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#42 / 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.

 

“You look better than I’ve seen you in a long while…” -Jim Jones

 

Flattery is bullshit. Such words don’t offer anything and after a moment or two they really begin to stink. Ultimately, Jim Jones’ words are offensive. If someone says you look better now than you did before, what did they think you looked like before? Jones flatters to belittle and control. Can you imagine Jesus saying such things? If Jesus had talked to people like Jones did, he would have turned out like Jones. But, he didn’t. His words healed. Jones’ words were the words of a predator. The people of Jonestown never had a chance. By the time death arrived, Jones had filled their lives with so many empty words and bullshit promises that most were ready to follow him anywhere. The problem is that flattery only gets you nowhere. If you believe flattering words and base your life on them, such words can get you killed. Regardless of what evil might say, Jesus is ultimate truth and the truth of Jesus is far more transformative than any bullshit a flatterer could ever share.

 

Amen.

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