Satan, it would seem, does not act in an arbitrary manner when trying to tempt us. Rather, he is more a master hunter carefully setting traps, or a skilled fisherman studying 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 often engage in the wishful thinking that no trouble will befall us. Our strategy seems to depend more on dumb luck than anything else. 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 ponder for a moment the notion of the bait and the 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: an insect or some other morsel that seems to promise a meal.
Thus in choosing the bait to attach to his hook, Satan will strive to render it appealing, even beautiful. 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 sins in exalted language, speaking of them as ways of giving us “freedom,” or of “fulfilling ourselves.” Abortion is not the killing of a baby; it is “reproductive choice,” or “reproductive freedom.” Many exalt sinful acts by disguising them in the language of tolerance and acceptance. 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 of these things are bad in themselves, but they are presented in excess or in the wrong context. And how tasty, attractive, beautiful, and desirable they can seem!
And thus the bait is attractive, beautiful, and tasty. Scripture describes Eve’s assessment of the forbidden tree as follows: 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’s always the hook.
With the bait of illicit sexual union dangled before us comes the hook. Perhaps it is addiction to pornography, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood, absent fathers, abortion, ruined marriages, broken families, improperly formed families, and terrible injustice to children.
With the bait of gluttony comes the hook. It can be obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, arthritis, addiction to alcohol or drugs, and even death.
With the bait of more and more possessions comes the hook. Perhaps it is credit card bills we cannot pay, or 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 to realize that no matter how much 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. 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 can reel 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. Our medicine and advanced technology may temporarily stave off the effects of too much food and drink or the diseases that come with sexual irresponsibility. So-called government safety nets, many of them well-intentioned and to some degree necessary, have also expanded over time to create the illusion that there are no consequences. Too easily and too repeatedly, many are bailed out from their foolish decisions. This makes is easier to maintain the illusion that the hook isn’t really there.
But the hook is there. The hook always follows the bait.
So 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.