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#12 / Jonestown Theology: Lenten Explorations in the Valley of Death

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Wikimedia / Nancy Wong

Wikimedia / Nancy Wong

God is never lost. In the midst of great evil, God is there. I have long wondered how Jonestown fits into such ideas. In the 1970s, Rev. Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple founded the settlement in the jungles of Guyana. After a few years of communal living, Jones led his followers to commit a mass suicide/murder that left over 900 people dead. The last words the community ever heard were recorded. Jones’ words are beyond disturbing. Evil resonates with every syllable. Even in the midst of such, I refuse to believe that God was absent during such terror. Lent is a time to look for God in death. To honor the victims of Jonestown, I’ve decided to seek God in the last words they heard in the order that they would have heard them.  In those evil words of death, may there also be something for us. These devotions should never be mistaken for an apologetic for Jim Jones or anything he stood for. This is a search for God.

 

“Anyone that has any dissenting opinion, please speak …” -Jim Jones

 

The end was rapidly approaching. In the midst of the slow march toward death, Jim Jones wanted to know if anyone had a dissenting opinion. Though this is a curious moment, it’s not completely unexpected. Throughout history, leaders have asked for dissent for the sake of appearing like they are open to dissent. No matter what anyone would have said in those final hours, Jones was determined to make sure that nobody made it out alive. Such a moment reminds me of Jesus’ advice to be “wise as a snake.” There was a snake loose in Jonestown. There will be more. Don’t forget, the snake won’t be stopped until you think like a snake.

 

Amen.

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