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#15 / 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. 

“I can’t control these people. They’re out there.” -Jim Jones

Through a consistent use of fear, Jim Jones pushed the people closer and closer to death. There is never any understanding of who “these people” are. If people can get you to be afraid of “these people,” they can control your life. “These people” are everywhere/”out there.” Those who feel like they’re under imminent dangerous threat will do whatever it takes to avoid that threat. Jones knew this. Ultimately, the community died because of who they assumed “these people” were and what they thought was “out there.” Christine Miller knew better. As Jones spoke, she kept pushing for more truth. There are no lies in Christ Jesus. In the struggle for light, Miller shows us what to do when anyone tries to control us with statements like “these people” or “out there,” keep demanding real facts. Truth is always free of lies.

Amen.

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