Why Am I Having Intrusive Thoughts About God?

Scrupulosity Video Post

Jaimie Eckert

Published on Aug 31, 2023; Updated on Jul 19, 2023

Intrusive thoughts about God are perhaps the ugliest part of having an anxiety disorder like religious OCD.

Strange, disgusting, and unwanted thoughts pass through our minds. We can’t seem to get rid of them, no matter how hard we try. We fast, pray, and believe until we are blue in the face–but nothing seems to rid our minds of these awful thoughts. Most people with scrupulosity are deeply ashamed of these thoughts and try to hide them.

And why wouldn’t we? These thoughts are weird. Like, really weird. They come in several forms.

Our intrusive thoughts about God might be violent in nature. One young lady told me about how she couldn’t stop having terrifying thoughts God abusing her, bashing her head on a spike. Others have spoken to me about having unwanted thoughts about Jesus raping them, or God choking them around the neck. We know God is not like that, but the thoughts present themselves to our minds in the most disturbing manner.

Our intrusive thoughts about God might be blasphemous. This is perhaps the most common type. Countless people have spoken or written to me about vile curses against God passing through their minds–unbidden, unwanted, and impossible to stop. We may have thoughts of denying Christ, the urge to willfully do something that we think will grieve the Holy Spirit, or other unmentionable attacks against God’s name. This throws us into absolute panic, because we don’t know where these thoughts have come from or how to stop them.

Our intrusive thoughts about God may also be intellectual. Typically, these are not in the form of a question, but a statement that “seems” to be coming from our own mind. “I don’t believe in God anymore” or “I don’t want to be a Christian” can come out of nowhere and make us fear for our eternal salvation.

Why, oh why, do we have these intrusive thoughts about God?

Intrusive Thoughts About God are Adaptive

Let us first begin with the recognition that our bad thoughts against the Lord are adaptive.

There was a time when I thought that maybe these thoughts were coming from the devil, who “walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). But if that were the case, then we would expect all religious intrusive thoughts against God to be in accordance with Satan’s agenda.

But this is not the case.

People of every religious background get intrusive thoughts against their gods. The devil described in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures doesn’t have a quarrel against any God except the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is called Yahweh, Jehovah, or Adonai. If our intrusive thoughts were insertions from the devil, I would expect 100% of these thoughts to be diametrically opposed to the God of the Bible.

However, I have met with people from many faith backgrounds and observed an interesting trend. Hindus have ugly blasphemous thoughts against the Hindu gods. Atheists have fearful intrusive thoughts against their atheistic persuasions. Muslims have oppositional thoughts against Allah. Catholic Christians get dirty thoughts against Mary. Protestant Christians get ugly thoughts against Jesus.

Religious Intrusive Thoughts Affect People of All Religions

If these thoughts were truly coming from the devil, why would the devil bother torturing the atheist with intrusive thoughts against atheism? You would think the atheist agenda would serve Satan’s purposes very well, and that he would leave the atheist alone. But this is not what we observe. Jesus Christ said,

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

Matthew 12:25-26

I might be inclined to believe that our intrusive thoughts about God were from the devil if I saw that these thoughts were only trying to tear down the Biblical God–Satan’s special enemy. Instead, we see that people of every religious background experience the same issue. Our intrusive thoughts “adapt” to whatever belief system we follow.

This is why I believe that religious intrusive thoughts are generally a biological issue related to having an anxiety disorder.

What Does “Adaptive” Mean in the Context of Religious OCD?

In one meta-analysis, researchers aimed to find out if people who were “more religious” also had a greater severity of OCD. Some hypothesized that the ritualistic behavior of ultra-orthodox Jewish, Muslim, or Catholic communities might contribute to higher OCD scores. But the findings were mixed. Some studies found correlations between high religiosity and OCD severity, while other studies said this was not the case.

What the researchers finally suggested was that religious intrusive thoughts can sometimes appear to be worse in people with high levels of religiosity because of the religious interpretations that highly religious people place upon these intrusive thoughts.

