When Yes Means No

“our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’” II Corinthians 1:18b

YesNo2Still a stranger to the unique ways of Japan, I visited the largest ski shop in Sapporo, completely unaware of the rabbit hole I was about to enter. It all began with a simple question: “Do you have any men’s ski boots in size 29 centimeters under ¥20,000?” (around $200) Much to my surprise and satisfaction, the salesman immediately replied “hai,” which I understood to mean, “yes.” I was then instructed to sit down while he disappeared in the back to retrieve the boots.

A few minutes later the salesman emerged triumphantly bearing a nice pair of men’s boots in the correct size, so I started to quietly congratulate myself on my successful shopping foray. But my premature celebration came to a screeching halt when I noticed the price tag dangling from one of the boots: ¥85,000! After catching my breath, I reminded the salesman of my meager ¥20,000 budget. Seemingly nonplussed by my intransigence, he proudly told me that they were willing to make the boots available at a special price of only ¥70,000. After a few more enquiries and direct negotiation with the manager, I soon learned that this was the ONLY pair of men’s ski boots the store had in my size. I was now trapped in a quasi life and death struggle as the bargaining continued. The price soon dropped to ¥60,000, and then ¥50,000 as I kept politely insisting that I only had ¥20,000 for the purchase. The store personnel probably thought this was a clever bargaining ploy on my part and didn’t fully grasp that I actually had only ¥20,000 for the purchase. By now I was just looking for an avenue to escape my predicament as all the salesmen repeatedly huddled together to discuss their strategy. Approximately one hour later and exhausted by the experience, I eventually walked out the front door with my new pair of ski boots purchased for only ¥20,000. I was completely befuddled as to what had transpired inside.

First of all, hai can simply mean “I hear you,” or “I acknowledge what you said.” So, the salesman never actually promised that the store had what I was looking for at the price I had requested. Secondly, to complicate things even further, it is considered impolite to tell a customer “no,” implying that they can’t help you. Unknown to me, I had unwittingly placed the store management in an awkward position of being unable to refuse my request. Upon further reflection, I think we all learned something that day as I was possibly the first foreigner to ever shop at their store. As the years went by, I continued to use those boots, which served as a reminder that “yes” can sometimes mean “no” and that I had much to learn about communication in Japan.

I seriously doubt that the Apostle Paul ever tried to purchase ski boots and was faced with a similar quandary, but he was charged on one occasion of inconsistency in his messaging. It appeared that his “yes” and “no” were in contradiction with one another as Paul had previously stated his intention to visit the Corinthian church on his way to Macedonia (II Corinthians 1). However, for reasons not stated, Paul was forced to cancel those plans which led to unfair criticisms of his character. After rebuffing these somewhat trivial arguments in his letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul used this theme to emphasize the surety of the promises of God in Christ. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” (v.20) This is a great reminder that there can be confusion among people in communication, and there may even be confusion regarding one’s character, but God’s message and His plan of redemption through His Son are unequivocally clear. God’s “yes” in Christ is an eternal game changer for all who believe.