A scriptural truth referenced often by saints and theologians is that humanity is created in the image of God. It also is true that people often make God in their own image. Attempts are found in some images of the incarnate Word of God. In the ongoing, 2,000-year quest for the historical Jesus, Scripture scholars have discovered again and again that researchers typically “create” the Jesus they “find.”
Some people with the scrupulous disorder build images of a fearsome God that—sadly—is the God they try to serve. Their God actually is the mirror-reflection of themselves and is not close to the biblical or theological consensus of the image of God, as inadequate as it may well be. The scrupulous most often have a vision of God that is quite unsatisfactory.
In constructing their personal view of God, scrupulous people tend to choose concepts and themes from the King James Bible’s 783,137 words and the hundreds of thousands of words in the 2,865 paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Most often they select judgmental, anxiety-triggering concepts that are rife with punishment and impossible goals. Somewhere their image will feature the ultimate condemnation, the ultimate summary of their own fears and anxieties, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
The result is a ruthless, unbending image of a divine being that, not surprisingly, resembles a person who is suffering from a moral disorder like scrupulosity. It is impossible to faithfully serve such a “God,” for the image conveys no compassion, understanding, or forgiveness. This imaginary being sets traps for the weak, exploits a person’s foibles, and triumphs in condemning souls to hell for eternity.
It targets ordinary human actions that are not in the least sinful. For example, random thoughts about sex fill the scrupulous person with fear and anxiety, providing a cascading stream of distress and distraction. Fear of every wrong turn, every postponed decision, every undisciplined urge fills in the blanks and successfully blocks any hope of comfort and peace.
What makes this horrific image of the divine believable to scrupulous people is the isolation that scrupulosity often encourages. People with the disorder believe they cannot engage in helpful conversation with others who understand them. Scrupulous people think if they find an understanding person, that individual will become horrified by their sins and go away.
Sometimes they also think that even if they make every effort to explain their reality, they will be unable to do so. They fear they will deliberately conceal an essential component or purposely “mislead” anyone who tries to help them. At the least, they feel they risk omitting something in the telling that is essential for understanding. Once they remember their omission, they will judge the whole experience as incomplete, dishonest, or unsatisfactory. Worse, if they think an omission has taken place within the sacrament of reconciliation, they will feel—mistakenly—that they are sacrilegious.
This scrupulous-generated image of divinity that I have described is often confirmed by others. The saints who seem to witness to the horrors of hell are often misrepresented as supporting such an image. The so-called “experts” who crowd the social media platforms—often victims of their own poorly formed images of God—seem to confirm their own fears and perceptions. People who speak an encouraging word or offer a path to integrated wholeness or holiness are labeled as heretical, liberal, untraditional, or unorthodox.
The hard truth is that people who offer an image of the divine other than an unfortunate and disordered image of God that is a driver of scrupulosity are in fact heretical. They are heretical to the scrupulous person’s erroneous image of God and understanding of the Church. They are not, however, heretical to the truth.
My friends, there is a path forward away from a harmful, image of God caused by scrupulosity. The path is not easy. Going forward requires the scrupulous person to replace the negative image of God with one that is more positive. For those of you with scrupulosity, a new image of God will not, by necessity, be of your making and choosing. In the beginning stages of the reorientation of your image, you will be dependent on others. Gradually, as your experience changes and your spiritual understanding is more positive, you will begin to feel the healing that is essential.
Reorientation is possible only because of the grace of God and the help of men and women of faith. The beginning steps depend totally on you. You have to determine and choose that you wish to change your image of God to an experience of God that is healthier and more hopeful. You have to choose to engage every day in spiritual practices and disciplines that will help you experience a loving and forgiving God. A consistent spiritual practice and discipline will enable the change that you seek and need. It will be difficult, but it is possible.
Fr. Thomas M. Santa, CSsR