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#26 / 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.

 

“He’ll do it. That plane will come out of the air. There’s no way you can fly a plane without a pilot.” -Jim Jones

 

Christine Miller’s discussion with Jim Jones’ revealed his involvement in a plot to murder the delegation that’d just left Jonestown. Jones’ henchman reached the delegation as they were boarding their planes and opened fire. This action preempted the original plan to have a false defector shoot the pilot in midair.  Regardless, Congressman Leo Ryan, several reporters and a defector were murdered and numerous others were injured. The delegation’s visit caused Jones tremendous paranoia. Such feelings set in motion a series of events that led to the runway killings and the mass suicide/murder. By the time people started dying, Jones was no longer in the pilot’s seat. Jones’ lieutenants were the pilots of the massacre. They prepared the poison, handed it out and forcefully injected those who would not respond to their suicide requests. The plane could not have flown without a pilot. The fact that the plane flew while Jones was so incapacitated by drugs and paranoia gives testament to the fact that there were many pilots in Jonestown. The tragedy occurred because of who was flying the plane. There is a tremendously spiritual lesson to be learned in the midst of such evil. Be careful who you fly with.

 

Amen.

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