The Doubting Disorder and the Sovereignty of God
Doubt. It’s a somewhat routine part of life. We doubt the weatherman’s forecast. We doubt our team’s chances of winning the game. In a world filled with uncertainty, doubt naturally follows.
But for some, doubt moves beyond a part of life and becomes a way of life. This is true for those of us who are OCD-prone.
OCD has been dubbed “the doubting disorder.” Those who experience it overthink and second-guess everything. These recurring, uninvited thoughts put the “O” in OCD, which stands for “obsessive." These obsessions are fueled by a steady dose of doubt.
You’ve probably experienced a moment of doubt like this before. You paused for a moment and wondered if you locked the door or turned off the oven. You probably went back and double checked, confirmed your actions, and walked away with your mind at rest. That’s common.
But imagine that as soon as you walked away, that same thought came back like a boomerang. “Are you sure?” “Well yeah, I just saw it with my own two eyes. The oven is off.” “Are you sure that you’re sure? I mean, if you leave the oven on, you could burn the house down. This is a big deal. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to check one more time.”
This might seem strange to you, but for some, they live trapped in this perpetual cycle of doubt. Those who wrestle with OCD doubt lots of things, with some cases of people even doubting their own existence. That may sound crazy, but it’s a vicious cycle: doubt breeds confusion which only breeds more doubt.
The one thing all of us long for, but especially those with OCD, is certainty. We want to know for sure. Especially the important things. We want to know that our family is safe and loved. We want to know that our lives have purpose and meaning. But in this fallen world, there is so much we just don’t know and can’t know.
It’s in the midst of this confusion and doubt and uncertainty that God does something powerful. He speaks. He reveals to us some things about Himself that are true and certain and doubt-dispelling.
One of those truths about God that has been especially effective in helping me fight the obsessive doubts is this one: God is sovereign over everything.
For me, God’s sovereignty has become more than a fancy word in a theology book or a fun topic to debate with other believers. It’s not wooden or cold or formal. It’s real, personal, and most of all, soul-settling.
Let me share a couple ways that God’s sovereignty steadies my OCD-laden mind:
1. God’s sovereignty strips me of control.
Those with OCD ultimately want control. That’s our way of attempting to gain certainty and eliminate doubt.
Obsessions and compulsions are companions on our quest for control of our own little kingdom. But we quickly discover a major roadblock on our journey. No matter how much time we spend thinking, no matter how hard we try to get things right, no matter how often we perform our rituals, we cannot and will not ever be in control.
We are human beings, limited in knowledge and understanding and ability. At any given moment, there are a billion different things going on in the world that we have zero control over. Traffic, weather, sickness, and not to mention the choices of the other 7 billion people on the planet. No matter how hard we try, we simply are not in control of most of our reality.
But God is. He is in control of everything, all the time. He “works all things according to the counsel of his will...” (Ephesians 1:11). He said of Himself, "I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).
Initially, this may seem scary. To think that an all-powerful deity has full reign over everything in my life, even my present heartbeat and breath might seem startling at first. But fear gives way when you learn that God is good and loves us. Because of His love for us, He works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), most notably the death of His own Son on the cross. God does not use his sovereignty for evil, but for good.
So our job, rather than fighting for control, is to surrender it. It’s to admit that we are powerless and totally dependent upon God. It’s to recognize God’s sovereignty and our humanity and honestly see that fact as good.
2. God’s sovereignty gives my mind a place to rest.
OCD is a liar and a thief. It promises rest but ultimately steals any hope of it. You end up trading peace for anxiety, rest for busyness, truth for doubt, and hope for despair.
Think about the person who is OCD about their physical health. Their obsession may be a fear of sickness or death, or an obsession with people’s opinions. Their compulsions may be excessive exercise, checking every food label in the grocery store, washing and rewashing hands, avoiding public places with germs, etc. These compulsions are their way of relieving the anxiety of the obsessions.
But it doesn’t work. It only makes the obsessions worse. The intruding thoughts demand more. More rituals and more compulsions and more fighting for control.
This is the opposite of rest.
I have found that God’s sovereignty brings the rest my mind craves but cannot find on its own. It takes the pressure off me to be right and certain. I don’t have to be in control and this is good news.
It reminds me of my 2-year-old daughter. I don’t think she fully realizes it, but she is in control of very little in her life. We make her food, we take her places, we protect her, we clean her, we change her. And for the most part, she innately trusts us as her parents. Yes, she makes requests when she think she needs something. She throws fits when she doesn’t get something. But even those things reveal, she knows who provides for her.
This is why Jesus tells us to be like little children (Matthew 18:1-4). We have a Father who knows exactly what we need. We have a Father who has the means to get us exactly what we need. And we have a Father who does not want His children plagued with doubt, but with trust.
This is the key to rest.
In my experience, knowing and trusting in God’s sovereignty does not eliminate the doubts. The obsessive thoughts still burst through the front door of my mind. But now I have a place to take them. I greet them unafraid and walk them straight to my Father. He can handle them.
I say to myself, “I’m not sure about that situation. I don’t know enough. I’m not in control. And that’s ok because I have a sovereign, good God who will take care of it.” Then I do my best to move on to something else.
And no, it doesn’t always “work." Sometimes I choose to dwell and replay the thought. Sometimes I get stuck in an unhealthy pattern of thinking. Sometimes I totally freak out and fail over something dumb.
But each time I choose to trust in the midst of doubt, each time I take a thought captive, each time I rest in God’s sovereignty, I find a little more strength for the next round.
After a confrontation with the sovereignty of God, doubt always comes back a little weaker. And I stand a little surer, knowing I’m held by the One who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3).