Put simply, some religious groups believe that intrusive thoughts against God are REALLY BAD, and this belief influences the person with OCD to get much more freaked out than others. The belief that these thoughts hold horrible consequences leads the person to work harder at eliminating their intrusive thoughts (which, of course, backfires for the person with OCD and makes the thoughts even worse).

It’s a bit of a mind trick.

If your religious upbringing has taught you that having a blasphemous thought against God is the unpardonable sin, you’ll be extremely bothered by it. On the other hand, if you’ve been brought up to believe that God understands anxiety disorders and He’s not so sensitive as to get hurt feelings from your OCD, you won’t be as bothered. Then, quite naturally, your OCD severity will go down simply by virtue of not seeing the thoughts as a big deal.

The beliefs that we hold about our thoughts, then, does seem to influence the severity of them.

Shapeshifting from One Belief System to Another

Intrusive thoughts about God adapt from one belief system to another. I’ve started to see very predictable patterns as I meet with and support people with scrupulosity.

Calvinists worry about whether they’re among the elect, but their historical opponents from Arminianism worry about whether they’re “doing their part” to be saved.

Catholics tend to struggle more with confession, the seven deadly sins, and receiving the Eucharist. Charismatics tend to struggle with prayer, witnessing, healings, and concerns about the Holy Spirit. Classical Protestants may have a bigger struggle with doctrine, spiritual disciplines, or concerns with faith/authenticity/morality. (These are very broad generalizations, of course.)

It shouldn’t surprise us that our intrusive thoughts about God also shapeshift according to our beliefs. Catholics often have intrusive thoughts against the Virgin Mary, but I have yet to meet a Protestant who experiences this. Hindus have intrusive thoughts against the Hindu gods, but I’ve never met a Christian who is worried about offending Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, and so on. Muslims have blasphemous thoughts against Allah, but no Buddhist cares about this.

Intrusive Thoughts About God Are Adaptive

Can you see that our mind is telling us what’s important and what’s not? The content of our intrusive thoughts are informed by our religious beliefs. They adapt according to what we view as most significant.

What Your Intrusive Thoughts Say About You

If it’s true that intrusive thoughts are adaptive, this means that the content of our thoughts tells us something about ourselves. In short, it tells us what we value. It tells us what we find most important.

If our intrusive thoughts involve thinking something really offensive against the Virgin Mary, that means we think she’s quite important. If we think ugly thoughts against Lord Krishna, we think he’s very important. If we get blasphemous thoughts against Jesus Christ, or the prophet Muhammad, or the Buddha, our brain is merely informing us who and what we value most in our religious experience.

To people who get lustful intrusive thoughts, I tell them that this merely expresses that they value marital fidelity very highly, and that their OCD is trying to trip them up with “the worst possible thing.”

To people who get harm-related intrusive thoughts, I tell them that this means they are very loving and caring people who would never hurt a fly. Their OCD is, again, trying to scare them with “the worst possible thing.”

Likewise, to people who get intrusive thoughts about God, I tell them that this expresses their love and devotion to God, above all else, as the single most important thing in life. Their OCD wants to terrify them with “the worst possible thing,” which is to deny or offend Him.

So, take a compliment from your intrusive thoughts. Their content is merely an indicator of what you value most.

Encouragement for Those With Intrusive Thoughts About God

I’d like to remind you that there is a difference between purposeful blasphemy and the unwanted blasphemy of our intrusive thoughts. But let’s just pretend, for a moment, that you did mean to have that ugly thought (indeed, this is a common fear of people with religious OCD).

It’s not the end of the world. God forgives blasphemy.

Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter…

Mark 3:28

All sins, and all blasphemies, will be forgiven.

This verse precedes the scary one that speaks about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which unfortunately cannot be forgiven. But you don’t need to be afraid of this, either. “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is merely a code word for, “walking away from God and refusing to ask forgiveness for sins anymore.”

