It seems impossible to perfectly control your thoughts!

Question:

I suffer from OCD, anxiety, and Asperger’s (on the autism spectrum), basically it’s a high-functioning autism. I have been struggling with this issue for years.

As soon as I read the verse about the unpardonable sin, I became obsessed with it. There have been times when this obsession is not as strong as it once was, but others when it’s all I can think about. I have struggled with trigger words for years. Simply put, any time I read “Satan," "devil," "demon," the number 6, "blasphemy," etc., I get intrusive, blasphemous thoughts. These send me on high alert because I think “Ok, I must not think about the statement that the Pharisees said. I must not think that statement at any cost”. This, as you can imagine, puts this statement at the front of my mind. My subconscious scans for it, and as you can imagine, sometimes it results in the thought happening against my true will. This even happens when I read holy things like “miracles," "Holy Spirit," etc.

Recently, I was reading something and the word “devil” was in it. Instantly, intrusive thoughts began flooding my mind. I was able to resist, but it did put me in panic mode. I went back to reading, but it kept getting worse. I sat the book down, and I remember closing my eyes and putting my head in my hands. I was trying to resist, and I thought if I didn’t give resisting my full attention, I would end up thinking it. This was a mistake. I remember having the thoughts “I know exactly what I’m doing” and then thinking almost exactly what the Pharisees said. It sent me into an instant panic.

It has been three months and I still can’t figure out how that happened. I have no idea. I’ve spent literal hours trying to figure out how that happens and nothing satisfies me. How could that happen when it is literally my biggest fear and the furthest thing from what I would ever want to do? This has just made the obsession 10 times worse, and I’m at the point where I feel awful going to church, reading scripture, and praying. It felt like that thought came from me and that I approved it for a split second, without being fully aware of what was happening.

I’ve read your article about this, but I’m still struggling. Jesus says whoever speaks (and as we know from the Sermon on the Mount, thinking is the same as speaking) a word against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. Simply put, I just don’t understand how I could not be guilty. Everyone says I’m overreacting about a wayward thought that was likely more intrusive than self-generated, but it felt so real. It felt self-generated. I feel so awful and like God is mad at me and won’t forgive me for that thought. I feel defeated because it's seemingly impossible to perfectly control your thoughts without ever having one that is against what you really want to think. It’s like when you tell yourself “don’t think this, no matter the cost”, you will inevitably end up thinking it yourself (as in not an intrusive thought, but because of them).

I feel so awful and have been on high alert for three months trying not to think about it. That’s made it way worse, and I’ve gone in and out of a numb depressive state. I struggle with seeing God as loving because, to me, it seems like He’s set a trap for people to easily condemn themselves with a wayward thought. It feels like His standard is perfection and the stress of trying to be perfect has the opposite effect. It’s like God has placed a trap for people to easily condemn themselves and that everyone with OCD has no chance of getting into heaven. We try not to think it, it's always on our mind, and then because of that, we end up thinking about it.

I had the thought the other day that God gave us OCD so that we would be hopelessly condemned and so that He could make an example out of us. Kind of like what Romans 9 says. It’s like there is a trap because it’s those who are most afraid and would never want to commit that sin that can’t stop thinking about it, and then eventually end up thinking about it. Is that why Revelations talks about the fearful being condemned first? To my knowledge, even scripture states that the law and trying to keep it brings death, yet Jesus lays down a law that is effectively impossible to keep. It seems so contradictory and confusing.

I don’t want to be feeling this way, but it seems like it lines up with Scripture. Have you ever known anyone who has been through what I am describing and made it out of the fear?

I’ve read your articles and I still feel this way. Please help me and give me everything you’ve got.

Answer:

Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them” (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18).

Your difficulty is coming about because you are setting stricter standards for yourself than what God expects of you. It appears that you are striving not only to avoid temptation but even the thought of being tempted. You have to remember that Jesus was tempted and was able to not sin. The simple fact is that all of us get tempted, which means that the thoughts of sinning cross everyone’s minds. The question before each of us is: what do we do with those thoughts? From what I can tell, you haven’t done anything wrong. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:10).

Then there is the problem that you have redefined blasphemy from its true definition of lying about someone superior to you to other people in hopes of stopping others from following that person. That is what the Pharisees were doing to Jesus. They heard the crowd beginning to realize Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 12:23), so they told a lie about Jesus to get people to turn against Jesus. They told the crowd that Jesus’ miracle was done by the power of Satan (Matthew 12:24). Jesus knew their motivations. He knew that they knew they were lying simply because they didn’t like Jesus, and so he warned them that they were reaching a point where their hearts would be so hardened that they would completely turn against God and not come back. It wasn’t what Jesus or the Father wanted for them, but it was what these Pharisees were choosing to do. Notice that you aren’t doing anything similar to what the Pharisees were doing.

Finally, you have a great ability to focus, but you focus on condemning yourself. What you need to focus on is where you are going. You need to focus on improving yourself. “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22). Your eye represents what you focus your attention on. What you focus on tends to lead to what you choose to do. If you focus on righteousness, then you tend to live a righteous life. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:6-9).

Question:

Jeffrey,

I appreciate your swift reply.

