Some people can't believe what they're told, relying on voices and intuitions. Some take their comfort solely from science, refusing to accept the proposition of faith as an active force. Both are in error, according to Timothy Jennings, a Christian psychiatrist who has dedicated his professional life to analyzing the relationship between Christian faith and scientific proof.
If you're not a Christian, it's unlikely that you'd select this book despite its alluring title, and even some Christians may have a hard time with Jennings concepts of Satan and sin. I found a need to translate these terms to fit my own cosmology. A principle of evil that shows itself in active ways can tempt people to fall into what Jennings calls "illegitimate guilt," for example. Think of it as a weakness of the organism that is difficult to control. An example is the wife who comes home to find her husband in a bad mood. Her "illegitimate guilt" kicks in to make her imagine that she is somehow to blame or that there is something she can do to change her husband's mood. The tricky aspect of illegitimate guilt is that you can't repent from it and restore an optimistic status quo. Trying to only exacerbates the complex of weaknesses that brought on the guilt. The wife in this example, according to Jennings, should acknowledge that "I'm sorry my husband is in a bad mood; if he wants to brood, he's free to do so. I'll empathize, let him know I love him, but not take responsibility to fix it." As you can see, this is simple, as the book's title implies.
But is it also simplistic?
Jennings examines myths about forgiveness. Forgiving someone doesn't mean admitting that they did not wrong, nor does it mean that the guilty party has gotten away with his or her transgression. It doesn't mean you have to wipe your memory banks clear, either. Jennings' approach is refreshingly rational, underpinned with good psychological tenets as well as scriptural understanding. Central to his method is recognizing that feelings are not always "good" – one must examine the consequences of acting on feelings. If a new mother doesn't feel like feeding her baby at 2 a.m., what would the consequences be? How would she then feel? Jennings posits a sort of spiritual debasement that afflicts those who continually transgress. In other words, if that mother did not feel regret for not having gotten up to feed her baby, what kind of person would she be? Would she be a desirable role model?
Addressing the age-old contention between faith and reason, Jennings states that God doesn't want people to believe things "just because He says so." God supplies evidence, Jennings asserts, whereas Satan has no evidence and so relies on slogans, claims, and deceptions. Interestingly, he uses the example of Bill Clinton in this regard: Clinton was free to lie about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, but "when she brought forth her dress, the evidence exposed his deception." Jennings does not accept that someone can be a faithful Christian just because they're told to or because so many people are believers that "it can't be wrong." He is greatly opposed to what he terms spiritualism (sometimes incorporated into Christian worship or belief systems, according to Jennings) - emotional, impulsive, powerful feelings and activities that run contrary to the self-control required of real Christians (and, I would suggest, of genuine aspirants of all the world's great religions).
In working with one of his psychiatric patients, Jennings speaks of her gradual ability to let others have their feelings while she had her truth. He says, "She was a thinker, not a mere reflection of someone else." This process he calls "becoming a mature Christian." I would call it becoming a mature person, but I would agree that without some religious worldview, it is no doubt harder to reach that pinnacle and sustain it.
I came away thinking that Jennings does have a simple set of answers, but that to an intelligent person, even an intelligent Christian, they will manifest as complex and hard-won.