God forgives us for everything and anything we ask. Even blasphemy. Even ugly words and thoughts against Him. And that’s presupposing that your blasphemous thoughts were intentional. How much more if it was an unwanted intrusive thought–something generated by an anxious, obsessive mind?

God is so much kinder and more understanding than we give Him credit for. He is not easily offended; He’s got thick skin. That’s what the Bible means when it says He is “longsuffering” (Exodus 34:6). He doesn’t get upset at the things we think He’ll get upset over.

God Understands Why You Have Intrusive Blasphemous Thoughts

He understands.

Deeply, and compassionately, and wholly. He bends over you with a sympathy that turns His heart inside out, a sympathy that makes His eyes sheen over with tears for your pain.

He understands and He loves. He loves you, dear reader.

Try to remember that you aren’t purposely generating these thoughts. And even if you were, there is forgiveness and healing in Christ.

Conclusion

I know that your intrusive thoughts about God are really bothersome. They hurt your heart. They confuse your mind. You struggle to reconcile your deep love and devotion to God with these vicious thoughts that arise against Him. Why, oh why, do you have these thoughts?

I would propose that these thoughts come as a result of the biological uniqueness of the OCD brain. Brain research on the cingulo-opercular network has shown that people with OCD have a proneness to generating more intensive “error messages” in the brain, combined with a decreased ability to shut these warning signals off. You are stuck in a constant “on-ness,” a toxic sort of hyper-vigilance that never lets you rest.

One of these error messages being sent by your brain is a slanderous report against whatever you love most.

We must learn, day by day, to ignore these thoughts. I encourage you, once again, not to waste your time arguing against these thoughts or trying to neutralize them with compulsive words or behavior. They are nothing but mental static. God knows that. At some level, you know that.

Stop for a moment to take a deep breath. Dig deep to reconnect with who you know yourself to be in your inmost soul. You know these thoughts bother you, which means they can’t possibly be coming from the “real you.”

(And for the minority of readers reading this who are neck-deep in spiritual burnout and feel so exhausted from the fight that they couldn’t care less about these blasphemous thoughts, but are getting freaked out from worrying why they don’t care about something so important: please don’t try to process this right now. If you’re in spiritual burnout, don’t pressure yourself to figure anything out. Just rest.)

Stop letting the thoughts bully you and push you around. Don’t give them your attention. Choose to believe that you’re going to be just fine, that God loves you still, and that nothing can snatch you out of His hand.

Thank your intrusive thoughts for helping you recognize what’s most important to you in life. Then go on your merry way, trusting God and leaving your thoughts in the dust.

Best wishes on the journey,

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  • Jamie,

    So well said, thank you! I was letting OCD get the best of me (giving in to way too many compulsions) particularly with bad thoughts about God/Jesus and this article really helped me recenter and apply the ERP that I know works so well.

    Sincerely,
    Chad

  • The intrusive thought attack that is most important to you. They go against other gods, because ocd wants to confuse you, make you doubt about yourself, your moral system, goodness, purity, etc. And it's final goal is to steal your life. So it lies, make you doubt and confuses you…it looks a lot like evel spirit to me. These are the weapons of these spirits. God is one. But if ocd attacks muslim whispering about God, they won't be bothered as much. OCD aims to confuse you and make you doubt about your believes, your spiritual support, leave you alone and steal your life.

  • Jaimie,

    This post hits it "out of the park" for me. I am so grateful to you for all of your efforts to assist those of us who suffer with Scrupulosity.

    It is Monday, September 11, and I just came off of a very challenging Sunday, as far as Religious OCD is concerned. A most agonizing thought came to me while I was walking back to my pew while consuming the Holy Eucharist. What is most difficult is NOT reacting to these thoughts even though I am fully aware that that is what I am supposed to do. Some thoughts that I experience are more devastating than others but this one was extremely psycholocically painful. I know that it is important for me to pick myself up and brush myself off in spite of this experience. I am one of the 31% of Catholics that believe that the host changes to the true body and blood of Jesus Christ during the Consecration of the Mass. With an OCD brain, it is not difficult to understand the reason for the intrusive thought to occur during that particular moment. I need to continue to live with the belief that our Savior loves me, is here for me and is merciful beyond my understanding and that he knows better than I the degree of suffering that this affliction imposes.

