Don’t get blindsided thinking you’re in the clear.
And even if our Gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God. - 2 Corinthians 4:4
A “god” of powerful effects
We should pray faithfully for our unbelieving neighbors and friends. And, while we’re at it, let’s pray for one another as well. The god of this age is blinding unbelievers, keeping them from seeing the light of God’s truth, and that same god can have powerful effects on believers as well. But just who – or what – is “the god of this age”?
Conventional wisdom has it that the god of this age is the devil. He is the one who blinds people to the truth and seeks to draw believers away from following the Lord. That’s true, of course. The devil and his minions prowl around the earth looking for people they can distract, divert, and devour. We need to be aware of their ways and wiles so that we can take up the full armor of God against them (1 Pet. 5:7, 8)
But it’s not clear that the Scriptures intend us to think of the devil as the “god of this age.” Granted, Paul refers to him as the “prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2); three times Jesus calls him the “prince” or “ruler” of this world (Jn. 12:31, 14:30, 16:11); and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day thought of him as the “prince” or “ruler” of demons (Mt. 9:34, 12:24; Mk. 3:22).
The normal use of “god” and “gods”, however, is rather more specific. Typically, these words refer to idols, to objects that people select, fashion, devote themselves to, and serve in a conscious way, and not contrary to their wills. While there definitely are worshipers of Satan today, and have been in previous eras, the idea that Satan is the “god of this world” – that is, either the sovereign ruler of the temporal sphere, or the idol of choice by the vast majority of unbelievers – doesn’t fit with the Biblical idea of the meaning of that word, or of the Scriptural teaching concerning Satan’s role in the divine economy.
After all, we must remember that Satan has been bound by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is in the business of plundering the devil’s former holdings as He rules at the Father’s right hand to reconcile all things back to God (Mt. 12:22-29; 2 Cor. 5:18-20). It seems hardly appropriate to refer to the devil as the “god of this age” when he is captive to the Lord of Lords and King of Kings and constrained by the Lord’s permission concerning what he can and cannot do (Job 1, 2). He may be a ruler, perhaps even the ruler, of this age, but only in the sense that the puppet Herod served the purposes of Caesar.
But if Satan is not the “god of this age” who – or what – is? The Greek construction of this term is ho theos tou aionos toutou, a genitival construction, where the primary word, ho theos, “god”, is modified by the phrase, tou aionos toutou, “of the age (namely) this one.” Hence, “the god of this age.” But as a genitival construction the words are amenable to several interpretations, one of which, of course, is “the god who rules over this age.”
But this phrase could just as easily be translated “the god who comes from this age” or even “the god which consists of this age.” What did Paul mean for us to understand by this term? Is there any help available from him elsewhere?
We need to remember that the spiritual world includes plenty of deities which we can see, and they have great power to entice us onto the path of disobedience. We cannot love the world, and be its bosom friend, and still love God (Jms. 4:4; 1 Jn. 2:15). So, while we must be wary of Satan and be constantly on guard against his attacks, let us not be naïve about the power of this present world, and all its gewgaws and stuff, to blind us to The Truth and lead us into The Lie.
As it turns out, yes. In Romans 1:18ff, Paul talks about those who reject the revelation of God, refusing to give Him the thanks He is due, and who turn from God to idols, to worship the creature rather than the Creator. He does not specify which idols he means, but they certainly can include things other than little pot-bellied statues, sitting on our mantles.
In Philippians 3:19 Paul mentions those whose “god is their belly”, that is, their appetite for material pleasures. This would be a god they have chosen to embrace, an idol consisting of the stuff of the world, which leads them away from the true God. In the same way, the interpretation, “the god which consists of this age”, would follow the logic of Romans 1, take into account the people mentioned in Philippians 3, explain the falling away of Demas (2 Tim. 4:10), and make perfectly good sense in referring to that which blinds unbelievers and prevents them from worshiping the true God. They are just too distracted by the god of worldly distractions – whatever those may be in any generation – to surrender to the God of Creation.
And there is an implicit warning in Paul’s words to believers as well, for as the case of Demas makes plain, believers can also become enamored of the things of this world, so much so that they will desert the cause of Christ to satisfy their lusts.
The gods which proliferate in this materialistic age are quite capable of blinding even the most enthusiastic and devoted believer to the full promise and true hope of the Gospel.
How do material things function like “gods”? How do people show that they are devoted to such “gods” for their purpose and happiness in life? Talk with some Christian friends about these questions.
For more insight to this topic, order the book, Breaking the Idols of Your Heart, by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III, from our online store. You might also like to read the article, “Idols Old and New,” by S. M. Hutchens.