2 Corinthians 4:4-6
Blinding or Shining
To see or not to see? That is the question. That is the contrast that Paul is making in this section. The open statement of the truth (v. 2), the gospel, is veiled (v. 3). That’s an odd image. How can an open statement be veiled? That’s like unzipping a backpack for all to see, but covering it with a blanket draped over the opening. It’s open yet veiled. It’s public yet obscured. How? The answer lies in v. 4, and with it comes bad news.
Bringing us back to the imagery of the triumphal procession and of Christians being an aroma of death to those perishing (2:14-17), Paul communicates something of the same idea here. To those who are perishing, the open statement of the truth is veiled. The Jewish people who traded Jesus in for a false Moses (for a Moses who didn’t speak of Christ)—these people fall in this category of covenant breakers. The gospel is shrouded by darkness. But by whom is the gospel veiled? Verse 4 tells us: “the god of this world” (though “age” is my preferred translation). Who is this “god”? The Triune God or Satan? Both actually, but not in the same way. Hear me out. I’m NOT saying that the God of the Bible is Satan. Certainly not! And, granted, v. 4 is directly referring to Satan. He’s not the real God, the only God that is. Satan is doing the blinding. He’s covering up the truth. He’s deceiving people, and they do not believe in Christ as Lord and Savior. Satan is the father of lies and there is no truth in him (John 8:44). However, saying that Satan is the god of this age who deceives is not getting the true God off the hook for what is happening to the wicked. There are passages in both Testaments of Scripture that clearly show us the sovereignty of God in how his revelation is received. There are places also that remind us that Satan is not independent of God’s plan of revelation and eternal decree.
We could go all the way back to the Garden, but space forbids such an exhaustive treatment. Consider King Saul’s life. After the Lord rejected Saul, God would periodically send a harmful spirit upon Saul (1 Sam. 16:14, 16, 22-23; 18:10; 19:9). Did Saul know the Lord? Yes, but not savingly. Did Saul trust in the Lord’s revelation and appropriate it to himself by faith? No. Through the harmful spirit, God was tormenting and judging Saul for his rejection of Yahweh. Because Saul has rejected Yahweh, Yahweh has judged and rejected Saul. This is similar to the account with Pharaoh, though admittedly Pharaoh was no Israelite. Nevertheless, the Lord made himself clearly known to Pharaoh and all the Egyptians. The Lord himself prophesies, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Ex. 7:5). There is no question about whether or not Pharaoh and the Egyptians received the revelation from God about who he is and what he has done. Having said that, however, we also acknowledge that the Lord himself hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 7:3; Rom. 9:17-18). Moreover, when God judged King Ahab, he revealed his secret counsel through the true prophet Micaiah against all the false prophets in that day. The Lord sent a lying spirit to Ahab, so that Ahab would be judged and killed for his wickedness and unbelief (1 Kings 22:13-40). But didn’t Ahab know the truth? Absolutely. The prophet Micaiah revealed to him the divine council wherein God determined the disaster of Ahab (1 Kings 22:19-22). We have, therefore, a king who knew but was deceived.
The situation, furthermore, is no different in the NT. Look at 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. In that text Paul speaks of the coming of the man of lawlessness (a fulfillment in the first century on the unbelieving Jews). He will come by the activity of Satan. With this Satanic activity comes deception. No surprise there, of course. Notice also the similar language between 2 Thessalonians 2:10 and our text, 2 Corinthians 4:3: “to those who are perishing.” People are being deceived. They’re denying the truth of the gospel. They’re perishing. In 2 Thessalonians 2:11, however, it is God, not Satan, who sends the strong delusion, with the result that these wicked and unbelievers continue to believe what is false and are thereby condemned. They’re condemned because they did not believe the truth (v. 12), and because they “refused to love the truth and so be saved” (v. 10). Make no mistake. These unbelievers are morally responsible for their rejection of the truth, of the open statement of the truth. They are “unbelievers” (2 Cor. 4:4). They “refuse to love the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10). That’s intellectual, volitional, and moral. The punishment due their rejection is on them. Because of their unbelief, God judges them by sending a strong delusion, by veiling the public proclamation of the gospel, by not opening the eyes of those steadfast in their hatred for the truth and the God of the truth.
Pulling these texts together, we’re saying that yes, it is Satan who deceives. But it is God who uses Satan and his agents of deception to blind the minds of unbelievers. Satan is an instrument in the hands of the Judge. This is crucial to understand, if we’re going to recognize God as sovereign even over his rational and volitional creatures. Satan is NOT doing his own thing outside God’s eternal decree. May it never be! Satan harmed Job, but not without God’s decree. Likewise, Satan blinds the minds of many, of those who love the god of this age; and Satan does so not apart from God’s eternal decree, not as a rogue. God is on his throne, always and forever. He hardens whom he wills; he mercies whom he wills (Rom. 9:18). Satan, by virtue of being a creature, is only the secondary cause of this blinding activity. That then leaves God as the primary cause. However hard a pill that is to swallow, it is the biblical witness. And to deny it is to deny God as the author and determiner of his revelation, his creatures, and how they receive his revelation. So much for the bad news.
The good news is that this same God as Revelator course-corrects moribund creatures from death to life. Paul in v. 6 takes us to the very beginning, day one of creation. By divine fiat, God speaks light into existence ex nihilo: “Let there be light, and there was light” (Gen. 1:3). What a powerful and mighty act of God! Who but the God of Light alone could make light? And it’s this God of Light who uses his light of revelation, his saving and redemptive truth about himself, to bring us from darkness to light (cf. also Peter’s similar language in 2 Pet. 1:19). The God who created earthly light has created new hearts full of the light of himself. We who have received this new light, this new creation, are now called new creations ourselves (2 Cor. 5:17). Our hearts are now full of the knowledge of Christ himself, who is the glory of God (4:6). The light we now behold, we do so by faith with spiritual eyes mediated by the Spirit gazing at the face of Jesus Christ, who is the Light of the World. Christ’s promise for all who have eyes to see (for it’s in God’s light that we see light: Psalm 36:9) is that they will have the light of life: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12). Such very good news indeed!