Satan, it would seem, does not act in an arbitrary manner when trying to tempt us. Rather, he is more of a master hunter carefully setting traps, or a skilled fisherman who carefully studies behavior in order to choose the most effective bait. Satan is calculating and clever.
Sadly, most of us are far less calculating and clever in seeking to avoid temptation and sin. We seem more often to engage in the wishful thinking that no trouble will befall us, and our strategy seems to depend more on “dumb luck.” Would that we were as ingenious in holiness as Satan is in trying to trap us! Jesus sadly and ironically observed, For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light (Luke 16:8).
Let us consider for a moment the notion of bait and hook, to use imagery from the fishing world.
Let’s consider first the bait. It is of course the purpose of bait to be alluring, to be attractive. If a fisherman were to lower an empty hook, or a hook with a rock attached to it, no fish would come near. So he chooses a bait that appeals to the fish: perhaps an insect, or some other morsel that promises a meal.
Thus in choosing a bait to attach to his hook, Satan will strive to render it appealing, even beautiful to us. He often casts a spell to hide the ugliness of sin and to distract us from the presence of the hook.
In our time especially, Satan cloaks ugly sins in exalted language, speaking of them as ways of giving us “freedom,” or “fulfilling ourselves.” Abortion is not the killing of a baby, it is “reproductive choice,” or “reproductive freedom.” Many exalt sinful acts by cloaking them in the language of tolerance, acceptance, etc. Still others exude a false compassion in declaring it licit to actively kill the suffering or to terminate the lives of children in the womb who have been given a poor prenatal diagnosis.
In ways like these, evil masquerades as good. Sins once thought of as clearly awful and ugly are now presented as good and even beautiful.
Of course other more traditional bait is still used by Satan as well: sex, money, glory, power, and so forth. Not all these things are bad in themselves, but they are presented in excess or in the wrong context. And how tasty, how attractive, how beautiful, how desirable they can seem!
And thus the bait: attractive, beautiful, and tasty. Scripture describes Eve’s assessment of the forbidden tree: the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it (Genesis 3:6).
But then comes the hook—there’s always the hook with Satan. Never forget this: the hook is always there with Satan. No matter how beautiful, reasonable, or desirable the bait may seem, there is always the hook.
With the bait of illicit sexual union dangled before us comes the hook. Perhaps it is addiction to pornography, ruined marriages, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood, absent fathers, abortion, higher divorce rates, broken families, improperly formed families, and terrible injustice to children.
With the bait of gluttony comes the hook of obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, arthritis, addiction to alcohol or drugs, and even death.
With the bait of greed for more and more possessions comes the hook. Perhaps it is credit card bills we cannot pay, perhaps it is slavery to a lifestyle we think we cannot live without but which drives us to need two incomes and work long hours. And thus we never really know our children or even enjoy the things we think we need. Perhaps it is the supreme frustration in realizing that no matter how much more we have, it will never be enough. Our eyes are never really satisfied with seeing, or our ears with hearing, or our will with amassing. For we seem to be insatiable; we want more and more as the hook of greed drives deeper within us, snaring our hearts so that Satan reels us in.
But there is always the hook; never forget that no matter how pleasing the bait may seem, there is always the hook.
We moderns are perhaps more foolish than those who came before us, for we live in a culture that is rather successful in at least temporarily hiding the consequences of many things. And thus our medicines and technologies may temporarily stave off the effects of too much food and drink or the diseases that come with sexually irresponsibility. So-called government safety nets, many of them well-intentioned and in some degree necessary, also expand to create the illusion of no consequences. Too easily and too repeatedly, many are bailed out from poor and foolish decisions. Thus we are just a little more able to maintain the illusion that the hook isn’t really there.
But the hook is there. There is always a hook with the bait.
Just a simple reminder: don’t forget the hook. With the bait comes the hook. The bait is about the hook. First the bait, then the hook; always the hook.