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?
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.
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.