A friend asks where the idea that Satan rules in the earthly realm comes from. How can it be? Isn't the world created by a good God?
Biblically speaking, the idea comes from several places in the New Testament.
2 Corinthians 4:4
In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe to keep them from seeing the light of the glorious gospel of the Messiah, who is the image of God. (ISV)
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (NIV)
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (NIV)
And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish.7“Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.”
It seems clear to me that this means those prominent or in power in this earthly, social realm are broadly the acolytes and agents of the devil. Like it or lump it. This also tallies with the Beatitudes—it is the “little people,” the “salt of the earth,” who are blessed.
This of course is directly against the Calvinist idea that earthly prosperity is a sign of heavenly favour.
How can a world created by a good God be consistently going wrong? Because man has free will, because it is a fallen world, and because we are all marked by original sin.
I think it follows from this Christian insight that political action in hopes of effecting some general improvement to the lot of man is a dead end. Put another way, the prime concern of Christian political action should be to limit the role of government.
That's not all as hopeless as it may sound. Though the devil is the god of this world, it is also true that God works through history; and that there is a human role in perfecting creation. It follows that, over time, if only in fits and starts, the world is indeed getting better. And this seems to be true from observation. The moral dignity of human life seems to have been gradually increasing over the eons, and the level of human suffering has been declining. Cannibalism is gone; human sacrifice is gone; slavery is gone; serfdom is gone; hereditary aristocracy is gone. Democracy is more widespread than it has ever been. We have many more material comforts than our ancestors had. We also have more great books, great art, great music, gradually accumulated over the centuries.
However, those who have been improving human life over the eons have usually not been the visible rulers or leaders of society. They have been individual, often anonymous, seekers of the good, the true, and the beautiful.
By an obvious logic, those who seek above all else the good, the true, and the beautiful, are those most likely to achieve the good, the true, and the beautiful, and therefore to advance human knowledge, human achievement, and human wellbeing. Conversely, those who seek above all else fame, wealth, and power, are those most likely to achieve fame, wealth, and power, and therefore become the leaders and prominent people of the world.
These are necessarily not the same people.
So the leaders of the world will almost never be the good guys.
And, sadly, there are almost always far more people going flat out for fame, or wealth, or power, than for truth, good, or beauty.
However, the accomplishments of those who seek only fame, wealth, and power, almost necessarily die as soon as they die; whereas the accomplishments of those who seek the good, the true, and the beautiful, however few they are, tend to remain after they go, and so to slowly accumulate, improving and ultimately perfecting the world.
Salt of the earth.