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#3 / 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.

 

“No man may take my life from me; I lay my life down.” -Jim Jones

 

In a paraphrase of John 10:18, Jim Jones uses the words of Jesus to try to convince the community of the virtues of suicide. The problem with such a connection is that Jesus laid down his life for others. Jones was seeking to convince people to lay down their lives for/with him. While he doesn’t explicitly say this, Jones knew that his days were numbered due to a variety of health issues and he didn’t want to die alone. I believe that Jones’ fear is what caused the entire tragedy. He was out of control. When Jesus said these words, he was in control. If we are to give our lives, we must have our lives to give. Jesus gave what he had. Jones didn’t. He was trying to take life. The tragedy of Jonestown is that the people had already given their lives away. When the suicide came, there was nothing left. There was no way to resist. Hold tight to that which is only yours to give.

 

Amen.

 

 

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