People Aren’t Yes-Or-No Answers


Imagine that you’re hanging out with a friend and they ask you one of the following questions:

  • Do you think homosexuality is a sin?
  • Is it okay for a Christian to date an unbeliever?
  • Is abortion wrong in every circumstance?
  • Is the Bible actually God’s word?

If you’re like me, your gut reaction when you hear those questions is to go straight for the biblical, yes-or-no answer. When those questions are posed to me, I can turn into Mr. Bible Answer Man, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and quickly answering their questions with a brilliant aresenal of biblical texts.

Yes, no, yes, yes. Any other questions?

But more and more, I’m realizing that people aren’t yes-or-no questions. Behind every yes-or-no question is almost always a series of deeper questions, struggles, fears, and challenges.

When someone asks me whether abortion is wrong, there’s usually much more lying beneath the surface. The question is simply the tip of the iceberg.

If I quickly (and sometimes dismissively) answer their question without asking further questions, I’m missing the opportunity to both be like Christ AND answer their real questions.

Asking The Deeper Questions

When someone asks me whether homosexuality is a sin or whether abortion is wrong, is it simply because they’re curious about my opinion? Are they just searching for a conversation topic?

Probably not.

Simple questions about massive issues are like weeds with a roots that runs incredibly deep. The questions themselves are connected to things much deeper and more profound happening in a person’s life. Giving a simple answer is like plucking the weed without dealing with the root. It doesn’t solve the issue.

Giving simple answers to massive questions is like plucking a weed without dealing with the root. Click to Tweet

If I’m hanging out with a young dude in my church and he asks my opinion about homosexuality, there’s a really good chance that either he’s struggling with same-sex desires or someone very close to him is. The fact that he’s asking probably means he’s really grappling with the subject and needs God’s help.

If a neighbor broaches the subject of abortion, it’s not because she’s trying to make polite conversation. For one reason or another, the issue really matters to her and she’s wrestling with it.

If I give either of them a short, “Isn’t it obvious?”, “Don’t you know your Bible?” kind of answer, I’m missing out on a God-given opportunity to minister to them.

So how should I respond?


With more questions.

The goal is to get to the heart of their real question.

Maybe the woman is struggling with horrendous guilt over a previous abortion and wondering if she can ever be forgiven. Maybe she’s just found out that she’s pregnant and confused about what she should do.

Maybe the young man grew up in a Christian home, knows that homosexuality is wrong, finds himself wrestling intensely with same-sex attraction, and is desperately trying to figure out what to do. Maybe he’s looking for validation of his feelings or maybe he wants someone to help him know how to handle them in a biblical way.

I won’t get to the heart of the matter unless I treat them like people rather than yes-or-no answers. Treating them as people means getting to know them and understanding their pasts, their struggles, their understanding of Jesus, and the numerous other things that have shaped who they currently are.

Treating them as people means answering their questions with questions like:

  • What do you think about abortion/homosexuality/any other issue?
  • What has led you to think this way?
  • How has your family dealt with this issue?
  • How have other Christians treated you when you broached this subject?
  • What do you believe God thinks about this?

These kinds of questions, asked in the context of friendship (NOT confrontation), have the potential to open up deeper, more meaningful conversations. Only when I get to know a person and understand the why behind their questions will I truly be able to minister effectively to them.

I think this was what Paul was getting at when he said in 1 Thessalonians 5:14:

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

Ministry is not one size fits all. Some people need admonishment, some need encouragement, some need help, and everyone needs patience. People are incredibly complex, and dispensing yes and no answers to deep questions is like a doctor simply giving Tylenol to every patient he encounters.

Make no mistake: the Bible is clear on all the issues mentioned here.

But the way we answer people’s questions matters just as much as the answers we give. We can give orthodox, biblically sound answers that are miles away from the real question being asked.

When we do that, we miss divine opportunities to represent Christ to those who are wounded, struggling, and questioning.

Stephen Altrogge

I'm a husband, dad, writer. I drink too much coffee and know too much about Star Wars. I created The Blazing Center. I've also written some books which people seem to like. You can follow me on Twitter and Facebook

7 comments

  • I believe you are right on about digger deeper and not being so blunt about an answer because I believe we know every question has a hidden root. But roots are messy and dirty and often hard to deal with so unless we realize, in our hearts, how wonderfully merciful God was in dealing with us; I don’t think we will dig deeper. It’s so easy to say, “God says” and I think it is because we have become an ungrateful people. I pray that I will remember His mercy when I am asked to deal with roots in someone’s life. Thanks for sharing

  • I totally agree that deep rooted questions require deep rooted and probing answers. That way you satisfy the curiosity and enlightening insight the questioner badly requires. Very good write up.

  • This is one way to also draw the fear out of the questioner and the one (myself) answering their deepest questions. It’s easy to give the “Biblical” answer but when we stop, think and ask pertinent questions we find, like you said, deeper roots to the original question … then and only then can truth be given with love. Besides, I think many – like myself – are timid, afraid to speak to others who voice such questions. We’re fearful of “offending” or not having the right answers or tact to be a representative of Christ. You’re article is right on (or as the Brits say, True Right) and I can only hope and pray that I can remember your advice when the time comes when someone broaches such questions. I need to stop, listen, pray and then dig deeper with loving questions. Hope my response helps someone else also.

  • The above is very difficult. God has given us the ability to apply reason. How then would one approach the following example? What if an emergency situation at the time of childbirth forces a couple to choose between letting the mother live and the baby die or vice versa? In that case, the couple would have to decide which life to try to save. How does one make this choice? Exodus 20:13 states you shall not murder….

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