For me, the hardest thing to understand is this: It feels like I did sin. The intrusive thoughts bombarded me and got so bad that I stopped everything I was doing to try and fight them. I can’t explain how (because it makes no sense to me whatsoever), but it was like I was so tense, trying to stop myself from thinking any blasphemous thought or repeating the ones that were being intrusively generated, then all of a sudden … bam. It just happened. It was like I yielded to the intrusive thoughts (temptation?) and ended up self-generating a blasphemous thought. It is as if I chose to think about it. I don’t understand how it happened at all. As I said, it’s like it just happened. Isn’t that yielding to temptation?

It felt so sudden and it’s like it happened before I could even fully comprehend what was going on. It was like I just automatically thought it, without any forethought or anything. The thought surprised me because I didn’t understand what happened. Still don’t. It’s like someone said. He had thoughts like “Sell him (Christ)” over and over. He would answer them by saying “no no no” over and over. Then one day he ended up thinking “let him go if he will”. He said it terrified him because it felt like his heart consented to the thought and it was self-generated. That’s almost exactly what happened to me; however, the thought that happened was almost exactly what the Pharisees were saying in Mark 3 and Matthew 12. Obviously, this other person didn’t commit the unpardonable sin because his thoughts weren’t anything like the Pharisees said in that passage, but that process is exactly how I felt. I’ve been under duress because of these thoughts for six years. I just don’t understand.

I know Jesus says that if you lust after a woman in your heart it’s the same as committing adultery. Wouldn’t the same apply to thoughts? If you think something blasphemous, isn’t it the same as committing blasphemy? I have such a hard time controlling my thoughts because of my disorder already. I just feel so confused. I understand your scriptural reference, but to me, that doesn’t seem overly religious. I’m trying to perfectly control my thoughts so that no bad thought about God ever happens.

I’m truly struggling to understand God at all. I don’t understand how a loving God could create someone, knowing they have a mental disorder like this and tell them to never think that certain statement. It’s like making someone walk a tightrope over hell with ankle weights. I guess technically it’s possible to make it to the other side, but it’s almost impossible. I just fear that God created people with this disorder to demonstrate his authority and power. It feels like he takes pleasure in setting a trap for them and then casting them into hell. I don’t understand it at all. I want to follow Christ, but I struggle to believe he loves me at all. I struggle to believe I didn’t commit that sin. Please tell me there is hope.

Answer:

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28).

From Jesus' comments, it appears that the Jews were taking the Ten Commandments and narrowing their application. A man would claim that he committed no sin if he did commit the actual act of adultery. However, Jesus pointed out that sin started long before when the man started lusting for sex with someone who was not his wife.

Lust is a strong desire to sin. It is a mental acceptance of sinful behavior where the person justifies sin in his thoughts. Jesus' point is that there little moral difference between doing a sinful act and wanting to sin. Paul gives a long list of sins prevalent in Greek society and points out at the end, "and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them" (Romans 1:32). The problem is the same. Doing sin is wrong but it is equally wrong to approve of others sinning -- and that would include you approving if you sinned.

You are dealing with intrusive thoughts. Such thoughts become stronger and more frequent the longer you dwell on them. Notice that throughout your note, you never state that you approve of blasphemy. You never make excuses for saying false things about God. Thus, there is no lust for this sin in you. The thoughts feel real to you because they are your thoughts. But that does make you guilty of those thoughts.

Like many people who deal with intrusive pop-up thoughts, you find something that you are convinced is unforgivable and then condemn yourself as a hopeless victim. But the problem is that it is all born from your imagination; yet, you blame God for making things too hard when God never said you must never think of a sinful situation.

Jesus told the Pharisees that if they blasphemed the Holy Spirit they would be unable to repent and thus, God would not be able to forgive them of their sin. It is not that God is unwilling to forgive (II Peter 3:9), but people are required to repent before forgiveness can be granted. Blasphemy isn't a thought. Blasphemy is purposely telling other people lies about someone superior in order to convince people not to follow the superior person. The blasphemer knows he is lying but he doesn't care because he hates the superior person so much that he is willing to do anything to keep people from following him. When a person gets to that point and lies to others about the Holy Spirit, there isn't anything left to convince him to change. He will remain unrepentant of his sin, and thus, unforgiven.

You have been having bad thoughts about Jesus. You know they are bad thoughts and you don't accept them. You have no hatred for Jesus or God. You don't think you should make other people not follow Jesus. Thus, you are not committing blasphemy against Jesus and you are not even being tempted to blaspheme him. What you are condemning yourself for doing didn't happen.

Obviously, bad thoughts about God (or anyone else) aren't appropriate. You don't lust for them, though you are being tempted by the thoughts. Most people will take a random bad thought and tell themselves, "That wasn't appropriate." They might even utter a quick prayer for God's forgiveness, but immediately afterward, they drop the whole matter. This is where you are struggling. You refuse to let it go because you set an impossible task for yourself. "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:8-9). I try hard not to sin, but I realize that I will stumble at times. God told me that it will happen to me and everyone I know. What separates the righteous from the wicked is that the righteous don't accept remaining in sin. They make corrections, apologize for their weakness to God, and go on with life. They trust that God keeps His word and that they are forgiven. That is called "faith."

Therefore, stop blaming God that you are not as perfect as you think you should be. Focus on where you are going and not where you've been.

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