Here’s a question: What makes for good bait in a trap? In our first house, we found that peanut butter worked well to catch mice. I’ve heard of bananas being good to catch small critters. Fishermen use all manner of art, science, and possibly superstition to choose the right lure for the fish they are trying to catch.1
Animals aren’t the only thing that can get trapped, though. Unscrupulous salespeople and marketers have all kinds of bait in their collection, each meant to lure people into buying their product, or just visiting their store. Even sensationalist news sources use clickbait headlines to pull potential readers (and advertisement revenue) into their site.
Yet another form of trapping people goes back centuries, like this example below:
As Jesus was leaving, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees became hostile and tried to provoke him with many questions. They wanted to trap him into saying something they could use against him.
Luke 11:53-54 NLT
Even today, some will try to draw followers of Jesus into verbal and situational traps. By constructing artificial environments, or using logical fallacies in their arguments, there are some people who seem to relish putting principles of the Christian faith in a bad light. (Admittedly, the purported principles that they wish to refute aren’t always the actual teachings of Jesus. Some people are offended by what they think Jesus is all about, rather than the truth of who He is and what He taught). These opponents of the faith drag well-meaning followers of Jesus into a contrived situation, then try to entrap them in a logical inconsistency or an embarrassing claim.
Why do people – from the Pharisees to modern-day Internet trolls – do this?2 Is it just an argumentative spirit? Does it come from a belief that those with faith are inferior? (Think about that last point for a minute: “a belief that…”) Are these attacks simply the product of a heart set against Jesus?
Admittedly, a few snarky comments barely count as persecution, compared to those whose lives and livelihoods are on the line because of their faith in Jesus. Still, since followers of Jesus are called to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecute them (see Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27, Luke 6:35), considering how to respond to “word traps” may help us reach out to those who seem to not want to hear the good news (which includes the fact that Jesus offers them purpose, joy, and salvation).
First, let’s evaluate the “bait”: What allows an opponent of Jesus Christ to draw His followers into a trap?
One common weapon of these detractors is to target principles that followers of Jesus hold dear, applying strawman arguments and other logical tricks to paint the teachings of Jesus (or the applications of those teachings to our lives) in a negative or humiliating light. Questions like, “So, is it true that you can’t do <this or that>?” ignore both the freedom that Jesus brings, and the rational reasons why ungodly behaviors aren’t beneficial in the first place. When things we care about are attacked, though, we become defensive.
Another sort of bait is our desperate desire to share truth and dispel lies, so that people will follow Jesus. When someone seems to have missed the truth about Jesus, and especially when they are dragging others along with them, we do not want anyone to miss out on heaven because a clever debater is masking invalid arguments with carefully-crafted (but still misleading) phrases. While a heart for the lost is a good thing, sometimes a blatantly wrong claim is just bait for the trap, and taking the bait will end up wasting energy that could be better spent showing and telling people about the love of Christ for them.
And, I must admit that I can get pulled into a debate for much less-noble reasons: my pride, my popularity, and my position. I may get defensive when someone contradicts or opposes the truth about Jesus, but my choice of words is shaped by still wanting everyone to remain on good terms with me.
What did Jesus do? You can read through the gospels in the Bible (the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) to find examples in context of how Jesus perfectly responded to baited traps. Overall, though, His responses fell into at least three general categories: Sometimes, He said nothing. At times, He asked an insightful question. Other times, He simply spoke the truth.
Here, for those who believe in Jesus, I think that there we find three lessons for when we are drawn towards the glint of a trap:
Some questions are just troll-bait. We don’t have to answer how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or whether God could make a square circle. Maybe you have a humorous reply, or can turn the conversation towards meaningful questions, but other times, it’s best to just let these go by without any comments.
Some questions are worth an honest follow-up question. For instance, “What do you think, here?” “Are you asking this because it’s something you’ve struggled to answer personally?” “What difference would the answer to this question make in your life?” “Have other people answered this question in a way that made you uncomfortable?” Or, maybe we can ask a question that ties back to something that we can all agree upon, like Jesus did.
And finally, there are times when we must speak the truth. The correct answer to the question, exactly as given in the Bible, may need to be presented. (Note that the question – as written – is not always the real question that needs to be asked, though.) There are those who have never heard some of these answers, and simply getting it out there gives them the chance to consider it.
Keep an eye out for baited traps, but don’t give up hope for those who have placed them. Even traps may be an opportunity to show love to someone who needs it, today.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- When fishing for walleye and other fish in Minnesota with my dad and grandpa, I still remember using the Little Joe Red Devil spinner. My other favorite lure was discovered when my wife and I were salmon fishing in Alaska, where fish would bite on a piece of brightly colored yarn, as long as it was covered in the right scent. ↩
- To be clear, I’m not talking about people with honest questions about what Jesus taught. Those genuine searches are worth a careful and thoughtful answer. ↩