Answer: God’s desire is that all people be repent and be saved (2 Peter 3:9). At the same time, Satan, the “father of lies” (John 8:44), deceives the very people who need to accept the truth. “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Surely, God could stop Satan’s lies and give people a fighting chance.
The Bible presents a consistent picture of how sin and deception are related. What’s revealed is that the way we tend to think of deceit is, well, a bit deceived. Spiritually speaking, deception is deeper than merely being tricked or lied to. In order to be saved, one does not need any particular level of intelligence, philosophical ability, or wisdom (Galatians 3:28; 1 Corinthians 1:20, 26). In fact, mankind has an unfortunate habit of using increased knowledge to develop more sophisticated ways to sin.
Key to understanding spiritual deception is the fact that God will not interfere with man’s free will, and sometimes that means we’ll choose what we want to believe rather than what we should believe, even in the face of the evidence (Luke 16:31). “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Notice that they would not believe Jesus, despite the miracles. Their unbelief was willful.
Eve is the earliest, clearest example of how spiritual deception really works. When the serpent asks her, “Did God really say…,” Eve responds by quoting what God had said (Genesis 3:1-3). She knows what to do and what not to do. The serpent then tempts her with what she can gain by eating from the tree (Genesis 3:4-5), and she notices other attractive aspects of the fruit (Genesis 3:6). Eve was lied to, and the serpent was cunning (2 Corinthians 11:3), but she ultimately chose to disobey God, even though she could quote the commandment.
When confronted with her sin, Eve said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13b). The original Hebrew word for “deceived” implies trickery and craftiness; it is sometimes translated “seduced.” Seduction is an appropriate way to think of the deception of Eve—she knew full well what God had said, but she chose to disobey because she wanted something that the serpent cleverly offered.
The same dynamic is at work today. Everyone who rejects God does so because, in some way, he doesn’t really want to obey Him. We are tempted by our “own evil desire” first (James 1:14). That’s not to say that every unbeliever is blatantly and spitefully turning from what he knows is true. But the unbeliever’s desire for self-satisfaction makes Satan’s deception all the more potent.
God has sent the Savior (John 3:16), He fills the world with signs of Himself (Romans 1:20), He makes Himself available to those who seek Him (Deuteronomy 4:29), and He secures anyone who comes to Him (John 6:37). When men reject what is “clearly seen” of God (Romans 1:20), it leads to a downward spiral of “foolish hearts” made dark (verse 21), idolatry (verse 22), and sexual impurity (verse 24). Finally, mankind “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (verse 25). In other words, the spiritual deception of mankind is the direct result of rejecting truth once held. The unbeliever has made an exchange—the truth for a lie—and the devil is happy to facilitate the swap by presenting the sinner with a wide array of lies from which to choose.
Anyone who resists God risks falling into spiritual deception (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10). Nature abhors a vacuum, and the void created by the eviction of truth will soon be filled by something less than true. Give up the truth, and you’ll believe just about anything.
Eve didn’t sin because she was hopelessly outmatched by a demonic force, making her do wrong when she thought she was doing right. Yes, she was lied to, but she chose to listen to the lie. That was followed by her longing look at what was forbidden and, finally, her taking the fruit in hopes of a better life.
All human sin is based in human choice (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we reject the truth, we make ourselves vulnerable to the lie. Repeated rejection of spiritual truth brings spiritual deception as a divine consequence.
God allows spiritual deception as a form of punishment for willful sin, and in order to cultivate an awareness in our lives of how badly we need the One who is Himself Truth, our Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Recommended Resource: If God, Why Evil?: A New Way to Think about the Question by Norman Geisler.