  • Thanks Jamie. I have been literally destroyed by a "brother' during my spiritual babyhood regarding the unpardonnable sin which sent my mind spinning and over the years I have become so heavily obsessed and mentally sick that I alway thought I'm demonized. it took me years to even realize this was a disorder. I thought it was spiritual I had to pay serious attention to those horrendous thoughts and ask for forgiveness. and I can tell you I have asked for forgiveness billions and billions of time for about thirty years or more. Only to realize this was leading me to nowhere. But how grateful I am to God He listened to my desperateness and my gorrible sufferings and les me to your teachings. You such a blessing to me. God bless you always. I really am so thankful. God knows how much your teachings brought so much insights to me. Glory to God who is such a loving Father thank you Jesus and thank you Holy Spirit You love despite those reviling thoughts and I know there is grace for me.

  • Thank you so much for your message! It was so spot- on! I have Scrupulosity, but I’m learning to deal with it and not react to the thoughts. It’s been a long, long process, but reading your encouraging words helps so much. I know there are many others who will greatly appreciate your letter and derive great benefit from your writing. Again, thank you!

  • Jaimie,

    This ministry has positively impacted my life more than you could ever know. I never thought I would ever meet another human who understands this disorder. I really thought I was the only person who had it. If anyone is reading this in a deep pit of fear and anxiety. God is not going to leave you. Believe He is with you no matter how yucky, and shameful you feel. He held me when I couldn’t even pray the thoughts were so bad. He truly does love you! You are like Peter saying “depart from me! I am a sinful man!” And Jesus is still extending His hand to you. Praying for all of you!

  • Jaimie, when I first came across your site, I could not process what you were saying. Thankfully God is and will continue to give me understanding about this disease. Your article is so helpful and also the portion of The Doubting Disease is very helpful. I will continue to follow you. Thank you, young lady, for your willing to share your knowledge

  • Thank you so much for this. There is so much freedom in what you said about the intellectual intrusive thoughts. I’ve been having thoughts that “what if I don’t really believe in the scripture or God” that terrify me. I keep asking for faith because I want to believe. I keep praying help my unbelief. I never realized those could be considered intrusive thoughts as well, I just always thought it was only the blasphemous ones. Which I get the thought of unbelief is somewhat blasphemous to me. Thank you for taking the time to write all your articles and videos they are a godsend.

  • Girl, thank you for making this post. It gives me a lot of comfort knowing there are others struggling with this. I have straight up ptsd from a thought that popped into my head dethrone God and sexual thoughts, disturbing thoughts, I have yet to overcome this ongoing nightmare

  • This was a great read! I want to thank you again from the bottom of my heart, because when I first learned about you Jaime, I was such a terrible mess, I thought I was at the end of my rope, but since that great and wonderful day that God answered my prayers and pointed me in your direction, I have come a long way. I know you're a God fearing woman and have devoted your life to serving Him through a relationship with His Son Jesus Christ and that because of that, you are humble, but I know for a fact that God is using you in this way to help people like us because it's such a terrible thing to suffer from without nowhere to turn, hence Jaime Eckert!

  • Thank You Jamie very much for your description of religious scrupulosity and the description of the nature of the scrupulous thought and what the Sufferer's relationship to what he or she values most., and how they are antagonistic. or vulnerable for attack. Thank You for your discussions about the varieties of scrupulosity as to how it can be experienced. Also thank You for reference to physical basis for why this condition occurs. Thank You for very Important reminder that God understands and is loving and caring for us.

  • Thank you so much for this. Literally was sitting in my car obsessing and looking at videos about this because of the intrusive thought I had. I got off and checked my email and saw the notification about this article that was perfectly aligned with what I am struggling with. God is always on time, no matter my struggle. Thank you so much for your work and time in this. You have helped me tremendously. God bless

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