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#17 / 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’ve lived for all and I’ve died for all.” -Jim Jones

 

These words should be the mantra of our lives. There is no question that the path of Jesus is about living for all and dying for all. The problem with Jim Jones is that living for all shouldn’t include harm. Jones said these words right before exterminating his community. What if Jones had really meant these words? Can you imagine if Jones had followed the path of Jesus and offered himself as a sacrifice for the community? Jones was too scared for that. With his health failing and serious legal issues approaching, Jones was ready to commit suicide and just didn’t want to do it alone. There is no sacrifice here. There is only cowardice. As time ran out, Jones’ words were proven void. Jones didn’t live for all. Jones didn’t die for all. Through it all, Jones lived and died for himself. Surely, we can live differently?

 

Amen.

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