When I woke up this morning my fuddled brain was already locked onto two words: Yes and No. I’ll take that to mean I’m supposed to chew on them awhile.

Yes and no slice the clock into night and day. They render the world black or white. And they have enormous power. “Yes” can begin a marriage, end the life of a martyr, crystalize a confession, get a teenager pregnant, fill up your schedule, launch you on the unfolding path of your destiny.

“No” is just as powerful. It can refuse a drug addiction, end an affair, prevent cheating to begin with, protect us from doing too many things, draw the line in the sand and stick to it.

A common scenario in our home involves weeping, gnashing of teeth, and tattling. I listen to the sad tale being told and ask the million dollar question:

“Did you hit your brother?”

“I was downstairs and Joel was there too and we were…”

“Stop. I asked you a simple question, yes or no. Did you hit your brother, or not?”

Sigh. Big sigh. “Yes… but…”

“No buts. Don’t hit your brother.”

“But—!”

Yes and no shape our lives. Unfortunately, yes and no can be watered down and rendered irrelevant by three other letters: L. I. E.

Simplified, a lie is saying no when the answer is yes, and saying yes when the answer is no. It means nothing means anything, and to God, the meaning Maker, this is a serious offense. Which is why the Bible says not to lie. Which is why Jesus says, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” Anything less, and we’ve got the spiritual equivalent of gravity being turned off. Up is no longer up, down is no longer down.

Of course, we aren’t God, which does mean that not everything is black and white. Yes, Noah hit Joel. But maybe he deserved it. What did Joel do to warrant being hit? What did Noah do to push Joel’s buttons enough that he’d do something dastardly enough to warrant being hit?

I don’t support violence and Noah should be disciplined for hitting (black and white), but did he have a good reason for doing it?

Yes, no, maybe so. Oooh, a grey area. Greys and maybes are inevitable, partly because we never have all the information. A maybe means we don’t know, exactly. But living entirely without gravity is exhausting, confusing, and purposeless. Maybe (and it’s younger brother, “sort of”) can also be the language of apathy, the creed of the uncommitted, the fertilizer of deception and moral spinelessness (think of Bill Clinton’s “I didn’t inhale” answer to “Did you, or did you not, do drugs?”)

The scriptures seem to say, “Whenever possible, inject your lives with shape and purpose with yess’es and no’s, so that when a maybe is called for, you still know whether you’re facing up and down.”

And remember that God does have all the answers, which means he never says maybe or sort of.