2 Corinthians 4.3-4:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
If you were to do research on the phrase “the god of this age/world” in 2 Corinthians 4.4 by looking at various commentaries, you would see an explanation that is present in most of the commentaries: “the god of this age” is a reference to Satan. There are multiple reasons for this, but perhaps the two biggest reasons are (1) the association in the Bible of resistance to believing in God being associated with the work of Satan and (2) our relative lack of detailed knowledge of the culture Paul is addressing leads to the lack of knowledge of other plausible references that Paul could be making. Essentially, our relative ignorance makes us focus on the one character that is feasible to point to: Satan.
However, there are a couple of problems with this interpretation. First, on the surface of it, the idea of calling Satan a god seems to go against Paul’s theology and cosmology. While it is one thing to refer to idols as gods because that is what they are named in the pagan society (1 Cor. 8.5), it seems unlikely that Paul would choose to call Satan a god unless there was some prior precedent for doing so. While I have not done research on this, it seems unlikely prima facie that anything within Jewish, monotheistic tradition would have called Satan a god.
Second, to say that Satan is the agent of blindness is inconsistent with the way Paul understands the metaphor of impaired vision in 2 Corinthians 3-4 and the agent of blindness. In 2 Corinthians 3.7-11, a description of given of the veil that lies over the glory that shone on Moses’ face. Then, Paul continues this argument for the present day in 3.12-15 in concluding that a veil lies over people when the old covenant/Moses is read. Here, the cause of obscured vision is not Satan, but simply those whose worship is centered upon the Torah. It is essentially a veil that occurs as a result of religious practice, not the agency of any specific figure. While blindness in 4.4 is a much strong form of impaired vision, nothing in Paul’s discourse suggests offhand that there is any fundamentally different cause for blindness for seeing the glory of Christ and the veil that obscures the glory of God. One could infer that a more extreme form of a metaphorically impaired vision requires a more powerful agent, that is Satan, but one could also infer that the differences in the impairment can be attributed to the different teachings about God in the old covenant and about some ‘god’ that is prevalent in the present age.
A good explanation for this can be the portrayal of a single god by the Stoics. Some Stoics had a tendency to refer to a single god that held the whole cosmos together and that could not adequately be represented in pagan temples. On the surface of it, a Stoic “monotheism” could be said to resemble a Jewish monotheism, but amidst these similarities, there are significant differences. Stoic “monotheism” was more pantheistic or panentheistic, in which the god of the cosmos was the immaterial aspect that ‘energized’ the material aspect of the world. Furthermore, while Stoics did not accept the myths and symbols of paganism at face value, they would attempt to analyze and/or allegorize ancient myths and religious traditions for wisdom; they still retained their connection to the pagan mythologies and symbols. Such a portrayal of this god and the sources they would use to understand this god was antithetical to the God of Israel, who according to Israel’s Scriptures is a holy God that simultaneously created the world and yet was distinct from it.
It would be one thing to teach about a single God to thoroughly polytheistic people. Polytheisms allowed for a superior god who reigned over the others, such as Zeus in Greek mythology and the equivalent Jupiter in Roman mythology; the movement to monotheism can be envisioned through treating the superior god as being so distinct and powerful and worthy of worship that any thing else called a god is as not worthy of worship (henotheism transforming into monotheism). The idea of a single God who is not represented by various idols may be offensive due to breaking with pagan religious traditions, but coming to a belief in a single creator God is feasible. To suggest, furthermore, that this God has a Son who came into the world can be accepted as reasonable by pagan traditions, because they had stories of demigods, even as there are still dramatic differences between the Incarnate Son of the God of Israel and the demigods of mythology.
However, when Stoicism shifts its portrayal of this singular god away from the mythologies, while still mining them for glimpses of wisdom, it casts a portrayal of this god that actively runs counter to the story that Paul preaches about the transcendent, creator God of Israel coming to the world in His Son. Since Stoicism was the popular philosophy of the day, the Stoic portrayal of a single god would become taken as the wisdom of the wise, making Paul’s teaching about the God of Israel making Himself known in Jesus Christ seem foolish and filled with error (cf. 1 Cor. 1.22-23). While Paul would probably not have detailed knowledge of the reasons why a Stoic theology created more resistance to his proclamation of Christ, it can certainly explain why Paul would have observed an increased resistance, offering a plausible explanation for what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4.4.
One potential clue to this being the case is that Paul describes Jesus Christ as the image of God. What is the discursive purpose of this opposition? The theological anthropology of Stoic pan(en)theism suggests that the single god who holds the universe together also resides in people. No person is uniquely representative of this god, even though some people may be more attuned to this god within them through their pursuit of reason. By referring to Jesus as the image of God, Paul designates Him as the one who is the representation of God. As Paul denies proclaiming about themselves in the following verse in 4.5, it suggests Paul’s purpose is to clarify that the proclamation does not lift up the glory within believers, even as the glory of Christ is manifest in other people. To that end, Paul presents a different picture of the glory of God from the theological anthropology of Stoicism, one that is not present in all persons and even as it is present in them, it ultimately emanates from the one person Jesus Christ who is THE image of God.
If this thesis is true, then there is a theological conclusion to draw for this present age. What we preach and teach about God can have the impact of obscured a view of the true glory of God. While most Christian teachers today deny pantheism and *formally* embrace on the Scriptures as the source of teaching about God, their portrayal of God that differs dramatically different from the Scriptures, suggesting other sources for thinking about God, can hinder people from perceiving God’s glory. The one teaching that is very prominent is the idea that one is worthy of hell based upon one sin in some (fundamentalism) evangelical circles. Even as they then appeal to Jesus as the way to have those sins forgiven, the picture of God that is portrayed by them is one of an very angry, firecly judgmental God. Yet, this God is consistently referred to as slow to anger (Exo. 34.6) and has an enduring love (חֶ֫סֶד) that persists, even in the midst of sins. This is not the picture of a God who will reject people based upon a single act of sin, no matter what it is.
This portrayal of God actively inhibits people from perceiving the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Certainly, they may “give glory” to God and Jesus, but they are inclined to think God’s glory is in His ruling authority. However, if the glory of Christ is in His compassionate, patient, non-aggressive love that endured even as He went to the cross, then their portrayal of God will create active resistance and blindness to this picture of God’s love. They may believe in the name of Jesus, but their inability to truly accept the glory of Jesus that is exhibited in the fullest shape of His love in going to the cross, instead reducing His love to simply forgiveness for guilt, makes them resistant to truly believing in Christ in order to learn from Jesus. Rather than coming to discover the fullest depths of God’s love (cf. Eph 3.16-19), their hearts become hardened to seeing the glorious character of Jesus that lead Him to be exalted as Lord.
Whether we want to compare this to a veil over their hearts or a more extreme blindness that is the hardeness of their hearts, the point is that many Christian often smuggle in ideas and teachings about God that actually obscure knowing God as He makes Himself known in Jesus. Such proclamations of the ‘gospel’ are like trying to make tea by putting a tea bag in vodka; all the other things that are treated as important doctrines about knowing God that ultimately portray Him in a way that is fundamentally opposed to the testimony of Scripture and overwhelm in people’s minds the real love of God demonstrated in Jesus Christ.