Review of ‘Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry’ by Amy Simpson


Unknown Amy Simpson, Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014). Paperback / Kindle

Tune in to the evening news, and you are likely to hear stories that cause fear and anxiety to well up within you. America’s struggling economy, the Ebola pandemic, radical Islamic terrorism. Or perhaps you don’t watch the evening news but still find yourself anxious about your spouse, your children, your job, your life.

Then you read Amy Simpson’s new book. It says: “a lifestyle of worry is incompatible with a life of faith.” And you think to yourself, Is this woman for real? Does she not understand the hard things I’m going through?

Yes, and yes. Amy Simpson is for real. She understands. She’s a wife, a mother, a worker. Her mother is schizophrenic. Her brother-in-law survived stage-3 liver cancer. Her husband is a licensed counselor. She wrote a book on mental illness. When she says that worry and faith are incompatible, she’s not saying it from some airy-fairy height untouched by trouble.

Rather, she says that faith and worry are incompatible because that is what Jesus himself says. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.” Doing so shows that we have “little faith” (Matt. 6:25, 30). The key question, then, is not whether world events and personal troubles make us anxious or afraid, but whether we turn to God in faith in the midst of such things.

At the outset of Anxious, Simpson makes some common-sense distinctions between fear, anxiety, and worry that are very helpful. “Unlike fear,” she writes, “worry is not an immediate response to real or perceived danger; it’s anticipatory, rooted in concern about something that may or may not happen. Unlike normal anxiety, it’s not an involuntary physical response but a pattern we choose to indulge. It rises not from outside us but from within.” Fear and anxiety happen; worry is a choice.

And because we choose it in the first place, we can unchoose it on second thought. Simpson offers two good reasons to do so:

First, worry hurts us and by extension, those we love. The longest chapter in Anxious is chapter 3, “Worry’s Many Destructive Powers.” It outlines the many mental, physical, and relational problems that worry causes. If you want to avoid those problems, avoid worry.

But second, worry is based on bad theology. You might be wondering what theology has to do with good mental health. Simpson’s husband is a cognitive-behavioral therapist. What this means is that he helps his clients understand how their beliefs shape the emotional problems they experience. Long before cognitive-behavioral therapy was a gleam in a psychologist’s eye, Jesus showed the connection between wrong beliefs and negative emotions. “Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus said, just after telling his disciples not to worry; “they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt. 6:26). Good theology contributes to good mental health.

Of course, good theology can’t stay in our minds. It must translate into action. Many of us affirm Jesus’ words with our heads, but they don’t trickle down into how our hearts feel or how our hands act. So, in chapters 6, 7, and 8, Simpson addresses “three things that keep us clinging to worry: a faulty perspective, a desire to possess and control the future, and a possessive attachment to the people and things of this world.” For me, these were the most challenging chapters of the book, revealing the subtle ways that my pride, control, and consumerism lie at the base of my worries.

Replacing worry with faith is not an easy thing, and Simpson doesn’t claim that it is. Throughout, she uses the language of process to describe the changes that need to take place, but also the language of repentance. Getting rid of worry is good mental health, but it is also a necessary spiritual practice. Our worry, driven by a desire to possess and control, comes between us and a God who alone is sovereign, and whose mercies alone can heal.

The book ends with a lovely statement about God that is worth sharing:

Why Trust God?

He never fails

He never leaves us

He never disappoints us

He loves us unconditionally

He’s the creator of all things

He transforms us from the inside

He forgives our sins

He knows everything

He rules the future

He is all-powerful

He is everywhere

He is good

He is great

He is

 

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Eight Terrifying Words (1 Corinthians 10:1–5)


In 1 Corinthians 10:1–5, Paul writes:

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.

I grew up in a Christian home. I gave my heart to Jesus Christ at an early age and was baptized in water a few years later. I entered full-time ministry. I edit a religious publication. And I am terrified by eight words in this passage: God was not pleased with most of them.

My fear is not grounded in theology. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Why would I fear such a God?

Rather, my fear is grounded in anthropology. Notice the condition John lays down in verse 9: “If we confess our sins.” We have nothing to fear from God if we are honest with him about our sins. But how often are we honest about ourselves? Verse 9 is preceded and succeeded by two verses that hint at our extraordinary capacity for self-deception: “If we claim to be without sin” and “If we claim we have not sinned” (verses 8, 10).

All human beings practice self-deception. We lie to ourselves about ourselves. But in religious people, that self-deception takes a special form. We tell ourselves that we are saved because we were baptized or because we take communion or because we are members of this or that church.

The ancient Israelites to whom Paul alludes in 1 Corinthians 10:1–5 participated in the Exodus. They saw God inflict plagues on the Egyptians. They walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. They ate manna and drank water from the rocks. Paul goes so far as to state that they experienced Christ in some way. And yet, God was not pleased with most of them. Their external circumstances changed, but their hearts did not.

As I read 1 Corinthians 10, I infer that Paul cited the Israelite example because the Corinthians’ practice was so similar. The Corinthians possessed doctrinal knowledge. They had spiritual experiences. They had received baptism, and they ate the Lord’s Supper. And yet, God was not pleased with them. They had the external trappings of religion, but their hearts were not filled with love of God and neighbor.

The question you and I must answer is this: Are we like the Israelites and the Corinthians? Is God pleased with us? First John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” To the extent that we fear, there is need for improvement in our love of God and neighbor. That tinge of fear is the conscience calling us to reject self-deception and embrace open confession.

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