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#40 / 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.

 

“… what’s more they deserve peace.” -Jim Jones

 

Was there ever peace in Jonestown? For some, peace might have visited occasionally. But for the most part, the community lived under a constant barrage of hard labor and abuses. Peace was often hard to be found. In the end, Jim Jones promised peace on the other side. Such a promise was an attempt at manipulation. In those final moments, Jones repeatedly talked about peace. In his argument with Christine Miller, Jones is defended the murder of babies by declaring their need for peace. While it might be true that there is peace in death, there is no peace in murder. Jim Jones and his closest associates murdered baby after baby. There is no peace in such abuse. In death, I believe that God embraced all of those babies with a peace that passes all understanding. There was and is everlasting life for those babies. With such affirmed and sealed for all of eternity, what happened in Jonestown had nothing to do with peace. Jonestown was about terror. Make no mistake, God picked up the pieces of Jonestown and made all things right. In God’s love, I believe that peace eventually found them all.

 

Amen.

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