Many, many people were drawn under the sway George Geftakys over a period of 30+ years, only to be ultimately betrayed at the revelation that he was not a godly man. How could God let this happen? M. Irons is indebted to C. S. Lewis's Uncle Screwtape for the inspiration of this hypothesis.
The "why?" question is inevitable after the tragedy of the Assembly. How could God let so many sincere Christians be duped and damaged by George and Betty Geftakys? If God is both all-knowing and all-powerful, and therefore able to prevent suffering and tragedy, why He didn't prevent us from being deceived when we were so earnestly praying for God's will in our lives?
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis offers a perspective that I find extremely helpful. The book focuses on the implacable enmity of Satan and his minions against God and against the faith of His people. Most contemporary teaching on this subject focuses on the Opposition. But the point of Screwtape is that the victim slipped through the Tempter's fingers, not by a detailed knowledge of the Enemy's strategy or the names of the demons, but by humbly trying to be obedient and hang onto his faith in spite of bombs and the tortures of war.
The overall structure of the Bible itself supports the perspective of this cosmic conflict. Right at the beginning the Adversary gets into God's own garden and pulls off a coup. In the New Testament he confronts Jesus at the outset of his public ministry. Christ's life, death and resurrection are framed in terms of the conflict, and the closing chapters of the Bible describe the final phase of the war between God and Satan. So why would God set it up this way? Wouldn't it have been better to just annihilate Satan at the beginning and be done with it?
That wouldn't have solved the problem. God wanted the angels to worship him freely. Apparently the angelic beings do not have the capacity for love (Jesus said they don't marry.) They seem to be pure intellect and power, and worship God on the basis of their cognitive understanding. (And are curious about what they don't understand, according to Peter!) Which allows the possibility that they might assess the situation and try to get some of the worship for themselves, as Lucifer did. God could have annihilated him, but then others could try the same thing.
God's remedy was to create man in his own image, having the capacity to love. Through man God explains the meaning of love. Care, kindness, affection, passion...... But even more importantly, by sending Jesus to become a man, God was able to demonstrate the love between the Father and the Son.
Then there is the story of Job, right in the middle of the Bible, like the center post in a timber frame structure. Job shows how the cosmic conflict intersects with the life of an individual human being. The trajectory of Job's entire life was effected as he was caught in the middle of a showdown between God and the adversary. Satan challenged God that if Job were to suffer, he would lose his faith. God allowed Satan to afflict Job with multiple tragedies to prove him wrong. But Job's faith survived, though with much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Job did not come through triumphantly. He was angry at God, he whined, he was full of self pity. He did not look like an "overcomer." But the important thing was that he did not lose his faith in God. The simple fact that Job's faith survived was pivotal to the cosmic controversy between God and Satan. Afterward, God poured out blessings on Job. But what remains for posterity as the most important aspect of Job's life was his faith that endured the terrible testing.
Perhaps Job's story is telling us that this kind of contest is part and parcel of what it means to be a child of God. Satan says, "Let me put them through a racking illness... through a tsunami... through war...through genocide. They will deny You." Maybe he said to God about us, "If you will let me bring them under the influence of George Geftakys, who will twist their minds and damage their lives and "waste" their years and ultimately betray them, they will lose their faith in You."
So maybe God allowed it to happen in order to demonstrate to Principalities and Powers that the bond between God and His own cannot be destroyed even by spiritual abuse and betrayal of the peculiar kind we went through.
If this is indeed the case, our part would be to wrestle to continue to believe God, to believe that He exists, to believe that He is good, as Job did. Even if it's a difficult struggle, and we are depressed, and we whine and feel sorry for ourselves. Even if we are angry at God. It seems to me that through all this we are still playing an important part in the cosmic dispute. Our struggle shows the powers of evil that our relationship with God is of such worth to us that we are crushed at the possibility of losing it. God's part is to hold on to us through the trial and the struggle, and to work it all together for good, as He has promised.
Maybe this is the only way evil can be overcome. Since the angels seem to be solitary creatures, it falls to us human beings, who are created for relationship, to demonstrate to principalities and powers that love is real and is the supreme good. The Tempter as depicted by Lewis does not believe in love.
Given that evil will always be a possibility for free moral agents, it cannot be annihilated; it can only be overcome with good, which is love--God's love for us, ours for Him, and most foundationally, the love of the three persons of the Godhead for one another. Perhaps that is why at the final battle of the ages, Christ will come with his saints--because it's His blood shed in love for them, and their testimony that His goodness and love are real and are worth suffering everything for, that will ultimately overcome the forces of evil. Then God dwelling in the midst of His people in the new Jerusalem will stand as an eternal message of love to the cosmos.
I want to be part of that. I am staking everything that our suffering will have this ultimate meaning. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead has made it possible. Job shows how it can work in an individual life.* Screwtape is a Senior Tempter in C. S. Lewis' book, Screwtape Letters.