things. There’s always a fear that I will end up loving it too much, and then it will become an idol and God will ask me to give it up. I really like coffee, horses, and art and stuff like that and it feels like torture to be constantly worried about whether my love for them is okay and not going overboard.
        Your thoughts on the issue have helped me a lot! Thanks for sharing.

  • Hi there. I had a question about this. Bc right now I struggle with seeing sin in every media/book/song etc. and feel like I cant or shouldnt enjoy them. In your Harry Potter example you cite witchcraft as the reason why we shouldnt read it. However, God also hates murder/lying/stealing/etc. I really cant think of a form of media that doesnt have sin in it. Witchcraft in Harry Potter is kinda like the equivalent of super powers in movies/etc. in this day I would think. Where are we suppised to draw the line? Jesus told many parables/stories that sometimes included people sinning (the prodigal son for example). We dont avoid that story though. Im personally not a Harry Potter fan, but I know it contains lessons about friendship and etc. I think kids who like Harry Potter and pretend to do Harry Potter spells is not the type of "witch craft" God is referring to, is it? Or just enjoying a movie that includes magic at all (any movie featuring Santa, The Wizard of Oz, basically every Disney movie). Sorry for the long post, but I am just curious about all this.

    • Hi Danielle,

      Oooh, this is such a complex topic and I’m definitely not going to do justice to it in a small comment, but I do appreciate your curiosity so I wanted to give it my best shot. 🙂

      You’re right that there is quite a lot of violence, adultery, lies, theft, and other crimes in the Bible. So is it that we need to go live on a remote island where we never encounter “live people,” because all people commit sins, and we’ll always see bad stuff happening! I don’t think that is the point. I will quote below from Romans 1:

      And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

      Of particular note is the very last phrase. These people “not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

      Some movies/books glorify sin and take pleasure in it. They “approve of those who practice” sin. So while the Bible tells the story of King Saul’s visit to the witch of Endor, which ends with fear, judgment, and despair, Harry Potter leaves every kid wishing to be like him. There are many such shows that create admiration for magic, spells, fantasy, and witchcraft. I am probably “old-fashioned” for pointing this out, but it is incredible to me that magic has become so “hip” and “harmless” even in Christian circles. I have personally worked in the mission field and have dealt with women who are being harassed by demons. It is really no joke. People have said that things like Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, etc. are just fiction and that they are fine as long as a person knows the difference between fantasy and reality. This stems from a naturalistic, evolutionary worldview that relies on science to define what is real (and what is real is whatever I can see, everything else is fiction and fantasy). But a Biblically informed worldview relies on Scripture to define what is real, and unfortunately the Bible tells us that there is a devil that is going about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Therefore we want to avoid involving ourselves in things that glorify or take pleasure in the ways of the enemy of God.

      Certainly, there are movies that portray bad things as a way of teaching a lesson. For example, I once watched a movie about the Holocaust after a visit to the Holocaust Museum. It was a very violent movie. But everything about it was an attempt to warn our generation of the dangers of racism, bigotry, and hatred, not to glorify it.

      In Scripture, we see it similarly. Bad things are discussed, because they are real and they happen all around us. But the bad things are not enjoyed or put on a pedestal as “normative” or admirable behavior.

      Hope this helps! Sorry it’s such a complicated topic. Sometimes it can be hard to define what in the church comes from Scripture and what comes from modern culture.

      Best,

      Jaimie

      • Thanks for the response. I would say "magic" in movies and "magic" in real life are different things that just share the same name. Magic in the Bible, to me, means messing with demons/bad spiritual things/false miracles/etc. The scary stuff! I would never want to do or be around it. In a movie (or other media) though, magic is usually just a term used to describe something that cant/wont/doesnt normally happen in the real world. (Ie: flying, super strength, Elsa hugging frozen Anna and saving her). I dont think Elsa hugging Anna and freeing her from the ice at the end of Frozen is an evil/demon thing…even though it is described or labelled as "magic". I dont think that is what God means when He says stay away from magic/witchcraft. Even Elsa herself having snow powers is labelled as "magic". You said you are surprised by how magic has become ok in Christian spheres, but I would say that it hasnt, not in the way God warns about. If Christians suddenly try to summon demons to perform otherworldly feats – then we have an issue. I think Elsa having ice powers and saving her sister, and approving of the movie, is not the same thing as glorifying evil/being a person of a debased mind. I think covering the term "magic" with a blanket statement of "evil" is not really correct…
        You also say that people want to be like Harry Potter. (Ill admit, I have not seen much of the movies or anything) but isnt Harry Potter the good guy doing good things and going through consequences for doing wrong? I think a proper comparison with the Bible story you mentioned would be if people watched Harry Potter and came out wanting to be like Voldemort (the evil guy). Finally, your example of the Twilight books VS Historical books – you could argue that Twilight (while a fantasy setting) depicts a love story and shows what self sacrifice is, trust, true love, etc. while a historical book might glorify war and the evils within it. Sorry for the big reply, I have just been thinking about/seeking wisdom on this a lot lol. So I guess maybe im trying to say I get uncomfortable when Christian leaders put a blanket statement on something like magic and compare Peter Pan magic to summoning demon/evil/scary magic/witch craft that the Bible is referring to, bc it seems to be missing the point of the media. Peter Pan using magic, and people enjoying the story, I dont think is comparable to real life voo doo stuff.

        • Hi Danielle,

          Having just quickly scan read your conversation with Jaimie about reading certain books, particularly Harry Potter, it reminded me of the conundrum I was in when the books first hit the market many years ago and the debate in Christian circles was fresh and new.

          Perhaps Jaimie took a bit of a risk in referencing THAT particular book series in the scenario she portrayed as I think it ran the risk of opening a whole new 'can of worms' (British expression) about how a Christian is to engage with culture generally, which is a HUGE topic and one that can be addressed separately from the main topic of the article on idolatry and obsessions (although is of course related).

          As you know, even today Christians fall on both sides of the fence in terms of whether to read or not to read the Harry Potter series and in those first years of the debate I read books by Christian authors arguing the case on both sides. Even today, I remain apprehensive about the series, mainly because they do seem to be at least a potential 'stepping stone' towards real occult practices, for children especially, but I no longer insist that ALL Christians ought not to read them, which is the position I held in the early years.

          The book that helped me allow other brothers and sisters to make their own choice about whether to read or not to read (and that also helped me to become less legalistic about it) was: 'What's a Christian to do with Harry Potter?' by Connie Neal. I found her writing biblical, balanced and helpful.

          Regarding a Christian's engagement with culture, particularly through literature, I found 'Recovering the Lost Art of Reading' very helpful and enjoyable. It's by Leland Ryken & Glenda Faye Mathes.

          I hope that helps Danielle.

          Jason.

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